Oh dear. Based on this material, I think the author must have been paid per cliché. I downloaded this audiobook thinking I'd enjoy listening to an upbOh dear. Based on this material, I think the author must have been paid per cliché. I downloaded this audiobook thinking I'd enjoy listening to an upbeat, fun guide read by Penn Jillette. Perhaps I'd pick up a few tips that might be helpful in social interactions. However, I found Jaye's humor to contrived, self-congratulatory, and one-dimensional. The stream of "just for yuks" gags soon wore thin. Very thin. There was also a sort of snake-oily smarminess to the advice that made my skin crawl.
Does this make me a "loser, not a schmoozer?" I don't think so. ...more
Period Piece is a charming exercise in nostalgia, though I quickly found I was only up for small doses of Childhood Memories in any one sitting so itPeriod Piece is a charming exercise in nostalgia, though I quickly found I was only up for small doses of Childhood Memories in any one sitting so it took me a rather long time to finish it. Indeed, it never ceases to amaze me how well some people remember their childhoods. Gwen Raverat's was particularly memorable (and happy), surrounded and supported by a vast assemblage of eccentric aunts, uncles, and cousins. Having spent a year in Cambridge back in the 80's, though, my favorite portions of the book pertained to what life was back in the city during the Victorian era. The line drawings accompanying the text were particularly nice. ...more
Vintage Trillin, circa the mid 80's, comprised of his columns over several years. There is some very funny stuff here, particularly when placed in conVintage Trillin, circa the mid 80's, comprised of his columns over several years. There is some very funny stuff here, particularly when placed in context of the era, but it becomes repetitive if read more than a few pieces at a time. (So I didn't, parceling the book out for several months.) The best bits made me downright envious. Trillin is one of a kind, deadpan at its best. ...more
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 EmswoWhile 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.
This Unworthy Reviewer Begs Your Inestimable and Refined Indulgence
Of all the writers who have fallen from fashion – and their numbers are legion – feThis Unworthy Reviewer Begs Your Inestimable and Refined Indulgence
Of all the writers who have fallen from fashion – and their numbers are legion – few afford such delight upon acquaintance as Ernest Bramah. Bramah is, admittedly, an acquired taste. Many will no doubt be irritated at his highly ornamental and antiquated language and despair at his insubstantial plots and glacial pace. But they are missing the point, for it is not what Bramah has to say but how he says it that defines his genius.
Bramah is unique among practitioners of early 20th century belles letters, for in his Kai Lung tales he feigns the circumlocutious and exceedingly mannered style of a Chinese scholar. Kai Lung, an itinerant storyteller, is in fact an oriental Scheherazade. The impoverished but wily Kai Lung falls in among robbers and cut-throats but always manages, by dint of his superlative storytelling skills, to save his skin.
This description doesn’t begin to do justice, however, to the drollery and wit that Bramah displays. Consider, for example, the initial episode as the wandering Kai Lung is suddenly waylaid at gunpoint by a blood-thirsty brigand, one Lin Yi:
"O illustrious person," said Kai Lung very earnestly, "this is evidently an unfortunate mistake. Doubtless you were expecting some exalted Mandarin to come and render you homage, and were preparing to overwhelm him with gratified confusion by escorting him yourself to your well-appointed abode. Indeed, I passed such a one on the road, very richly apparelled, who inquired of me the way to the mansion of the dignified and upright Lin Yi. By this time he is perhaps two or three li towards the east."
"However distinguished a Mandarin he may be, it is fitting that I should first attend to one whose manners and accomplishments betray him to be of the Royal House," replied Lin Yi, with extreme affability. "Precede me, therefore, to my mean and uninviting hovel, while I gain more honour than I can reasonably bear by following closely in your elegant footsteps, and guarding your Imperial person with this inadequate but heavily-loaded weapon."
