Archive for the ‘Humorous’ Category

Review of Dear Fahrenheit 451, by Annie Spence

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

by Annie Spence

Flatiron Books, 2017. 244 pages.
Starred Review

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You know I have to start my review emulating you, but of course you realize that I won’t do as good a job with it as you did. So basically, you’re giving me a sense of inferiority right from the start. I should probably hate you for that, but instead I feel all fangirly, impressed with your wit and cleverness and knowledge of books.

You asked me (“Dear Reader”) in your last letter a few questions, so the least I can do is continue the correspondence.

Did you make me want to reread a book I broke up with long ago? Well, is it fair to answer that you made me want to watch a movie again? One of my favorite parts in here was your letter to the library in Beauty and the Beast. I love when your author admits: “But the main reason she’s my favorite is you, Library. You’re so golden and glorious, towering over everyone with your endless rows of books. To be Belle for a day!” Oh yes!

But alas! I must admit that your author revealed, in many times and in many ways, that her taste is quite different from mine. Most notable was her letter to The Hobbit, where she explained “We just want different things.” Kind of mind-blowing to reject The Hobbit! But in a backhanded way, yes, that made me want to reread that wonderful book. (Oh! And The Time Traveler’s Wife! Yes, I want to reread that now.)

Did I keep notes of all the reading you suggested and now have a gabazillion books on your list? Well, I did put a couple of books on hold. And checked out Nikki Giovanni’s Love Poems (Wow!). But, see above, I discovered your literary taste is somewhat divergent from mine. Nothing personal. We just want different things. On top of that, I’m about to commence a year of reading children’s books for the Newbery Medal, so I’m trying to pare down my other-books-I-want-to-read list. I honestly don’t have time to let you distract me.

Do I want to know where I can get a copy of The One-Hour Orgasm? No, I do not. But your writing about the things you find on the public library shelves, and the books that need to move on, made me laugh out loud with recognition.

Ah, this perhaps explains why, despite my negative answers to your queries, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. You reveal your author’s passion for books and let me enjoy her witty book references, clever book flirtations, and observations from a Library Insider.

And I have to say, I soooo agree with you about The Giving Tree! Your author gave it to a boy she loved in high school. I gave it to a boy I loved in college – and married him. As you say, “Do you want to guess how that went, Giving Tree? Want to guess who was the tired old stump at the end of that book?” Would you believe that I actually burned the copy I gave him? You are spot on correct about that one, Dear Fahrenheit 451.

I will make a confession: You were on hold for another reader – and I didn’t turn you back in right away! (I know, shocking behavior in a librarian!) Although I check out far more books than I can ever read, turning in books that someone else wants is something I faithfully do. But I was more than halfway through reading you, and you were just plain fun! So I selfishly kept your company for myself.

And I would very much like to quote you from so many different places. The clever letters of love and of good-by. And the handy-dandy reading lists at the end. So very much fun to read, whether I take the recommendations or not, honestly.

But, as I said, I didn’t turn you in immediately when I should have, and I’m feeling guilty about that. I need to finish this review and send you on to the next reader. But first I will say that anyone who loves books or reading or libraries will find something to love about you.

With Much Affection,

Sondy

flatironbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do! by Daisy Hirst

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do!

by Daisy Hirst

Candlewick Press, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #12 Picture Books

This book about being a big sister of an annoying little brother charmed me with its specific details.

The drawings are simple, such as a child would do. Natalie and her little brother Alphonse are some sort of monster. Natalie is red and Alphonse is blue.

The story is also simple.

They both liked naming the pigeons, [Banana! Lorraine!]

bouncing things off the bunk beds,
and stories in the chair.

And they both loved making things.

Except that Alphonse did sometimes draw on the things that Natalie made,
or eat them, and Natalie hated that.

I like that the author doesn’t need to tell us that Alphonse is being aggravating.

One day when lunch was peas
and TV was awful
and Mom did not understand, [What a lovely dog! It is a HORSE.]
Natalie found Alphonse under the bunk beds . . .

eating her favorite book.

“ALPHONSE, THAT IS NOT OK TO DO!” said Natalie.

