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Never has a title captured a book perfectly.SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A LITTLE TOWN I found that sunshine in a small, tatty orange Penguin book, still shining I didn t know who Stephen Leacock was when I spotted my little book but his name rang a bell, and when I investigated later I found that he had a place in Stuck in a Book s 50 books you must read but may not have heard about That was a very good sign.A little research uncovered the fact that Stephen Leacock was a teacher who tried a little writing, with a little humour, to supplement his salary And that he was so successful that a medal for humour bearing his name has been presented for nearly seventy years now Another very good sign.But there s no better research than reading, and so I read The twelve sketches tell stories set in the fictional town of Mariposa It might be based on one particular town, but it s presented in such a way that it could be any number of towns, and there are many things that will strike a chord with anyone who has lived in a small town pretty much anywhere It did with me.There are stories of people Let s introduce a few of them There s Mr Smith, proprietor of Smith s Hotel, a man perfectly suited to the business of hospitality There s Mr Thorpe who is a successful speculator but knows that he is still needed as the town barber There s Dean Drone, who loves the classics but has to lift his nose out of his book to deal with church finances There s Peter Pukin, a bank teller from out of town, who is besotted by the judge s daughter, who is far too caught up with dreams of romance to even notice his existence..They are introduced with a very natural humour, the humour of a good raconteur who knows to tell his story with warmth and wit, pointing out all of his characters quirks and foibles, and maybe exaggerating them just a little bit It was evident that he knew and loved them.There are stories of events too, and these have a richer vein of humour And, I suspect, rather exaggeration.A bank raid where a man is killed Or maybe seriously injured Or maybe a bullet just whistled past his ear A whirlwind campaign that the town isn t quite ready for And best of all a boat trip that ends with a sinking in less than six feet of water and a daring rescue by the town s lifeboat crew.I don t often fall for comic stories, but I fell for these hook line and sinker.But writing about them or pulling out quotations really doesn t seem to work You need to read one And once you ve read one you ll probably want to read another and then another, until you ve read all twelve.There are plenty of old editions out there, the book is in print, there s a free download, and it s short.So if you like the idea of Sunshine Sketches there really is no excuse. I have a hard to explain love of the writing of Stephen Leacock It started when I read a short story of his when I was nine or ten, and fell in love with the way he wrote Stephen Leacock is decidedly NOT something the average ten year old would normally like But he could write about the most banal thing, like going to the dentist, and make it seem like an exciting adventure, and that s part of the joke That style is put to good use in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, where the narrator waxes rhapsodically about the goings on in Mariposa, a small Canadian town at the start of the 20th Century Leacock populates the town with a host of interesting characters, and then has the narrator tell their banal adventures as though they were the stuff of high drama The result is well worth a read, and chuckles abound But my favourite chapter was the final one, a surprisingly touching cap on the whole exercise The humour can get a little old and hokey sometimes, but when Leacock is on there are very few who can match his wit. Only in Canada could Stephen Leacock become a renowned humorist.That s not entirely true Leacock was supposedly one of the most popular humorists in the English speaking world way back in the early 1900s but that Leacock is, to this day, considered one of the foremost Canadian humorists does not speak well of Canadian literature As a footnote in Canadian history, I could understand Leacock, but as the paterfamilias of Canadian comedy with the most prominent national comedy award named after him God no.It shouldn t be surprising though You would be hard pressed to find a book quintessentially Canadian than Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, a collection of vignettes which follow daily life among the citizens of Mariposa, a fictional Northern Ontario town Bland, milquetoast, uneffacing and as biting as a sea urchin, to call Leacock s humor understated would be an understatement There is essentially one joke in the entirety of Sunshine Sketches That joke, in its many variations, can be summed up as the narrator s hyperbolic overstatements on Mariposa and its citizens being at odds with the idyllic banality of the town itself and the irritating ignorance of the inhabitants therein.So, for instance, the narrator will state that the hotel proprietor s promise to keep his money losing establishment open is completely trustworthy, only to then say that the proprietor put the restaurant up for renovations and that it s still under renovation to this day.Or the narrator will say that a couple of love struck adults found that their writing was entirely identical, except that of the boy was messy and slanted and that