Bib Ballads, 1915
Gullible’s Travels, 1917
Treat ’em Rough, 1918
The Real Dope, 1919
Own Your Own Home, 1919
How to Write Short Stories, 1924
The Love Nest, and Other Stories, 1926
Round Up: The Stories of Ring Lardner, 1929
Lose with a Smile, 1933
Ring Around the Bases: The Complete Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner, 1992 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor)
You Know Me Al, 1915
The Big Town, 1921
June Moon, pr. 1929 (with George S. Kaufman)
My Four Weeks in France, 1918
Regular Fellows I Have Met, 1919
“The Young Immigrunts,” 1920
“Symptoms of Being Thirty-Five,” 1921
“Say It with Oil,” 1923
What of It?, 1925
The Story of a Wonder Man, 1927
Letters from Ring, 1979 (Clifford M. Caruthers, editor; revised as Letters of Ring Lardner, 1995)
Ringgold Wilmer Lardner was an important twentieth century contributor to a long line of American colloquial humorists, but he often applied his mastery of slang to satire. His pessimism sometimes assumed Swiftian dimensions, and his oblique commentaries on the human race could be full of acid.
Born on March 6, 1885, he grew up in prosperous surroundings in Niles, Michigan. After abandoning the study of engineering, he fell into journalism in 1905. By 1919 he had worked as a highly successful sportswriter on several papers, mainly in Chicago. His marriage in 1911, which produced four sons, was generally happy in spite of his dependence on alcohol. In 1913 Lardner took over “In the Wake of the News,” a column in the Chicago Tribune. The Jack Keefe stories, written as a series of semiliterate letters by an oafish baseball player, began appearing in 1914; they were collected into an epistolary novel, You Know Me Al, in which Keefe, a selfish and cruel braggart, exposes all his obnoxious qualities in his own letters chronicling his athletic career. This was followed by Treat ’em Rough–which deals with Keefe’s adventures in World War I–Own Your Own Home, and The Real Dope. The Big Town, Lardner’s second novel, is a brash midwesterner’s account of his experiences in New York City.
How to Write Short Stories, published in 1924, is a central work in Ring Lardner’s career. The title is typical of his refusal to believe that he was a significant writer, but the collection included “Alibi Ike,” “Some Like Them Cold,” “The Golden Honeymoon,” and “Champion,” which was one of the earliest stories debunking sports. What of It?, a collection of magazine pieces, came next, and in 1926 his second major book of short stories, The Love Nest, and Other Stories, which included “Haircut” was published. A mock autobiography, The Story of a Wonder Man, and two more collections of stories and sketches, Round Up and Lose with a Smile, followed.
Despite his considerable output of fiction, Lardner never abandoned his newspaper column or syndicate writing. To this he added theater and film work. Although he was anxious for a stage success, the closest he came was in June Moon, on which George S. Kaufman collaborated. During the 1920’s Lardner was one of America’s most highly paid writers, but the great burden of work and the strain of alcoholic excesses caught up with him early; he suffered years of illness before he died. While sick he wrote a series of brilliant radio articles for The New Yorker in 1932 and 1933. He died at his home in East Hampton, Long Island, on September 25, 1933.
In his own time there was a group of critics who claimed Ring Lardner as one of the chief American satirists. Since then, much of Lardner’s work has become dated, perhaps because of his dependence upon exact slang and language from his own times. Certain short stories, however, such as “Haircut,” “Champion,” “Some Like Them Cold,” and “The Golden Honeymoon,” continue to involve readers, while You Know Me Al provides an astute and comical insight into the psyche of a would-be American baseball hero.