What follows is Alphonse trying to reconcile with Natalie, and Natalie needing some time first. She draws a picture of awful things happening to Alphonse. I especially like the touch of the “swarm of peas.” Then she shuts herself in the bathroom and takes a bath.

But while she’s in the bath, she thinks she hears things happening to Alphonse like what she drew.

When she comes out and learns that Alphonse just created disasters while trying to get the tape to fix Natalie’s book, she’s just glad that Alphonse is okay.

It’s a simple story, but it warms my heart. Sometimes little siblings are incredibly annoying – but sometimes they’re creative partners.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Complete Peanuts, 1999-2000, by Charles M. Schulz

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

complete_peanuts_9900_largeThe Complete Peanuts

The Definitive Collection of Charles M. Schulz’s Comic Strip Masterpiece

Dailies and Sundays plus Li’l Folks

1999 to 2000

by Charles M. Schulz

introduction by President Barack Obama

Fantagraphics Books, 2016. 315 pages.
Starred Review

This series is wonderful. Every single Peanuts strip is reproduced, in order. My family has been following it since the series began in 2004 with the 1950 to 1952 volume.

I reviewed the first several volumes, but then decided there wasn’t a lot more to say. They are brilliant, and it is wonderful that Fantagraphics is assembling this collection.

My son and I wondered what they would do with the final volume, since Charles Schulz died in February 2000, so the book would only be half as long.

The solution Fantagraphics came up with delighted us — they reprinted Li’l Folks, a cartoon panel series that Charles Schulz drew from 1947 to 1950 for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. You can see some things that showed up in the early Peanuts strips directly quoted.

It has been a tremendous treat to read all of the Peanuts cartoons over these past twelve years. And now one more volume is promised, with “bonus material and rarities.” I can’t wait!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

i_really_like_slop_largeI Really Like Slop!

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2015. 57 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s Mo Willems’ answer to Green Eggs and Ham!

Gerald, an elephant, and Piggie are best friends. But Piggie likes food that appeals to pigs.

In this book, Piggie dons a chef’s hat and has created a bowl of green Slop with flies buzzing around it. She really likes slop, and asks her best friend to try some. “The flies are how you know it is ripe!”

Even with the simple cartoons that characterize Mo Willems’ drawings, there’s all kinds of physical humor here. Facial expressions show a wide range of interest and disgust. And once Gerald tries slop? His body turns various different colors and patterns.

But this is not Green Eggs and Ham. The reader is pretty sure from Gerald’s reactions that slop tastes terrible.

When Piggie asks him if he really likes slop, Gerald answers:

No.
I do not really like slop.
But, I am glad I tried it.

Because I really like you.

There’s a punchline follow up to that when Piggie has a suggestion for dessert.

I can’t think of another combination of Friendship Story and Trying-New-Foods Story (though there may well be one. If you can think of one, tell me in the comments). After all, Sam-I-Am isn’t really much of a friend!

Kids will love the humor in this story. Parents will have another chance to give the “It’s good to try new foods” message, along with an acknowledgment that sometimes the new food tastes like slop.

pigeonpresents.com
hyperionbooksforchildren.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, by P. G. Wodehouse

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

jeeves_and_the_feudal_spirit_largeJeeves and the Feudal Spirit

by P. G. Wodehouse

The Overlook Press, Woodstock & New York, 2001. (First published in 1954.) 231 pages.

Honestly? The reason I continue to review Jeeves and Wooster books is so I can remember which ones I’ve read. I will list them in order on the side for the benefit of my readers, and the more I include, the more helpful that is. (Not that order makes a huge difference with these books.) The library has The Collector’s Wodehouse, which I must admit, I would love to own myself. But thanks to space constraints, I am very happy the library owns them, so I don’t need to.

Yes, the books featuring the young and feckless Bertie Wooster and his brilliant gentleman’s personal gentleman Jeeves are all very similar. But they are also all clever, quirky, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

There is generally a young lady whom Bertie is in danger of marrying. He needs to keep her romance flourishing with one of his buddies. In this book, the lady in question is Florence Craye.

You see, the trouble with Florence was that though, as I have stated, indubitably comely and well equipped to take office as a pin-up girl, she was, as I have also stressed, intellectual to the core, and the ordinary sort of bloke like myself does well to give this type of female as wide a miss as he can manage.