With such heavily brocaded chinoiserie, Bramah manages to turn Western ideas of the exaggerated courtesy of the Chinese on its head. Here, for example, the subtext is that Kai Lung is using flattery and misdirection to get out of a tight situation but that, indeed, two can play at the same game as the brigand offers to “guard” Kai Lung with his “heavily-loaded weapon.” Edwardian concepts of the oblique and inscrutable nature of the “oriental” prop up this conceit, of course, but Bramah neatly undercuts it by often using Kai Lung as a mouthpiece to poke fun at contemporary matters.
Divining the modern parallels, of course, is half the fun of reading Bramah. At the center of this particular fantasy, the hero undergoes a peculiar “transmutation” when he mistakenly drinks an alchemist’s potion. Without giving away too much of the rather convoluted plot, I’ll just say that anyone who’s ever read the fine print of a life insurance policy will feel a certain wry affinity for the hero of the story.
Bramah’s tales are best enjoyed incrementally, sipped like fine sherry. His work has gained a small but loyal following, and indeed the work of one modern fantasy master, Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, owes a clear debt to Bramah. Having said that, Bramah’s tales are perfect in maintenance of high-flown rhetoric, whereas Hughart’s are of a decidedly more accessible cast.
Little is known about Bramah personally, as he was a recluse, but it’s tempting to imagine him dressed in a Chinese silk robe, scribbling away in some dark-panelled and fusty Edwardian study, surrounded by his books and bric-a-brac, pausing only briefly when his oriental man-servant brings him an afternoon cup of green tea. When the servant departs, he reads aloud in a reedy, quavering voice:
”Do not distress your incomparable mind by searching for honorable names to apply to so inferior a person as myself,” he said agreeably. “The mistake is, nevertheless, very natural; for, however miraculous it may appear, this unseemly individual, who is in reality merely a writer of spoken words, is admitted to be exceedingly like the dignified Mandarin himself…” ...more
Listening to one of my favorite books by P.G. Wodehouse ranked right up there with eating comfort food. The story is familiar, but it's still oh-so-enListening to one of my favorite books by P.G. Wodehouse ranked right up there with eating comfort food. The story is familiar, but it's still oh-so-enjoyable. While I'd be hard-pressed to say which Wodehouse tale is my all-time favorite, this is a clear front runner. ...more
Meh. This novel read like an extended sit-com. The problem is I don't really like sit-coms. Presumably Joe Keenan's Frasier stint had a carry-over effMeh. This novel read like an extended sit-com. The problem is I don't really like sit-coms. Presumably Joe Keenan's Frasier stint had a carry-over effect on this novel as I can't recall the earlier two novels in the series, both written before his career as a sit-com writer took off, being as episodic or annoying.
Each page positively exudes bon mots, but, alas, a good many of them seem forced. And then there's the convoluted plot. Well, let's just say I knew there had to be a reason why one arch-villain's son was gay, and sure enough during the antic conclusion All Was Revealed.
I'm a fan of frothy, racy novels, but this was just too damn overworked to be truly entertaining. ...more
This is supposed to be funny, but it's about as funny as watching a kitten getting run over. Where to begin?
Oh, why not... with the book jackeDrivel!
This is supposed to be funny, but it's about as funny as watching a kitten getting run over. Where to begin?
Oh, why not... with the book jacket blurb: "Steven A. Grasse is a man of many talents. (of which writing is manifestly not one). He is the founder and CEO of a large independent ad agency, owns several successful clothing and liquor brands, and has written and directed many independent films. (And this makes him an authority on Britain....how precisely?) This is his first book. (And one sincerely hopes his last.)
Listen, bub, if you're going to do sarcastic, you've got to expect to get as good as you give. The conceit of this little tome (marked down more than half price its original discounted price at Amazon.com, I note with some satisfaction) is that the author is going to list 101 ways in which Britain messed up the world. To wit: "Their Country Has Too Many Flags and Too Many Names" - an entry that chides the British for the fact that "Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are England's obedient bitches."
