Henry Alford's 6 favorite books
The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber (Harper Perennial, $15). One of the funniest pieces of cultural dissonance ever produced is Thurber's review of Salvador Dalí's memoir, contained in this collection. Thurber writes, "The naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dalí as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts."
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $15). Gatsby gets no respect as a comic novel, but it has more muffled, rueful laughter in it than you'll find in Chekhov's entire inventory. Come for the gorgeous writing and the doomed love, but stay for the winsome hilarity.
Depth Takes a Holiday by Sandra Tsing Loh (out of print). The NPR commentator's first book is a riotous collection of essays about bohemian Los Angeles. I knew that I would become friends with Loh long before I met her: Both of our first books contained the phrase "Danskin crotch panel."
Naked Pictures of Famous People by Jon Stewart (Harper, $15). The TV star's 1999 essay collection includes "Adolf Hitler: The Larry King Interview," in which Hitler confesses, "I was a very angry guy." But now: "I get up at seven, have half a melon, do the jumble in the morning paper, and then let the day take me where it will....When you stop having to control everything it's very freeing." Readers will be similarly freed.
New Fish Cookery by James Beard (Little, Brown, $25). Though the late chef and food pioneer Beard was not a humorist, his 1954 fish cookbook contains a comic gem — that being the sentence, "Here are grunions at their best." I like to utter this statement aloud at least three times a day — and I encourage you to do so, too.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (Penguin, $15). You don't need to know this parody novel's antecedents — D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy's rural melodramas — to weep with laughter at it: Backwoods yokelism is universal. Read it and "I saw something nasty in the woodshed" may become your new "grunions at their best," if not your new "Danskin crotch panel."