You know how it is with these earnest, brainy beazels of what is called strong character. They can’t let the male soul alone. They want to get behind it and start shoving. Scarcely have they shaken the rice from their hair in the car driving off for the honeymoon than they pull up their socks and begin moulding the partner of joys and sorrows, and if there is one thing that gives me the pip, it is being moulded. Despite adverse criticism from many quarters – the name of my Aunt Agatha is one that springs to the lips – I like B. Wooster the way he is. Lay off him, I say. Don’t try to change him, or you may lose the flavour.

Even when we were merely affianced, I recalled, this woman had dashed the mystery thriller from my hand, instructing me to read instead a perfectly frightful thing by a bird called Tolstoy. At the thought of what horrors might ensue after the clergyman had done his stuff and she had a legal right to bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave, the imagination boggled.

Additional customary motifs are also present. His amiable Aunt Dahlia is in a scrape of her own and risks losing the services of her chef Anatole (a disaster of epic proportions). Bertie is expected to help in a scheme fraught with danger. Bertie has dared to go against Jeeves’ fashion sense (always a bad idea) by growing a moustache. And as usual, Jeeves is the one who can tie up all the threads neatly and save the day.

Some of the Bertie and Jeeves books are short stories and separate adventures. This one is a unified whole, with all the more threads to tie up neatly at the end.

I’ve gotten where I like to keep a P. G. Wodehouse novel handy to dip into now and then. I don’t really lose the train of thought – I know where they’re going by now! – and it’s sure to get me laughing and simply appreciating the clever word play. If I want to lighten up and give myself a few smiles, I pull out my current Wodehouse. I’ll be sad when I finish all the Jeeves books, but I won’t nearly be done when that happens.

If you haven’t tried Wodehouse yet, do so some time when you want to lighten up. It won’t fail you.

And a big thank-you to my sister Becky for introducing me to him years ago!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

exploring_calvin_and_hobbes_largeExploring Calvin and Hobbes

An Exhibition Catalogue

by Bill Watterson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 151 pages.

Can we all agree that Calvin and Hobbes is one of the best comic strips of all time? (I say “one of” because: Peanuts. I don’t even want to decide between them, but the fact that it’s very close says worlds about Calvin and Hobbes.)

This book is a retrospective. It accompanies an exhibition at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Besides a representative (and wonderful) sample of the strips, it’s got an extended interview with Bill Watterson at the front of the book, and includes some strips that influenced him as well as some examples of his early work before Calvin and Hobbes.

In some ways, reading this book is less satisfying than sitting down with one of the old collections. It did make me want to sit down with one of the old collections. It gives you tastes and reminders of this wonderful strip. It brought me back to the 80s when I was a newlywed and the early 90s when I was a young mother. Both my kids read these collections over and over when growing up.

My sister used to tell me when I had kids, they’d end up just like Calvin. And I have to say, if they gained some of Calvin’s curiosity and creativity and divergent thinking, who am I to say that Bill Watterson didn’t have something to do with that?

It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy . . .

Let’s go exploring!

andrewsmcneel.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

furiously_happy_largeFuriously Happy

A Funny Book About Horrible Things

by Jenny Lawson

Flatiron Books, New York, 2015. 329 pages.
Starred Review

Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, the author of one of the funniest blogs on the Internet. I listened to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and laughed and laughed. I’m trying to remember why on earth I didn’t review it, and suspect it’s probably because I was embarrassed to recommend someone who uses so much coarse language to my prim and proper friends? But I’ve since recommended some of her columns, particularly the one about Beartrum, to enough friends to be sure that the laughter far outweighs any outrage. (And maybe my friends aren’t so prim and proper after all?)

This one, too, has plenty of coarse language and plenty of talk about body parts that don’t usually come up in polite society. But oh my goodness, Jenny Lawson is just so funny. And this book has some open and honest talk about mental illness, which makes it all the better and gives it a great message even beyond making you laugh.