See what I mean? This is not funny. All one can summon up after reading it is a feeling of vague embarrassment for the author, rather like the feeling upon seeing a co-worker getting sloshed at an office party. He then gets up on a table, put a lampshade on his head, and sings, "I'm a little teapot." Off key. That kind of funny.
Here's another entry. (And, again, there's a feeling that the author is trying to be humorous, but ends up being only spiteful and lame: "They Befouled the World's Stages with Incomprehensible Dramas." A blessedly brief screed on Shakespeare follows, the central argument being, "his plays are too damn hard to understand." (Well... obviously too hard for the author, at least.)
There is one thing that I liked about this book, however. The black-white-and-red illustrations on the cover and opposite each entry are rather nicely done. Perhaps this was what made a friend purchase this book and later give it to me. I can't imagine anyone who read more than two pages of it actually plunking down good cash for this toilet paper disguised as a book. ...more
What a hoot! I hadn't really expected much from these David Sedaris CD's, and to be honest, for the first half hour or so, I barely tolerated listeninWhat a hoot! I hadn't really expected much from these David Sedaris CD's, and to be honest, for the first half hour or so, I barely tolerated listening to him. Then something happened... he grew on me. Big time. Next thing I knew, I a complete convert, going along for the ride.
It's nice to find something that deserves to be popular. Most "popular" books I pick up are complete crap. This one is genuinely entertaining, and beyond that, rather thoughtful. ...more
Newby writes in a now-well-established genre of travel writing: the improbable, disastrous trip taken to an unlikely place by the totally unprepared.Newby writes in a now-well-established genre of travel writing: the improbable, disastrous trip taken to an unlikely place by the totally unprepared. He wasn't the first to do this sort of thing -- among others, Peter Fleming's Brazilian Adventure stands out as an earlier blackly comic "bad trip," not to mention Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Today, the torch of the comic "bad trip" is carried by writers such as Redmond O'Hanlon, Bill Bryson, and Eric Hansen.
Like several of the writers mentioned above, a great deal of the charm of Newby's book lies in several key factors. First of all, he's grossly unprepared for the trip, which involves climbing a hitherto-unscaled (and very daunting) mountain. Newby had no climbing experience whatsoever, and his account of taking a crash course in climbing is one of the more engaging sections of the book. Secondly, there's the abrupt change in life situation. His initial position -- as a buyer in the fashion industry -- could not be further removed from the remoter sections of Afghanistan which he visits. (Even there, however, the reader will note that he has a good eye for garments of all sorts.) And finally, there's the "other person" in the story -- Newby's slightly monomaniac friend Hugh Carless. Much of the comedy is at Hugh's expense, for it seems that Hugh's strange fascination with going back to Nuristan to scale a peak that had once defeated him sets the stage for later disasters.
I found the earlier sections of the book (before the actual journey) to be predictably lighter and funnier. The considerable hardships endured on the road are documented in a wry stiff-upper-lip in the best British tradition, but they do rather wear on. I also had great difficulty figuring out where the hell they were half the time, even after consulting the various maps in the book. Perhaps this is my shortcoming, but the second half of the book did seem to run together for me into one long, protracted, miserable march. The bits of interjected historical background and local color, mostly in the form of mangled interactions with various remote tribal people, redeemed it, however.
The four stars here rests on two things: Newby's wonderfully crisp way of describing even the most dreadful situation, often to uproarious effect, and his keen eye for evoking the natural splendor (and brutal conditions) in one of the remotest corners of the world. It's wonderful armchair travel... and, frankly, I'd MUCH sooner be a voyeur by proxy in this part of the world than actually undertake such a venture....more
How to describe Amanda McKitttrick Ros? In her time (1860-1939) she was hailed as the "world's worst writer," celebrated by luminaries such as AldousHow to describe Amanda McKitttrick Ros? In her time (1860-1939) she was hailed as the "world's worst writer," celebrated by luminaries such as Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain and C.S. Lewis. In both London and Cambridge, her devotees formed 'Amanda Ros Clubs,' which gathered to read her works aloud. There were contests held at these gatherings to see who could read from her work the longest without breaking into laughter. Her many admirers sent her letters in hopes to receive a reply in her characteristic tortured, circumlocuitous style.
