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A Mencken Chrestomathy: His Own Selection of His Choicest Writing 1st Vintage Books ed Edition
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This book contains one of my favorite essay and the single biggest reason to own this book, his piece on the critical process. It's only a 10 page essay but it's probably the most eloquent. For whatever reason he put it around page 450, but I would recommend reading it first. It puts a reader in the right frame of mind for reading Mencken's essays. He explains a worthwhile critic is not so much concerned with truth or detail. Instead a truly great critic takes the target of the criticism and uses it to develop his own original ideas. It separates those who would just be archivists with those who would be artists. Clearly, Mencken was not concerned with the former, he was concerned with art and he was an artist.
This book is a collection of Mencken's writings, mostly from previous books he wrote: the "Prejudices" series, "In Defense of Women", "A Book of Burlesques", et al. Some of the offerings are from the magazines he edited: "American Mercury" and "Smart Set", with a few newspaper articles for good measure. The copyright listings go back as far as 1917.
Mencken discusses everything from men and women, government, morals, religion, music and history, to odd fish, quackery, pedagogy, psychology and buffooneries.
Listed under the latter rubric, one will find a work entitled "A Neglected Anniversary", which started the famous bathtub hoax, explained by the author in his notes, for those unfamiliar with the Great Man and his life and times.
A second of Mencken's commentaries, which seems to have gained more fame than some of the others, is "The Sahara of the Bozart", page 184. The American South is H.L.M.'s subject here, thus: "Down there a poet is now almost as rare as an oboe-player, a dry-point etcher or a metaphysician. It is, indeed, amazing to contemplate so vast a vacuity...that stupendous region of worn-out farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums...it is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert. There are single acres in Europe that house more first-rate men than all the states south of the Potomic...." Ouch!Read more ›
What makes this book brilliant is its terse structure- it is fragmented and in short pieces, and this produces his intense compact wit in wave after wave of the finest observations and thoughts to come out of mortal man since Tom Sawyer. A Mencken Chrestomathy utterly fails to do badly at every turn.
If you have glanced at this book, and have even a tiny thought at not buying at least two copies, shoot yourself in the foot for punishment, then go buy a dozen copies and pass them out to your superior friends as rewards for their sagacity and charm and as a reward for their loyalty. But if you have little humanity and wish to punish a friend or make their lives more miserable, do not tell them of this book, and leave it right where it is.
I give no book this high a regard. But I give this one my complete, unconditional support. If you have the means, I suggest buying a thousand copies and distributing it among the hungry of mind for the wonderful elixer of an effect Mencken has upon the mind.
The only thing bad about this book is the covers are too close together.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Don't leave home without it. It's a shame more people read this before listening to, well, everybody!
Mencken could be the American equivalent of Karl Kraus
Amazing view into the past. Loved the sardonic slant of the great cynical observer of the American scene. Especially liked the author's label of the "great unwashed."Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
If you're not already a Mencken afficianado, this will probably make you one. Mencken is not to everyone's taste, but his acerbic wit and and razor-sharp rhetoric shines through... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
“It’s not that we don’t have enough scoundrels to curse; it’s that we don’t have enough good men to curse them.”
Mr. Read more
Well written but this guy is just sooooooo negative that I can only stand a little at a time. Too bad, his prose excellent. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Gestalt
I have been looking forward to H. L. Mencken for quite some time: He's been on my list for years and I've just neglected to pick up anything he's written. Read morePublished 15 months ago by garythegrim