This is not, I’m afraid, a good book to bring to a doctor appointment to read in the waiting room. I brought it, realizing that it’s a good book to dip in and out of, and knowing I wouldn’t be bored. However, I hadn’t stopped to think how I would sound giggling nonstop or letting out random chuckles and snorts. I tried to contain them, but didn’t completely succeed. At the very least, I was smiling ridiculously, looking pretty similar to the raccoon on the cover.

As Jenny says in the disclaimer:

This is a funny book about living with mental illness. It sounds like a terrible combination, but personally, I’m mentally ill and some of the most hysterical people I know are as well. So if you don’t like the book then maybe you’re just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.

The “Furiously Happy” title comes from a blog post the author wrote about being Vehemently, Furiously Happy, just to spite her depression.

This didn’t mean that I wasn’t still depressed or anxious or mentally ill. I still spent my share of weeks in bed when I simply couldn’t get up. I still hid under my office desk whenever the anxiety got too heavy to battle standing up. The difference was that I had a storeroom in the back of my mind filled with moments of tightrope walking, snorkeling in long-forgotten caves, and running barefoot through cemeteries with a red ball gown trailing behind me. And I could remind myself that as soon as I had the strength to get up out of bed I would again turn my hand to being furiously happy. Not just to save my life, but to make my life.

Yes, there’s serious and very helpful talk about mental illness, but there are also random funny bits and hilarious stories. I can’t think of a better way to review this book than to quote a few. I’ll try to limit it to bits without swearing. (If swearing really bothers you, alas, you should avoid this book. Also, you might not want to listen to it in the family car.)

“I’m not going to say I told you so” is pretty much the same thing as saying “I told you so.” Except worse because you’re saying “I told you so” and congratulating yourself for your restraint in not saying what you totally just said.

The phrase “Rest in peace” seems incredibly self-serving. It basically means, “Stay in your grave. Don’t haunt me.” The opposite would be “Fitfully toss” or “Go jogging.”

I don’t understand why people keep pushing that “Don’t be some random person. BE UNIQUE” message. You’re already incredibly unique. Everyone is incredibly unique. That’s why the police use fingerprints to identify people. So you’re incredibly unique . . . but in the exact same way that everyone else is. (Which, admittedly, doesn’t really sing and is never going to make it on a motivational T-shirt.) So none of us are unique in being unique because being unique is pretty much the least unique thing you can be, because it comes naturally to everyone.

People who think it’s so hard to find a needle in a haystack are probably not quilters. Needles find you. Just walk on the haystack for a second. You’ll find the needle. They’re worse than floor-Legos.

Talking about Rory, the taxidermied raccoon on the cover:

Victor thinks taxidermy is a waste of money, claiming that “there are only so many things you can do with a dead raccoon.” But I have proven him wrong time and time again. Victor pointed out that what he’d actually said was “There are only so many things you should do with a dead raccoon,” and honestly that does sound more like something he’d say, but I still disagree.

There’s an essay about when her doctor prescribed antipsychotics. I like this paragraph. She knows how to look on the bright side and make you laugh, too.

Truthfully, though, there are some advantages to being on antipsychotics. First off, you can say you’re on antipsychotics. This might seem silly but when you go to the pharmacy and you’re standing in line with twenty germy people sneezing all over the place you can honestly say, “Would you mind if I went first? I have to pick up my antipsychotic meds and I REALLY needed them yesterday.” This tactic also works for grocery lines, the DMV, and some buffets.

Here’s some good logic:

Technically, if I were farther away from the center of the Earth then I’d be subjected to less gravity and then I would weigh less. So I’m not really fat. I’m just not high enough. Victor says I sound pretty high already but I suspect he’s just being insulting.

But the simple fact is, there’s no such thing as real weight. Only mass. Weight depends entirely upon the gravity of wherever you are, which is why if you weigh yourself on the top of Mount Everest you’d be closer to outer space and you would weigh slightly less than you would at home. But you’d have to lug a scale up to the top of Mount Everest to prove it, which would suck. Honestly, they should just leave a scale up there for people. Although, maybe they already have one, because who’s going to drag a scale back down Mount Everest? That would be crazy. Frankly, I never understood why people climb that thing in the first place, but if there’s a scale up there telling you that you’re skinnier than you think then I guess I can see the draw. . . .