A few samples will give only a slight idea of the cumulative effect of her prose and poetry. Here is a passage from her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh:
"Leave me now deceptive demon of deluded mockery: lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper: strike the lyre of living deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt..."
And here is one from her second novel, Helen Huddleson:
"Ah dear Helen, I feel heart sick of this frivolous frittery fraternity of fragiles flitting round and about Earth's huge plane wearing their mourning livery of religion as a cloud of design tainted with the milk of mockery...
Clearly, she had a great love of alliteration. Amanda also disdained using one word when two or more might be employed: eyes were always 'piercing orbs,' tears were 'Nature's dewdrops,' and a hand was a 'bony appendage.' Few things were 'white' in her books when they could be called 'snowy' instead.
Then again, and in completely contrast to this high-flown language, there was an earthy, almost Rabelasian vigor to her work, as demonstrated by her poem entitled "Visiting Westminster Abbey":
Holy Moses! Have a look! Flesh decayed in every nook! Some rare bits of brain lie here, Mortal loads of beef and beer, Some of whom are turned to dust, Every one bids lost to lust; Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue' Undergoes the same as you.
She was the queen of the dangling participle:
"Endeavoring to get away, he held her still closer to him..."
"Still insisting on going home, he turned a deaf ear to her appeal..."
Amanda was also an imaginative and splenetic inventor of terms of calumny and opprobrium. Her two favored targets were critics (for obvious reasons) and lawyers (she was very litigious but seldom won a case). A few choice terms for critics included "Bastard Donkey-headed mites," "Drunken Ignorant Dross," "Poisonous Apes," "Talent wipers of wormy order," and "Auctioneering Agents of Satan." Amanda, when riled, was formidable.
However, as this slim biography makes clear, there was much more to Amanda than a seemingly endless capacity for bad prose. She was an eccentric of epic proportions. Although before marrying a stationmaster in the small town of Larne, Ireland, she had been a simple schoolmistress, her ambition knew no bounds. She was given to driving through the streets of Larne in a phaeton driven by a groom in livery. Occasionally, she'd conclude her drive by hoisting a banner with slogans taunting her critics or the latest object of a lawsuit. She seriously considered whether it would be worth her while to send her work off to the Nobel committee responsible for awarding prizes in literature.
Never, it seems, did she ever truly understand that her writing (and she herself) was a source of amusement, and she insisted to the end that her works were read "by the all the crowned heads of Europe, except the Emperor of Austria and the Czar of Russia." She lived in her own hothouse world peopled with fictional members of the aristocracy and villainous villains. It never seemed to occur to her that this absorption in a fictional world was the least bit odd. When Jack Loudan, the author of this biography, visited her, she favored him by serving tea and reading aloud from her second novel. He relates:
"I asked her why she had called the principal male character in the book Lord Raspberry. Her hand stopped as she was about to put the cup to her lips. There was a puzzled expression on her face as she looked at me. 'What else would I call him?' she asked. I understood then her complete inability to realise why people found her books amusing instead of the serious works she intended them to be."
Completely lacking in humor herself, she nevertheless was able to reduce others (and here I include myself) to paroxysms of helpless laughter. In fact, Loudan proposes that Amanda's work serves as a very useful litmus test of whether or not a person indeed has a sense of humor:
"Amanda is the most perfect instrument for measuring the sense of humor. Alert and quick-witted people accept her at once: those whom she leaves entirely unmoved are invariably dull and unimaginative. She is for people who do not always expect reason, who are ready to enter her world without disputation and to accept her magnificent incongruities."
