Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Delightfully gay little sketches"

Excuse It, Please!  Cornelia Otis Skinner

And now for something completely different.  After struggling through War Within and Without, which I posted about yesterday, I feel very much in need, not of mindless reading, but of something that isn't quite such a depressing slog.  Excuse It, Please! certainly qualifies.

Back in July, I read Family Circle, a family biography that Cornelia Otis Skinner published in 1948.  I enjoyed it so much that I started looking to see what else she had written, as I tend to do when I discover a new author (or in this case, re-discover).  I found a biography of Sarah Bernhardt and a book about Paris in the Belle Epoque.  I also learned that she wrote short articles for magazines like The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and The Ladies' Home Journal.  These articles were collected into books that apparently sold very well.  The first, Excuse It, Please!, was published in 1936 and went through eleven printings by 1937. 

I thought the essays would be a good place to start, and I can see why they sold so well.  The jacket copy praises the "delightfully gay little sketches."  They are indeed brief and funny, and they cover a variety of topics.  If you can't relate to "The Paintable Type," about having one's portrait painted, there's "Med to Mum," about the joys of wandering through the miscellany of the encyclopedia (lost to us now in the days of Wikipedia).  One of the funniest, "Wednesday Matinee," about "the actor's Day of Atonement," when attendance is heavily weighted to the "members of a nation-wide secret sorority of American coughers - The Daughters of St. Larynx," obviously came from her own career on the stage.  But she's not just laughing at people; many of the jokes are at her own expense, as in "Ground-Minded," about her fear of flying.

Small slices of American life in the 1930s, maybe, and definitely a pleasant diversion.


  1. I just discovered this blog and I'm happily reading through it. I haven't read anything else by her, but "Their Hearts Were Young and Gay" by Cornelia Otis Kinner and Emily Kimbrough is one of my all-time favorite books. If you like, I could probably find my copy and lend it to you on Saturday.


  2. I'm so glad that you found it, and are enjoying it! Their Hearts Were Young & Gay is an old favorite of mine too - in fact, I posted something about it back in July.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!