Regardless, on the moon I weigh about as much as a large toaster, so using that logic I’m not overweight. I’m simply overgravitated. Spell-check says that I can’t be “overgravitated” because that isn’t a real word and suggested that I probably meant to say that I’m “overly aggravating.” Victor says spell-check has a point.

Spell-check and Victor are both dead to me.

Perhaps if people are so concerned with obesity they should just work on making the Earth have less mass so there’s less gravity. . . . Victor says this is a clear case of “deflection” and I agree because I assume “deflection” is something scientific used to deflect mass from Earth and, thus, make us all lighter. Victor says he thinks I don’t know what “deflection” means. I think Victor doesn’t know what “being supportive” means. (It means letting me lean on him a little when I’m standing on the bathroom scale.) I think this is all pretty commonsense. Victor says it’s not at all.

And the Bloggess is so good at helpful ways to think about yourself!

I try not to get caught up in appearance issues though because my grandmother always used to say, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” And that’s probably true because with my luck my best feature would be hidden deep, deep inside my body. I suspect my best feature is my skeleton, which is a shame because it might be the most elegant and hauntingly graceful skeleton ever but I’ll never get complimented on it while I’m still fleshy enough to appreciate it. That’s why I’d like people to say “Nice skeleton” to me now. Just give me the benefit of the doubt, you know?

I’ve started handing out similar compliments to strangers, but not about their skeletons, because that would seem disingenuous or even sarcastic since I’m already pretty sure I have the sexiest skeleton ever. It’s dead sexy. See what I just did there? I credit my skeleton with that joke. Clever and beautiful. No, instead I say things like “I’d wager you have an exquisite pancreas.” Or “I bet your tendons are fantastic.” People are usually so overwhelmed that they move away very quickly or tell me they don’t have any money on them. No one is ever prepared to accept compliments from strangers about their internal organs, which just goes to show how seldom we compliment them.

Along those same lines, I love the part where she explains that the person we should be comparing ourselves to is Galileo. But first I have to include where she explains the Spoon Theory:

The Spoon Theory was created by a friend of mine, Christine Miserandino, to explain the limits you have when you live with chronic illness. Most healthy people have a seemingly infinite number of spoons at their disposal, each one representing the energy needed to do a task. You get up in the morning. That’s a spoon. You take a shower. That’s a spoon. You work, and play, and clean, and love, and hate, and that’s lots of spoons . . . but if you are young and healthy you still have spoons left over as you fall asleep and wait for the new supply of spoons to be delivered in the morning.

But if you are sick or in pain, your exhaustion changes you and the number of spoons you have. Autoimmune disease or chronic pain like I have with my arthritis cuts down on your spoons. Depression or anxiety takes away even more. Maybe you only have six spoons to use that day. Sometimes you have even fewer. And you look at the things you need to do and realize that you don’t have enough spoons to do them all. If you clean the house you won’t have any spoons left to exercise. You can visit a friend but you won’t have enough spoons to drive yourself back home. . . .

Really, the only people you should be comparing yourself to would be people who make you feel better by comparison. For instance, people who are in comas, because those people have no spoons at all and you don’t see anyone judging them. Personally, I always compare myself to Galileo because everyone knows he’s fantastic, but he has no spoons at all because he’s dead. So technically I’m better than Galileo because all I’ve done is take a shower and already I’ve accomplished more than him today. If we were having a competition I’d have beaten him in daily accomplishments every day of my life. But I’m not gloating because Galileo can’t control his current spoon supply any more than I can, and if Galileo couldn’t figure out how to keep his dwindling spoon supply I think it’s pretty unfair of me to judge myself for mine.

You’ll even get complimented if you read this book:

How can we be expected to properly judge ourselves? We know all of our worst secrets. We are biased, and overly critical, and occasionally filled with shame. So you’ll have to just trust me when I say that you are worthy, important, and necessary. And smart.

You may ask how I know and I’ll tell you how. It’s because right now? YOU’RE READING. That’s what the sexy people do. Other, less awesome people might currently be in their front yards chasing down and punching squirrels, but not you. You’re quietly curled up with a book designed to make you a better, happier, more introspective person.

You win. You are amazing.