of the girl was neat and straight.Or the narrator will say that the Mariposa Judge was the most fair and wise Judge you d ever meet, and then detail some instance where the Judge made a fair and wise judgment which kept himself on the bench for another prolonged period of time Every joke and I don t say every figuratively follows this same formula The narrator says one thing, and the truth is the opposite If the narrator were to say a terrible tragedy happened to rival the destruction of Pompeii, it would actually be a kid stubbing his toe If the narrator were to say that a character is a learned scholar, it would be because he got his multiplication table correct on his first try back in elementary school If the narrator were to say a man is a sexual dynamo, then he d be so skilled that he finishes in all of ten seconds This is a very lame type of humor Nothing funny actually happens the supposed comedy is all in the telling, but the formula is repeated to the point where you can almost predict the punchlines before Leacock even sets the joke up The rancid cherry on top is the sickening nostalgia that permeates the whole of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town Beneath all the sarcastic pronouncements on the grandiosity of Mariposa is the lingering suggestion that there s actually something endearing about this small town and the people that live in it In truth, the town sucks and the people in it suck even Nothing happens in Mariposa, and it s a sad day when my boring ass daily life is actually eventful than an entire year in a town The characters are all belligerent shameless morons with no redeeming qualities, and there s nothing the least bit endearing about any of their despicable antics Their cheating, lying, swindling, complete idiocy, mean spiritedness and self absorption transcend the bounds of endearing quirkiness It s actually a bit disturbing to see the gulf between Leacock s nostalgia tinted lens and the repulsive antics being played out Leacock was apparently an admirer of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, and there is certainly something of their style and sense of humor in his writing It s easy to see with Dickens The Pickwick Papers the type of bumbling, lighthearted comedy Leacock was attempting However, the absurdity and stupidity of Pickwick and his gang was tempered by their goodhearted intentions, whereas Leacock s Mr Smith seems almost sociopathic in comparison The entire town of Mariposa seems like some strange microcosm of everything that is wrong in the world It s some bizarre Canadian version of Hell, where everyone is blandly repulsive and politely insidious. Wonderful There s something about the writing of this book that s just infused with joy Something akin to Robertson Davies or Mark Twain Leacock manages to turn everyday people s everyday lives to adventures It s one of those books that should be completely boring but isn t It s the type of book I wish was ten times longer than it is.It s told in an episodic nature, and each episode focuses on a different character, yet all of the characters recur throughout the book and they re all highly memorable Even in the brief time you spend with them, you begin to feel like you know the town And if you ve ever lived in a small town you probably do.If you re Canadian, you owe it to yourself to read this book If you ve ever lived in a small town Canadian or not this book will probably resonate with you And, oh lawdy, the last chapter is probably the most touching thing ever written on small town life I ve never been one for patriotism, but it makes me proud to be Canadian Leacock also seems to be the wittiest writer this side of Oscar Wilde If you don t believe me, here s a typical passage out of the book excuse the extended excerpt Suicide is a thing that ought not to be committed without very careful thought It often involves serious consequences, and in some cases brings pain to others than oneself.I don t say that there is no justification for it There often is Anybody who has listened to certain kinds of music, or read certain kinds of poetry, or heard certain kinds of performances upon the concertina, will admit that there are some lives which ought not to be continued, and that even suicide has its brighter aspects.But to commit suicide on grounds of love is at the best a very dubious experiment I know that in this I am expressing an opinion contrary to that of most true lovers who embrace suicide on the slightest provocation as the only honourable termination of an existence that never ought to have begun.I quite admit that there is a glamour and a sensation about the thing which has its charm, and that there is nothing like it for causing a girl to realize the value of the heart that she has broken and which breathed forgiveness upon her at the very moment when it held in its hand the half pint of prussic acid that was to terminate its beating for ever.But apart from the general merits of the question, I suppose there are few people, outside of lovers, who know what it is to commit suicide four times in five weeks If you want a lighthearted introduction to Canlit, look no further It s only some 150 pages, so even if you don t like it it s not much of a loss It s a truly timeless piece of literature.P.S I just realized that 2012 is the 100th aniversary of this book That s pretty cool. My daughter gave this book to me for Christmas and what a treasure it is I had never read of any of Stephen Leacock s work, and his writing is delightful As a humorist, Leacock has been described at the Mark Twain of Canada but he is that and He is not as acerbic as Twain and some other American humorists Leacock s humor is sweet, loving, refreshing, and refined The illustrations in this edition are amusing as well and the book design is lovely Most of Leacock s works are also readily available, and I m looking forward to reading. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is a Canadian national treasure Like all works of this master humourist it is extremely funny Lovers of literature might be appalled by this book for how frivolous it is The characters are one dimensional all being essentially designed to set up the punch line at the end of the chapter Leacock has the Panglossian outlook that his Orillia a charming town in Southern Ontario is the best of all possible towns peopled by well intentioned people with nothing but minor flaws.In fact Orillia and Southern Ontario were indeed very sweet places in the twenty years preceding World War I because the level of general prosperity brought out the good side of people Although given short shrift by university literature professors, Leacock is admired by university history professors who praise him for this highly accurate portrayal of the life in small town Canada at the turn of the century.Leacock receives the most praise for being the first writer of any visibility to acknowledge that before woman s suffrage elections in Canada were essentially booze soaked brawls I am surprised that feminists have not praised Leacock for having acknowledged that the two leading women s movements of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century i.e the Women s Suffragette and Women s Christian Temperance Union movement greatly transformed electoral practices in Canada and the USA for the better.Pay special attention to the final chapter entitled the Great Muskoka Election Leacock s proverb that the way to secure an elector s vote was neither through policy nor through rhetoric but rather it was secured by the party being the last to stick a mickey in the voter s pocket before he there were no shes entered the polling station was only too true. Masterful storytelling. This 1912 comic novel is available for free download in many electronic formats Search by the title and the word ebook.Everything I know about normal life I learn from mass media For example, if I am to believe my TV, normal friends drop by with cake and gossip My friends, by comparison, recommend that I read Important Modern Novels IMNs that, being modern and important, are filled with madness, adultery, Nazis, animal cruelty, violent death, and so forth They never bring cake.I flatter myself that I can stand, noggin to noggin, with the brainiest readers of IMNs, but sometimes even I grow weary of madness, adultery, and so on I yearn for a pleasant description of a simpler time So, I took a break from IMNs to read this book, touted by the late lamented Common Reader catalog Autumn 2002 as a laugh out loud depiction of rural life in Canada.I must report only an occasional wry smile cracking my joyless, IMN influenced mug Certain portraits, like that of a blustering amoral illiterate who becomes the much respected head of a conservative political party, probably seemed daring at the time, but now read like a documentary description of a routine occurance Similarly, a story in which clergy engage in insurance fraud was probably an outrageous knee slapper 100 years ago, but considering the unfortunate hi jinks of today s men of the cloth, insurance fraud seems a quaintly old fashioned vice, like buggy racing after overindulging in mead Still, the book is a calmingly pleasant read and our cousins in the Great White North can take pride in having this home grown talent in their canon Me I ve got an appointment with some Nazis. I first noticed this book in Chapters because of its beautiful design by the wonderful Seth, and was interested by the inside flap calling Leacock the Canadian Mark Twain A tall order, if there ever was one And then I was wandering around the library with an armload full of books that were threatening to topple, but then again, this book was prominently displayed and I couldn t wait to get through the stack and read it, and my, was it wonderful.Very soon after starting it, I knew I had to own this book, and that I would have to read it again And probably again And a time again after that I m certain that most people I know don t know about Leacock, but they should He should be remembered I m in awe of his ability to compose such a clear portrait of a person and a town in just a few sentences Even though I have lived in a big city all my life, somehow I felt that I knew the characters and the town of Mariposa very intimately And yet, there was so much going on below the surface, passages I returned to a few times just to dig deeper Leacock is brilliant in his subtlety and in his satire He made me laugh, and especially at the end, in L Envoi The Train to Mariposa I found myself very moved by the haunting nostalgia that he conveyed so beautifully I think that story was one of the most beautiful things I have read in a long time There are so many things that I want to think about again and I wish that I could articulate my admiration for this book and this author fully, but at the very least, this edition had a lovely afterward by Seth that said everything I want to.I truly look forward to revisiting this town in the sunshine once.