It's that time of year again, when I scan the groaning shelves and select my Halloween reading. So what did I end up doing? Downloading an e-book inst...moreIt's that time of year again, when I scan the groaning shelves and select my Halloween reading. So what did I end up doing? Downloading an e-book instead!(less)
While not in the same class as later Wodehouse novels, Something Fresh has the honor of being the first Blandings Castle novel. Enter potty Lord Emswo...moreWhile not in the same class as later Wodehouse novels, Something Fresh has the honor of being the first Blandings Castle novel. Enter potty Lord Emsworth (minus pig), the Honorable Freddie Threepwood, and the Efficient Baxter, as well a host of querulous relatives, impulsive lovers, and shady characters. The resulting imbroglio proceeds with classic Wodehousian verve.
To sum up (briefly), Freddie has gotten engaged to an American heiress, but his father, Lord Emsworth, accidentally steals an valuable scarab from the heiress' collector father. Two down-and-out writers, Ashe and Joan, pose as servants at Blandings Castle, both intending to snag the scarab and a hefty reward. Although rivals in the scarab recovery business, of course they end up falling in love. But that's just the half of it.
Will Freddie tie the knot? Will the millionaire collector get his scarab -- and his digestive health -- back? Will the Efficient Baxter's suspicions be borne out? It's vintage Wodehouse, full of humorous musings and antic silliness.
I downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & Nobl...moreI downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader. Thought I'd try some short stories while getting the hang of using my new device.
It had been years since I had seen the Michael Caine/Sean Connery movie, but I still found that I remembered quite a bit of it. Part of the challenge in reading "The Man Who Would Be King" was to not let my memories of the movie overshadow the tale although I found that letting Michael Caine's voice stand in for Peachey enhanced the reading).
As I read the title story, I reflected on how much a British audience of Kipling's era was familiar with that a modern audience isn't. Luckily, I have a fair amount of background in the history of the British raj, the geography of the region, and the political climate of the time, particularly as pertains to "the Great Game." Still, I suspect I missed some of the humor, particularly in the long build-up to the main events, when the narrator is experiencing a "Deficit of the Budget" and traveling "Intermediate Class" by train. These terms demonstrate part of the charm of the tale -- the use of high-flown language by the down-and-out classes, who may not have the ready money but certainly have ready wits. These are true Kipling "types" and always a treat to encounter.
There's a paternalistic attitude underpinning the tale, however, that I tried not to be judgmental about. The two adventurers, secure in their British know-how, set out to sort out the warring native tribes of fictional Kafiristan. All that's needed, it seems, are some twenty good rifles and the sort of knowledge a seasoned British campaigner would have -- how to drill an army, administer frontier justice, and deal with the natives. Kipling doesn't let this "white man's burden" aspect of the tale overwhelm the brisk narrative, to his credit, and indeed it's the violation of the terms of the adventurers' "Contrack" that proves to be their downfall.
Among the other four tales in this anthology, I liked "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" the best, a macabre tale recounted with considerable relish. "The Phantom Rickshaw" was a lamentably predictable ghost story, while "Wee Willie Winkle," to my mind, suffered from the Victorian tendency to be overly sentimental about children. The final story, "Without Benefit of Clergy" at first glance seemed overly sentimental, concerning as it did the ill-fated affair of a British man with a local Indian woman, but its ultimate effect was one of pathos. It reminded me of a book I read last year by William Dahlrymple, White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, which also concerned a doomed relationship. (less)
Stevenson's earliest published short stories are included in this anthology. His eye for tragi-comic situations is evident. Having just finished a num...moreStevenson's earliest published short stories are included in this anthology. His eye for tragi-comic situations is evident. Having just finished a number of recently published books, it was a treat to step back into the opulence of Victorian language. Unfortunately, I found myself getting a little impatient with his plot devices. "The Suicide Club" seemed to end in a peculiarly short way, for example.
