A new biography, "Remembering Laughter: A Life of James Thurber" (University of Nebraska Press, $20), celebrates Thurber's life in this, his centennial year. Cartoonist and former reporter Neil A. Grauer has written a book full of anecdotal material that does not exploit or sensationalize the man.

Grauer confronts the conflicts in Thurber's life - his traumatic first marriage, the agony of blindness and the disruptive behaviors brought on by frustrations and alcohol abuse. But, while recalling the man's humor, he honestly considers the reasons behind Thurber's actions, as well as the misogyny in his writing, while never excusing the reality.Despite access to an FBI file kept on Thurber (because of his support of liberal groups and Republic forces in the Spanish Civil War), Grauer never makes this an issue that dominates the story of a man whose humor is as potent today as it was 50 years ago.

The following excerpt from Grauer's book tells of an event not too long ago that captures the esteem in which Thurber is held to this day:

On a cold February day in 1991, three employees of Stoneledge Inc., a fine arts conservation and restoration company in Wharton, N.J., used manual saws to remove three sections of a dingy wall from the longtime office of the New Yorker magazine at 25 W. 43rd St. in Manhattan. As much delicacy as possible was used in this unusual surgery. Special cradles had been built to hold the pieces of gypsum block wall, each of which was seven inches thick and weighed more than 100 pounds. Thick, custom-designed aluminum frames were fitted around the irregularly shaped pieces, which then were covered with protective safety glass and carefully inserted into another wall, in the New Yorker's new office at 20 W. 43rd St., right across the way.

This elaborate procedure, overseen by experts in archaeology and artifact preservation, was performed in order to save three large pencil sketches scrawled on the wall long ago by James Thurber. If you believe in ghosts, as Thurber did, then it is a reasonable supposition that his lanky, rumpled shade was hovering nearby, smiling with quiet satisfaction. By such an enshrinement of these wispy remnants of his genius, Thurber's elevation as an icon - something he had feared might never occur - now seems complete.