At times Amanda confounds the reader. Her lexicon, for example, is highly personal and she uses words such as "socialist" and "mushroom" in an idiosyncratic and associative manner that admirers claimed foreshadowed James Joyce's stream-of-conscious narrative. Then, too, there are passages that leave one muttering, 'whaaaa...?' such as the following:
"He was tempted to invest in the polluted stocks of magnified extension, and when their banks seemed swollen with rotten gear, gathered too often from the winds of wilful wrong, how the misty dust blinded his sight and drove him through the field of fashion and feeble effeminacy, which he once never meant to tread, landing him on the slippery rock of smutty touch, to wander into the hidden cavities of ancient fame, there to remain and blinded son of injustice and unparalleled wrong!"
Indeed, as one commentator wrote of the opening sentence of one of her novels, "I first read this sentence nearly three years ago. Since then, I have read it once a week in an increasingly desperate search for meaning. But I still don't understand it."
One might wonder what separates Amanda's overripe prose from that of authors noted for similar excesses, such as H. Rider Haggard, Abraham Merritt, or Ronald Firbank. At least part of the answer, I think, is that these writers, while florid, never engage in the precipitous dips from elevated tone to the quotidian or mundane. They are, in a word, consistent. A great deal of Amanda's charm lies in her juxtaposition of high-flown rhetoric and the commonplace.
Alas, Amanda McKittrick Ros left only a handful of completed novels (three), a few broadsheets, and two volumes of poetry - Poems of Puncture and Fumes of Formation. Ironically, her books are now highly prized collector's items. A quick search of Bookfinder.com turned up very few of her books, but a glance revealed that what is on the market now fetches sums that would have made Amanda proud. Copies of her first novel sell for upwards of $500, while one bookseller wants over $1000 for a very limited edition of her collected letters, Bayonets of Bastard Sheen. I had a brief hope, after reading this book, of perhaps collecting a little Amanda McKittrick Ros myself, but these figures are simply too daunting. I contented myself instead by ordering a book published in 1988, Thine in Storm and Calm: An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader.
I used to regularly read Cecil Adam's column in The Reader back in the 80's when we lived in Chicago, and to this day all I need to do to revisit thosI used to regularly read Cecil Adam's column in The Reader back in the 80's when we lived in Chicago, and to this day all I need to do to revisit those grad-school days is open my well-thumbed copy of The Straight Dope. Was there ever as cool a smart-ass/nerd as Cecil? He set the tone for a lot of the hip-cool know-it-all types who came afterward, but none really had the same mojo. Thousands of readers sent Cecil their (seemingly) unanswerable questions, only to have scorn heaped upon them as Cecil, the all-knowing, came up with the answers.
This book reminds me of those late-night drunken/stoned conversations we've all had with friends - arguing about or speculating over some completely trivial matter that, for some reason, suddenly seizes our imaginations. What would happen if... all the Chinese in the world jumped off a chair at the same time? Could it cause a seismic event? What makes pigeons bob their head when they walk? Just what the hell does the "H" stand for in "Jesus H. Christ"?
Requires a pretty good grounding in history to appreciate Cuppy's humor. It's synopses of historical figures -- from Cheops on up to modern times, wriRequires a pretty good grounding in history to appreciate Cuppy's humor. It's synopses of historical figures -- from Cheops on up to modern times, written with tongue in cheek. find Cuppy's prose a bit dated and strained at times, but there are definitely moments, all harking back to a leit motif of humanity's foibles. ...more
Placed a biography of Wodehouse on hold at the library the other day, so I got geared up for it by reading something by the master I've had on my shelPlaced a biography of Wodehouse on hold at the library the other day, so I got geared up for it by reading something by the master I've had on my shelves for a while. Alas, this early work (originally written in 1906 and revised in 1920) lacks a good deal of the snap and intricacy of Plum's later work, but it still toddles cheerfully enough along. It just lacked some of those laugh-out-loud moments that usually ensue whenever I pick up a novel by Wodehouse. ...more