Books My Mother Gave Me: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other pieces (James Thurber) Short Story Review

Published October 7, 2013 by ElisaChristy


Again, as with my Phantom Tollbooth review I have also done a video review of this book, because of my likelihood to ramble.

If there ever were one book my mother read to me that I could claim was my favourite. This book would be it. Although the book I re-read to do this review was not the exact one I was first read as that book got lost for many years only to be found again when my mother moved house. So this was the substitute book.

The book is a collection of pieces that James Thurber wrote including many of his cartoons and articles and stories. Though the real title of the book – in the title of this post – was still unfamiliar to me as I had never read the Walter Mitty piece before doing this review, and indeed the book was so familiar to me and my brother that it was usually referred to simply as “The James Thurber Book”. The real title was rarely ever used, because it did not need to be.

As this is a collection of short stories, I am not going to review every single one individually. Instead I will do brief reviews of several of the stories I remember being re-read many times.

1. The Night The Bed Fell:

I was read this story so often (because of my insistence) as a child, I can probably quote the entire thing off by heart if forced too. The story or memoir as it might be, no-one really knows whether it were true or not, is more a story of confusion than anything else. Everyone thinks one thing has happened, when it turns out another thing has, which leads to great confusion. It is difficult to say much about the story without giving away the entire plot, not that that would ruin anything, if there’s one thing I can say for sure, is Thurber’s stories stand up to countless re-readings. But I will say this: Many of Thurber’s stories work better if they are read out loud, that is if they are read to you, you can read them out loud to yourself, which is still better than reading them in your head, but there is something in them being read to you, they are things to recite and quote from, not just stories.

This story also introduces us to some of Thurber’s Aunts who both have phobias of burglars and approach this in very different ways. Aunt Gracie Shoaf for example thought burglars had been getting into her house every night for forty years, but believed she scared them away by throwing shoes down the hallway.

“Some nights she threw them all. Some nights only a couple of pair.”


2. The Day The Dam Broke:

Or to put it more accurately, the day everyone thought the dam broke, which seemed to cause the entire population of Columbus, Ohio to run for the hills, only to have to return sheepishly to their homes when the army came along.

“Order was restored and fear dispelled finally by means of militiamen riding about in motor lorries bawling through megaphones ‘The dam has not broken!’ At first this tended only to add to the confusion and increase the panic, for many stampeders thought the soldiers were bellowing ‘the dam has now broken’ thus setting an official seal of authentication on the calamity.”

3. More Alarms at Night:

This story is more a collection of things which happened such as the night Thurber’s father ‘threatened to get Buck’ which isn’t what happened at all if you read it, but is probably the easiest way to describe the situation. More Alarms at Night also mentions an old record called No News, Or What Killed the Dog, which apparently they played so many times, the record got stuck in one groove repeating the phrase ‘Ate some burnt horse flesh’ over and over until it finally woke up their father and he made them switch it off. I can remember my mother saying she couldn’t think of any worse phrase to be woken up by then ‘ate some burnt horse flesh’ being repeated at you.

The replacement copy of this book, had some extra material in the back of it, such as his moral stories, like The Owl Who Was God and The Moth and The Star which are short one page pieces, which makes them extremely difficult to review, so I won’t, instead I will say try and find them all, I’m sure they’re online somewhere, and if you can, get someone to read them to you, as they are infinitely better when read aloud.

This book was one of the main reasons I wanted to review the books my mother read me, as I read it so many times and no-one ever knew what I was quoting. The stories are not written for children, but most of the stories in the book can be read to children (not all though) I know this won’t be the last time I read the book. In fact, it probably won’t even be the last time I read it this month,


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