But my favorite bit of all is when she recounts what her husband Victor said to her. He’s a gem. (I won’t get into how this contrasts with something specific my ex-husband said to me about the chronic headaches I used to get. Let’s just say I love Victor vicariously for this sentence.)

Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I felt like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, “It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.

Well look at that. I was only going to quote a few good bits. There are far too many! And there are many, many more where that came from! If any of these made you smile, read the book! I can honestly say it left me happier, encouraged, and feeling much better about my own failings and my own quirky, wonderful life.

It didn’t, however, give me the slightest inclination to start collecting taxidermy. However, I am glad that The Bloggess does, and thus brings joy to people all over the world.

TheBloggess.com
flatironbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/furiously_happy.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Very Good, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

very_good_jeeves_largeVery Good, Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse

*and*

Jeeves and the Old School Chum
and Other Stories

by P. G. Wodehouse
Performed by Alexander Spencer

The Overlook Press. First published in 1930. 297 pages.
Recorded Books, 1985. 3 compact discs.
Starred Review

The reason I’m still reviewing P. G. Wodehouse books is simply to keep track of which books I’ve read. I can’t possibly tell by reading the books! In fact, I listened to the audiobook first, Jeeves and the Old School Chum, which said it was “selected” stories from Very Good, Jeeves, but I can’t tell you for sure which stories I heard on CD first.

You might think this is a criticism? It is not at all! Yes, the stories are similar, so hard to keep straight. But I enjoy them every single time. I may have a general sense that I know how Jeeves is going to solve a particular imbroglio — but that only fills me with delighted anticipation.

This is a book of short stories, as opposed to one of the books where one big complicated entanglement fills the pages from start to finish. There are 11 chapters, 11 short situations where Bertie needs Jeeves’ help to get out of a situation or to help out a friend.

These stories are also represented in the BBC video series “Jeeves and Wooster,” which makes them all the more familiar.

As always, we’ve got Bertie’s amusing use of language and general cluelessness, along with Jeeves’ brilliant insight into the psychology of the individual. It is completely apparent that I will never get tired of hearing these stories.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

dear_committee_members_largeDear Committee Members

by Julie Schumacher

Doubleday, New York, 180 pages.
Starred Review

Dear Committee Members is a novel told entirely in the form of Letters of Recommendation written by Jason Fitger, an English professor at a small liberal arts college. That may not sound like a way to write a hilarious novel, but trust me, it is.

When my hold on this book came in, I dipped into it – and then had to put it on the top of my to-be-read pile. I finished it the next day, reading it while waiting at a doctor’s office, trying to restrain my laughter.

I don’t think I can describe all the delights and sophisticated humor of this book. I will settle for copying out a few example letters.

Here’s one addressed to the manager of Wexler Foods:

Dear Ms. Ingersol,

This letter is intended to bolster the application to Wexler Foods of my former student John Leszczynski, who completed the Junior/Senior Creative Writing Workshop three months ago. Mr. Leszczynski received a final grade of B, primarily on the basis of an eleven-page short story about an inebriated man who tumbles into a cave and surfaces from an alcoholic stupor to find that a tentacled monster – a sort of fanged and copiously salivating octopus, if memory serves – is gnawing through the flesh of his lower legs, the monster’s spittle burbling ever closer to the victim’s groin. Though chaotic and improbable even within the fantasy/horror genre, the story was solidly constructed: dialogue consisted primarily of agonized groans and screaming; the chronology was relentlessly clear.

Mr. Leszczynski attended class faithfully, arriving on time, and rarely succumbed to the undergraduate impulse to check his cell phone for messages or relentlessly zip and unzip his backpack in the final minutes of class.

Whether punctuality and enthusiasm for flesh-eating cephalopods are the main attributes of the ideal Wexler employee I have no idea, but Mr. Leszczynski is an affable young man, reliable in his habits, and reasonably bright.

His letter to the new Chair of the Department of English introduces some themes that continue throughout the book:

Dear Ted,

Your memo of August 30 requests that we on the English faculty recommend some luckless colleague for the position of director of graduate studies. (You may have been surprised to find this position vacant upon your assumption of the chairship last month – if so, trust me, you will encounter many such surprises here.)

