As a bookseller, there is nothing I love more than to share my passion for certain authors with anyone who will listen. I’ve gushed (at great length) about my passion for Sherlock Holmes, and I’ve gleefully recounted why I think Neil Gaiman is the best author ever. However, as much as I love them, Doyle and Gaiman’s books are rarely unknown to the average bookstore shopper. However, many shoppers are unfamiliar with another author I idolize, P. G. Wodehouse. In fact, unless you have a deep love for British comedy, you may never have heard of him at all.
Thus, dear reader, I present him to you with this bit of praise: P. G. Wodehouse is the funniest writer in the English language. Full stop. He is most well known for his Jeeves and Wooster series, about a bumbling aristocrat in the 1920′s and his ruthlessly competent valet, Jeeves. There was a fabulous TV adaptation of the series with Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. Wodehouse was also highly involved in the musical theater scene in Britain. He even worked with Cole Porter on Anything Goes! Wodehouse enjoyed sports, particularly golf, and wrote about them often. His body of work is eclectic, but without fail each book, play, or short story will make you laugh out loud. Do not attempt to read him on the train if you are not a fan of odd looks.
My favorite Wodehouse character is one of his least known, which is great for when I want to recommend a book that a customer won’t have read yet. Ronald Eustace Psmith, particularly in the book Leave it to Psmith, is one of the most brilliant comic characters I’ve ever read. Wodehouse had a particular talent for creating impossible conundrums for his characters and orchestrating ingenious solutions to resolve them. Psmith is perhaps the finest example of this.
Will a brief sample of Wodehouse’s writing convince you where I alone never could? From Leave it to Psmith, Psmith on his unusual name:
“No, no. P-s-m-i-t-h. I should explain to you that I started life without the initial letter, and my father always clung ruggedly to the plain Smith. But it seemed to me that there were so many Smiths in the world that a little variety might well be introduced. Smythe I look on as a cowardly evasion, nor do I approve of the too prevalent custom of tacking another name on in front by means of a hyphen. So I decided to adopt the Psmith. The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan. You follow me?”
In Leave it to Psmith, Psmith has decided to leave the family fish business and strike out on his own. His advertisement in the newspaper:
“LEAVE IT TO PSMITH
Psmith Will Help You
Psmith Is Ready For Anything
DO YOU WANT
Someone To Manage Your Affairs?
Someone To Handle Your Business?
Someone To Take The Dog For A Run?
Someone To Assassinate Your Aunt?
PSMITH WILL DO IT
CRIME NOT OBJECTED TO
Whatever Job You Have To Offer
(Provided It Has Nothing To Do With Fish)
LEAVE IT TO PSMITH
Address Applications T “R. Psmith, Box 365″
LEAVE IT TO PSMITH”
If even those bits of magical prose do not convince you, the fact that Wodehouse was knighted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire may! Stop by the Open Books store if you would like to discuss Wodehouse with me, as there is quite literally nothing I would enjoy more. I may also start in on some of his contemporaries, such as Evelyn Waugh… although I’ll leave that blog entry for another day.