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22 August 2008 @ 07:06 pm
a delicious slice of  
Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the dog) & Three Men on a Bummel, Jerome K. Jerome

Despite being published by Wordsworth Classics, this book isn't lauded as such. I can see why. Unlike most classics, it is genuinely funny, unpretentious and just plain readable.

The one quibble I had with this book - and it isn't even a real quibble, because by the end it had drained away to a mere 'meh' - was that it lacked a real plot. It was essentially a string of anecdotes gathered together. If AA Gill put all his restaurant reviews in a single book, the effect would be something like this. The little bubbles of stories are interesting in and of themselves, and they all somehow relate to boating or Germany, but the art and craft of storytelling is non-existent. This is not actually a problem; it's more something to be aware of on opening the cover. I think where a lot of humour falls down is lack of pathos - the idea that to be funny, you must always be mocking or pratfalling. However, the driving force behind this book is a gentle but powerful love of England and all it stands or stood for, which gives it a heart.

It also has a few pearls of honest wisdom.

Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers we so prize now or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. [...] Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of willow-patterned dinner-plates be ranged above the chimney-pieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd?

In a word: yes. I gather this book was written in 1889 (yet another reason I hate Wordsworth Classic editions, besides the horrible blue stripes and invariably hideous cover art, is that they date the publication from their date of publication, with nary of a mention of when it was originally published). I actually went back and checked the foreword - by the author, for once - to see if it was a hoax. His prediction shows some greatness of mind, I think.

An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an eighteen-penny book of photographic views than from all the works of Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together.

I hate Wordsworth nearly as much as Dickens. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned that. But my recent experiences have taught me that you see more of Gaudi's dragon house from a well-shot postcard than from atop a Bus Turistique or the street below it - so.

'Come,' said the Professor, 'what are those animals with tails, that run up trees?'

We thought for a while, then one of us suggested cats.

I must admit, this made me roar with laughter. There were many passages that made me laugh, but this certainly made me laugh the longest. It is BEAUTIFUL.

But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent. One may be shocked at his ignorance, annoyed at his stupidity, angry at his presumption. But the practical fact remains; he it is that is anglicising Europe. [...] Theoretically we may scold him; practically we should take our hats off to him. He is the missionary of the English tongue.

This is gapingly true - then as now. I'll harp on about Spain again to say that I spent six days in a foreign country without knowing a single word of the language. (Well, except for 'Quiero novecientas pollas por favor?' - and I don't know what it means anyway, so it doesn't count.) More to the point, I didn't need to. Granted, I got vanilla frappuchinos at Starbucks every time I wanted chocolate, but I think that's more because the Spanish have a secret disapproval for chocolate frappuchinos than because they mixed up chocolate/xocolata and vanilla/vainilla. All in all, I'm just glad my mother tongue is English. It makes life a whole lot easier.

Read this book! You won't be sorry. Unlike if you read any other book on the list.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2008:
Middlemarch | Invisible Monsters | A Thousand Splendid Suns | Love in the Time of Cholera | Oscar and Lucinda | Kim | Breakfast at Tiffany's | Atonement | To the Lighthouse | On the Road | Brideshead Revisited | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Bonjour Tristesse | A Passage to India
Current Mood: crushedcrushed
Current Music: don't wake me up (the hush sound)
Matchy西matchynishi on August 22nd, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
Aaah I liked this one a lot, it was so hilarious. XDDD
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Candy lipsscoradh on August 22nd, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC)
... and I had very little to say about it, in consequence!
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on August 22nd, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
oh, that is a gem of a book!!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: butterfly bookscoradh on August 23rd, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
I wholeheartedly agree! &jerome;
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Audrey Hepburnscoradh on August 23rd, 2008 12:14 am (UTC)
I wholeheartedly agree! &jerome;
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: Brendon/Ryan almost kissscoradh on August 23rd, 2008 09:48 am (UTC)
Boring paid-by-the-word hack. Pah.
Zebruizebrui on August 23rd, 2008 07:35 am (UTC)
I read it when I was 15 or so. I remember laughing and laughing. Wonderful stuff.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Twins playing keyboardscoradh on August 23rd, 2008 09:48 am (UTC)
It really is! The first truly enjoyable book I've read all summer, and that's saying something.
fat girl rules the worldfatgirlrules on August 24th, 2008 12:25 am (UTC)
Using my admittedly pathetic Spanish skills, I translated that to "I want 900 chickens, please." But I wasn't sure, especially about the want part, so i ran it through my translator. It said: "I love nine hundred pullets please?"

I don't know what a pullet is at all, but I'm pretty sure polla means chicken. You must have been very hungry.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: butterfly bookscoradh on August 24th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
Oh man, it's about CHICKENS? I thought it was some dastardly sexual act.

... but now it's actually cool. I must use it sometime.