A quick aside, Ted: god knows what enticements were employed during the heat of summer to persuade you – a sociologist! – to accept the position of chair in a department not your own, an academic unit whose reputation for eccentricity and discord has inspired the upper echelon to punish us by withholding favors as if from a six-year-old at a birthday party: No raises or research funds for you, you ungovernable rascals! And no fudge before dinner! Perhaps, as the subject of a sociological study, you will find the problem of our dwindling status intriguing.

To the matter at hand: though English has traditionally been a largish department, you will find there are very few viable candidates capable of assuming the mantle of DGS. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that only 10 percent of the English instruction list will answer your call for nominations. Why? First, because more than a third of our faculty now consists of temporary (adjunct) instructors who creep into the building under cover of darkness to teach their graveyard shifts of freshman comp; they are not eligible to vote or to serve. Second, because the remaining two-thirds of the faculty, bearing the scars of disenfranchisement and long-term abuse, are busy tending to personal grudges like scraps of carrion on which they gnaw in the gloom of their offices. Long story short: your options aren’t pretty….

Ted, in your memo you referred briefly, also, to the need for faculty forbearance during what we were initially told would be the “remodeling” of the second floor for the benefit of our colleagues in the Economics Department.* I’m not sure that you noticed, but the Econ faculty were, in early August, evacuated from the building – as if they’d been notified, sotto voce, of an oncoming plague. Not so the faculty in English. With the exception of a few individuals both fleet of foot and quick-witted enough to claim status as asthmatics, we have been Left Behind, almost biblically, expected to begin our classes and meet with students while bulldozers snarl at the door. Yesterday afternoon during my Multicultural American Literature class, I watched a wrecking ball swinging like a hypnotist’s watch just past the window. While I am relieved to know that the economists – delicate creatures! – have been safely installed in a wing of the new geology building where their physical comfort and aesthetic needs can be addressed, those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation: as of next week we have been instructed to keep our windows tightly closed due to “particulate matter” – but my office window (here’s the amusing part, Ted) no longer shuts. One theory here: the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us. Let the academic year begin!

Cordially and with a hearty welcome to the madhouse,

Jay

*Under whose aegis was it decided that Economics and English should share a building? Were criteria other than the alphabet considered?

I have to also include this one:

Dear Admissions Committee Members – and Janet:

This letter recommends Melanie deRueda for admission to the law school on the well-heeled side of this campus. I’ve known Ms. deRueda for eleven minutes, ten of which were spent in a fruitless attempt to explain to her that I write letters of recommendation only for students who have signed up for and completed one of my classes. This young woman is certainly tenacious, if that’s what you’re looking for. A transfer student, she appears to be suffering under the delusion that a recommendation from any random faculty member within our august institution will be the key to her application’s success.

Janet: I know your committees aren’t reading these blasted LORs – under the influence of our final martini in August you told me as much. (I wish I had an ex-wife like you in every department; over in the Fellowship Office, the formerly benevolent Carole continues to maintain an icy distance. I should think her decision to quit our relationship would have filled her with a cheerful burst of self-esteem, but she apparently views the end of our three years together in a different light.)

Ms. deRueda claims to be sending her transcripts and LSAT scores at the end of the week. God help you – this is your shot across the bow – should you admit her.

Still affectionately your one-time husband,

Jay

P.S.: I’ve heard a rumor that Eleanor – yes, that Eleanor, from the Seminar – is a finalist for the directorship at Bentham. You got back in touch with her despite her denouncements of me; do you have any intel?

P.P.S.: A correction: you got back in touch with Eleanor because she denounced me. I remember you quoting what she said when I published Transfer of Affection: that I was an egotist prone to repeating his most fatal mistakes. I’ll admit to the egotism – which is undeniable – but I’d like to think that, after fourteen years of marriage, you knew me better than Eleanor did. We were happy for some of those fourteen years, especially before Transfer; why shouldn’t I believe that you were right about me, too?

The themes brought up in these letters toward the beginning of the book continue. Yes, we find out more about Janet, Eleanor, and Carole. We hear more about the fiasco of the building remodeling and inequities of funding between departments. We learn about Jay’s history in “the Seminar,” his publishing history, and his attempts to further the fortunes of some particular students.

