June 15, 1998 12:00 PM

by Roy Blount Jr.

When Robert Benchley, the celebrated New Yorker humorist (and Roy Blount Jr.’s boyhood hero), was 54, he quit writing, fearing he was no longer funny. Now Blount—a latter-day Benchley who contributed sidesplitting prose for many years to such magazines as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and Men’s Journal—is 56 years old. “Every morning,” he writes, “I wake up and wonder, ‘Has it happened yet?’ ”

It has not, judging by this memoir in which he plumbs the depths of his Georgia childhood, partly to explain what made him so darned witty in the first place. Turns out it had a lot to do with his smothering mama (“Trying to tell my mother you loved her was like trying to tell Michael Jordan you could take him one-on-one”). At times Be Sweet (that’s what she used to tell little Roy) is like listening to Blount work out his oedipal issues on a psychiatrist’s couch. In the process, he unloads so much material that you can practically flip to any page and find an achingly funny anecdote. It’s worth the price just to hear his tale of interviewing actress Daryl Hannah. And the occasional limericks and verse offer a surprise bonus. Lose it at 56? We can only hope Blount will go on forever. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Witty memoir of a leading humorist’s life

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