Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It all started with 'It All Started with Columbus'

I discovered Richard Armour when I was in high school back in the late 1950s. I knew just enough about history to think It All Started with Columbus was the funniest book I had ever read. Later I enjoyed his humorous take on literature (The Classics Reclassified and other books), art (It All Started with Nudes), libraries (The Happy Bookers) and other subjects. I thought I owned a pretty good collection of Richard Armour books until I stumbled upon a treasure trove of them, mostly first editions, at a library sale in Clearwater, Fla., nearly three weeks ago.

Perhaps someone who admired Armour even more than I did had died and his (probably his) books had ended up in the hands of the local Friends of the Library. Or perhaps Armour's admirer had simply moved into a smaller home where there was less room for books. In any case, I was among those who benefited from the donation. I found four books I didn't previously own: Drug Store Days, Through Darkest Adolescence, Going Around in Academic Circles and Golf Is a Four-Letter Word.

Each of  these is at least partly a memoir, even if his memories are always colored by his humor. In Drug Store Days, about growing up as the son of a druggist, he writes, for example, "I was born in the early hours of morning, and had breakfast in bed."

Through Darkest Adolescence, written when Armour was the father of a teenager, he opines, "Adolescence is a disease.... Like the common cold, there is no cure for it."

An English professor for most of his adult life, Armour lampooned academic life in Going Around in Academic Circles: "Students are advised to apply to several colleges, not merely the college of their choice. This is because each application must be accompanied by a fee, which is non-returnable, and every little bit helps when the budget is tight."

As a writer of light verse, Armour always lived in the shadow of his contemporary, Ogden Nash, but even so his verse was always amusing. In Golf Is a Four-Letter Word, a book about his experiences as a golfer, he includes some of his poems on  the subject. One of these is called "Get Together, Please."

The day my dead-eye putts are falling
My drives are at their most appalling,
And when my drives are simply splendid
My putting streak's abruptly ended.

Richard Armour died in 1989. There are, I now realize, still quite a number of his books I have yet to find. I must stay alert at future used book sales.

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