I couldn't help but reflect, though, that this sort of entertainment was the equivalent of our weekly TV shows. The Victorian readers waited for each installment (sans plot summary) much the way a modern viewer waits to see who's going to be the sole "Survivor"!(less)
Got to page 140 and found my patience wearing thin. Liked the first chapter on Mrs. Crane, but then found second chapter, with shifting elliptical vie...moreGot to page 140 and found my patience wearing thin. Liked the first chapter on Mrs. Crane, but then found second chapter, with shifting elliptical view of events to be harder to follow, even though I'd seen the BBC television production years back. (I liked the movie better, in a reversal of the usual case.) Third chapter got even more tiresome, and by now the theme of "East is East and West Is West, and Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet" had gotten overworked. Rather than do a forced march through a novel I felt no enthusiasm for any longer, I just decided to return it to the library on its due date. (less)
The quotes in this book are arranged by source, such as "The Importance of Being Ernest" or a particular essay. While Wilde's quotes are readily avail...moreThe quotes in this book are arranged by source, such as "The Importance of Being Ernest" or a particular essay. While Wilde's quotes are readily available on internet lists and elsewhere, this slim volume has some quotes that I hadn't run across before. There's no padding whatsoever -- no introductory essay or response to the quotes, simply the quotes themselves. (less)
Interesting edition, matches description of the 1901 first edition, but with different cover, probably printed sometime between 1910-1930. It has the...moreInteresting edition, matches description of the 1901 first edition, but with different cover, probably printed sometime between 1910-1930. It has the reverse swastika in a circle with Kipling's signature on a separate page after the title page, a device that was dropped from his works printed after the late 30's (for obvious reasons) as well as ten clay relief illustrations by Rudyard Kipling's father, J.L. Kipling, and verses at beginnings of Chapters VIII and XIII, as the first edition is described.
Anyhow, reading this old edition added a certain something to the experience. It has been years since I had read any Kipling, and for some reason I'd never gotten around to reading Kim. Unfortunately, I found it hard going -- it's written in a somewhat stilted dialect, for the most part, with long peregrinations to indulge in the "picturesque" aspects of the local people. It's all well and good to look back and feel that the attitudes during the Raj were condescending, but it's a little hard going to be confronted with it page after page. The intention, of course, was to prove that the ancient "oriental" cultures subsumed under the Raj really did have the jump on the British in many ways. Why, then, did the protagonist have to be British (albeit with a native upbringing)? It's rather like those well-intentioned films that purport to advance the cause of some downtrodden group, (e.g. "Dances with Wolves") where the native people are depicted with great sympathy, but then, at the end of the day, the hero is white.
I was disappointed that there was so little of the "Great Game" in this novel. Had there been more intrigue and less "local color," I think it would have been more satisfying, but then I think this sort of writing was what was in demand at the time. (less)
Excellent anthology which devotes separate chapters to the major war poets, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, E...moreExcellent anthology which devotes separate chapters to the major war poets, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden, and others. I've been fascinated by the "war poets" since living in Cambridge and visiting Rupert Brooke's home village nearby, but this volume goes far beyond the early (mostly idealistic) poetry of Brooke and similar writers. The descent into disillusionment and horror is amply demonstrated by the later poets and artists. The many photographs and illustrations do a splendid job of setting off the individual accounts. This book really deepened my understanding of the war and effect it had on individual lives. (less)
I'd always meant to read a biography of Wodehouse, and in many ways this is an excellent one, particularly good at coming to grips with what made Wode...moreI'd always meant to read a biography of Wodehouse, and in many ways this is an excellent one, particularly good at coming to grips with what made Wodehouse tick. However, I can't say that at the end of it all that I actually appreciate Wodehouse more than I did previously. This is probably my fault rather than the biographer's, but "ignorance was bliss" when it came to the creator of such immortal characters as Jeeves and Lord Emsworth. Finding out that Wodehouse was a sexless, naive workaholic married to a rather shrill, self-centered socialite was a bit of a let-down.