Mostly, this is an inside look at academia, and the result is surprisingly funny and enjoyable. Oh, and it’s also fun that the person writing the letters is articulate and insightful. An example of a highly intelligent person who sees the foibles around him and can poke fun with razor-sharp precision.

julieschumacher.com
doubleday.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of As You Wish, by Cary Elwes

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

as_you_wish_largeAs You Wish

Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes
with Joe Layden
foreword by Rob Reiner

A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, 2014. 259 pages.
Starred Review

Reading this book was wonderful! Fans of The Princess Bride will love it! And if you’re not a fan of The Princess Bride? How on earth are you not? That very idea is inconceivable to me – and I know what the word means.

What’s in the book? Cary Elwes, who, of course, starred as Westley in the movie, tells stories about making the movie. The book is also peppered with reminiscences by the other actors and actresses. They do all work together to convince the reader that making that movie was almost as extraordinary an experience as the final film turned out to be extraordinary.

I loved it that Cary Elwes had read and loved William Goldman’s book The Princess Bride when he was thirteen years old. What are the chances?

A huge part of making The Princess Bride was the actors learning to swordfight. I have a completely new appreciation for the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times.

”Don’t worry,” Rob insisted. “You’ll be training with the best. It’ll be fun!”

Training, with the best!

It always sounds fun in conversation. But the practical reality is something quite different. More like, “Don’t worry, you’ll be training with the best Sherpa to help you climb Everest!” or “Don’t worry, you’ll be training with the greatest human cannonball before we fire you out of the cannon.” I’d long admired serious athletes, and I always try to treat a challenge as an opportunity. And then I began to think, Wait a minute! How hard could it really be? I’d seen plenty of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks movies. My developing, inane theory was that if they could do it, so could I. It didn’t seem all that difficult. A few quick thrusts, some fancy footwork. More like dancing than combat.

I could handle it, I thought. No problem.

I was, of course, somewhat deluded….

And then we went to work. The first day was devoted to the most basic body mechanics, starting with the proper stance. Mastery wasn’t really the goal – there wasn’t enough time for that. Rather, it would have to be the illusion of mastery, and that could only be achieved by adhering to the fundamentals of fencing: how to stand, where to place your arms and feet. How to hold your free hand, not clenched but relaxed (something I had a hard time perfecting). A professional fencer, they explained, could watch a sword-fighting sequence on film and tell immediately if the actors involved were complete amateurs. The easiest to spot were when the actors or stuntmen could be seen just hitting the swords back and forth, over and over in the same manner, the way kids do with sticks.

They explained that they had requested that the fighting sequences be filmed late in the production, allowing us a few weeks of intense daily training in prep, followed by a few months of training while on location. Bob then pointed out that although it wasn’t possible for either of us to become an Olympic-caliber fencer in that amount of time, maybe with the help and guidance of both himself and Peter, we might just be capable of fooling all but the most discerning of viewers. Their reputations were at stake as well, after all, he pointed out.

Cary had nothing but praise for Robin Wright as Buttercup. He pointed out something I hadn’t noticed:

Buttercup falls in love, loses her love, gets kidnapped, is forced into an arranged marriage, reconnects with her one true love, and then lets him go in order to save his life. It really requires a great deal of emotional range. What it doesn’t require – or at least doesn’t display – is the comedic talent for which The Princess Bride is so well known. Goldman wrote a screenplay that we now know is filled with great, classic funny lines. Unfortunately, few, if any, of those lines are given to Buttercup. Robin is not merely the victim in the film; she is also the straight man (or, in this case, the straight woman). And even though Westley is not exactly a comedian, he does have some funny lines, and is involved in some rather broad physical comedy. Robin’s character is permitted no such relief. From start to finish, she had to play it straight, exactly as the role demanded.

Of course, I had to watch The Princess Bride again (for the I-have-no-idea-how-many-th time) after reading this book. I watched for evidence of Cary Elwes’ broken toe, and totally saw it. But mostly, the book just gave me added appreciation for a film I already love with all my heart.

This book celebrates a film that was done right, from start to finish.

AsYouWishBook.com
SimonandSchuster.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?