The Good Stuff
Every once in a while friends will ask me what I’m reading — or ask me what I like that they might also like. It happens enough that, when I thought about doing a blog, the idea of writing about some of my favorite authors seemed to make sense.
There will be no carping in this space. I don’t intend to review or recommend books or authors I don’t care for. But there are lots of authors I do care for, and some of them are not as well known as they should be, if the world were properly ordered.
Let me start with a particular favorite – P.G. Wodehouse. (By the way, his last name is pronounced “Wood House,” not the way it’s spelled. I think Mark Twain said something to the effect that Europeans spell better than they pronounce.)
Wodehouse was so prolific that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. I think of his writing as music. His plots are mostly farcical, and you don’t really read him to see what happens. You already know what will happen when you’ve read the first chapter. But the language and the style are the things that matter. Here’s a sample – a statement from one of his stock characters, Uncle Fred, who also happens to be an English earl and a noted bon vivant:
“The last man I met who was at school with me , though some years my junior, had a long white beard and no teeth. It blurred the picture I had formed of myself as a sprightly young fellow on the threshold of life.”
The word “blurred” is the sophisticated touch, here, I think.
To say Wodehouse is funny is to commit the sin of being obvious. One reviewer of a collection of his short stories said, “There are ten stories in this book and every one is the best.”
His characters are mostly drawn from the upper classes of English society, but they are characters who never could have existed and who are therefore far more attractive than the usual collection of royals and sub-royals and country squires who really do exist. His characters are innocents, by and large, engaged in equally innocent pastimes, such as raising prize pigs or avoiding matrimony.
You have probably heard of Jeeves, the erudite valet and the deus ex machina who guides the life of Bertie Wooster, the famously fatheaded man about town. Anything about those two is worth reading. Additionally, anything involving Lord Emsworth and BlandingsCastle will repay your time twice over. Or more. There are others who are equally worthy of getting to know. You can hardly go wrong, although Wodehouse was at his best with Bertie and Jeeves or Lord Emsworth. As Evelyn Waugh said: “For Wodehouse there has been no fall of man … the gardens of BlandingsCastle are the original gardens of Eden from which we are all exiled.”
Wodehouse created an alternative universe, a place that never existed, and never could, much to our sorrow. But in another way, greatly to our pleasure.