On the positive side, there's a lot of material here on Wodehouse's work in musical theater and Hollywood that I hadn't any inkling about and that helped create a fuller picture of his considerable talents. (less)
Having enjoyed Arthur and George so much, I decided to give this a try. I'd forgotten that Flaubert lived in Rouen, but now that I think back on a vis...moreHaving enjoyed Arthur and George so much, I decided to give this a try. I'd forgotten that Flaubert lived in Rouen, but now that I think back on a visit to that city, I seem to recall having seen some references to him there. It's been so long since I read Madam Bovary that I was scarcely able to dredge up much more from my memory about him, but in the long run it didn't matter so much as this loosely structure novel, ostensibly the idiosyncratic ramblings of a melancholic doctor who was obsessed with all things Flaubert, didn't hinge on knowing much about Madam Bovary other than the fact that she committed adultery.
I found it took a bit of patience to sift through all the chaotic threads and unconnected bits and bobs of this novel. At times it was brilliant, but then it would hare off on some other idea or switch to another genre entirely. However, there was a "method" in the apparent madness -- I won't give that away as it was the wellspring of the plotless plot, but suffice it to say it was there. The chapter in which the doctor reveals his secret is wonderfully done and richly emotional, but then the next chapter suddenly reverts to more irritating trivia. I suppose that says something about how painful the doctor found it to really come to grips with his own life (and thus sought refuge in someone else's), but ultimately the Flaubert theme overpowered the development of the doctor, who appears more of an intrusion than a character per se. Perhaps it was my shortcoming, but I grew impatient with having to wade through more Flaubert trivia than seemed necessary to discover the true root of the doctor's odd Flaubert obsession. I couldn't help but compare Flaubert's Parrot to other novels in which a central character was crippled by an painful memory (such as Sophie's Choice) and wonder if a less erudite treatment would have cut closer to the bone.
One Flaubert quote I gleaned from the novel, however, that I've added to my commonplace book: "'Whatever else happens,' Flaubert wrote when the Franco-Prussian war broke out, 'we shall remain stupid." Funny, that's exactly how I felt on March 18, 2003...(less)
This is a vast book, the kind that makes my wrists ache, and yet I dip into it from time to time for some remembered tidbit. All the greats are here,...moreThis is a vast book, the kind that makes my wrists ache, and yet I dip into it from time to time for some remembered tidbit. All the greats are here, and a few unexpected writers not normally classed as humorists. The humor is of the literary rather than the 'ha-ha' sort. There are, for example, excerpts from Ulysses and Cranford, but then alongside these are selections from books more commonly regarded as humorous, such Catch-22 or Cold Comfort Farm. It's an excellent place to scout for writers one might not encounter otherwise, too. As I look through the table of contents, I note how many of these works I've read in their entirety (for although there are many short stories and the occasional poem, the selections are often taken from full-length books).
Running to some eleven hundred pages, it could well suffice as a desert island book. It encompasses five hundred years of prose written originally in English, and ends, most suitably, with an ample selection of P.G. Wodehouse. (less)
I give five stars sparingly, so I was torn between giving and "four" and a "five" here. Ultimately, though, when I considered that I'd put aside all o...moreI give five stars sparingly, so I was torn between giving and "four" and a "five" here. Ultimately, though, when I considered that I'd put aside all other tasks one weekend to devote to finishing this book, I decided that this was five-star material.
The last book I'd read by Barnes, England, England was a bit of a disappointment -- it came off, it seemed to me, like second-rate Tom Sharpe. But this book was a different matter. I especially liked the way it unfolded, alternating from one central character to the other, shedding light on both in the process. I resisted going to the Internet to see if in fact Barnes had created the George character, and when, after finishing the book, I read that George was based on a real person, the creation of the character seemed even more impressive.
There's a realism underpinning the book that speaks to -- how shall I put this? -- more mature audiences. Let's just say after fifty or so, a more measured approach to life emerges, and as such (speaking personally here), there's less patience with relentlessly upbeat or rosily romantic themes. Arthur and George resonates on a variety of levels, not the least of which is a clear-eyed appraisal of the nature of relationships - personal, romantic, and family.
Finally, those interested in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods will be struck by how effortlessly Barnes puts the reader into that milieu. (less)