Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff

By Calvin Trillin

(Random House, $27, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Let me begin this by saying that Calvin Trillin is a very nice guy. How do I know? Well,  when I was the arts and entertainment editor at The Hartford Advocate, I had the pleasure of interviewing him about his hilarious novel “Floater,” which was about the shenanigans at a newsweekly very much like Time magazine, where Calvin – or Bud, as his friends call him – had worked.

He was already known as a clever writer and excellent reporter, and I was pretty much a nobody. Yet he gave me tons of his time on the phone, answered my questions thoughtfully and proffered many delightful quotes. All authors should be that nice. Over the years, as he grew even more famous as a New Yorker staff writer, political light verse “deadline poet” and columnist for The Nation  and best-selling author, I had the occasion to interview him again. He was just as forthcoming and nice as before.

Trillin is a New Yorker by way of Yale and Kansas City, who calls Greenwich Village “a neighborhood where people from the suburbs come on weekends to test their car alarms.”

He has written brilliantly and quite often humorously about food, politics, crime marriage, children and countless other topics. But “funny” is not the only string in his bow. He wrote a thoughtful memoir about a Yale friend who died young, his New Yorker crime reporting is serious and smart and his touching and tender “About Alice,” written after the death of his wife, Alice Stewart Trillin, is a beautiful tribute to the woman who was his muse and the love of his life.

What is this book about?

The subtitle says it all: It is 40 years’ worth of funny stuff: a compendium of Trilliniana from the 1970s to the present. “Quite Enough” is a wonderful collection, drawn from his New Yorker essays, Nation doggerel verse, his syndicated column and more.

Here’s a sample, in which Trillin explains his notions about geography (and the business of sports):

“The way I divide up the country, the first region is the part of the United States that had major league baseball before the Second World War. That’s the Ancien United States, or the Old Country. The rest of the United States is the rest of the United States – or the Expansion Team United States.

For those of you who didn’t follow baseball closely in 1948, there’s an easy way to know whether you’re in the Old Country or the Expansion Team United States. In the Old Country, the waiters in an Italian restaurant have names like Sal or Vinnie. If you’re in an Italian restaurant and the waiter’s name is Duane, you’re in the Expansion Team United States.”

Why you’ll like it:

Because it will make you laugh at its dry, droll wit and it will make you think about the absurdities of life. You really cannot ask for much more. And because it is a collection of short pieces, you can consume it all at once or keep going back for more tasty morsels, like enjoying a Chinese banquet, as Trillin himself has often done (and described).

What others are saying:

“A classic American humorist,” says The New Republic

 “I spent my college years deep into the great humorists: Benchley, Perelman, Woody Allen. Calvin Trillin is up there with any of them,” David Brooks wrote in The Daily Beast.

People says, “Trillin may be the funniest columnist in America—bemused, amused, wry and right on the mark.”

Jonathan Yardley] once wrote in The Washington Post:  “Calvin Trillin is like an old shoe. Whatever he may be writing about, he always makes you want to slip into it and get comfy. This may seem like a modest compliment, but it is a high one indeed. Few tricks are more difficult for the journalist to pull off than being consistently likable and engaging, making oneself and one’s little world interesting and appealing to others.”

When is it available?

The Hartford Public Library has it now.

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