(Recommended by Circulation Assistant – and humble blogkeeper – Bill Doughty)
Growing up, there’s one thing that Writers of Funny Stuff all seemed to have in common, and that’s that they all loved, perhaps even venerated, the works of P.G. Wodehouse. And since I was the sort of person who was going to check out anything that, say, Douglas Adams recommended, I gave Wodehouse a whirl. And promptly failed to see the big deal.
Well, with age comes, if not wisdom, then at least some common sense. And looking back, I realize just how wrong it was to expect what I thought of as the apex of British humor – e.g. Adams, Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, what little of the Goons’ material I could find – from a writer like Wodehouse, who traded in a much more subtle, refined humor. The drawing room farce, the slyly cutting bon mot, the well-timed pun… those were Wodehouse’s stock and trade, not the bizarre, out-of-left-field antics the Pythons and Adams did so well. And yet, given Adams’s flair for clever wordplay, it’s pretty easy to trace a clear line from him back to Wodehouse (even if, in this case, that line does go from the depths of space all the way back to the upper class end of London in the 1920s).
All this is a very roundabout way of saying that I gave Wodehouse another shot by way of “Selected Stories,” a Modern Library collection of some of P.G. Wodehouse’s best-known stories featuring the characters of hapless Bertie Wooster and his astonishingly competent butler, Jeeves, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it quite a bit thus far. The first story does start off a bit slowly, but things improve rather quickly. As I said, the humor can be rather subtle, and sometimes it seems like there’s an awful lot of time spent on the build-up and you just wish *something* funny would hurry up and happen, but the eventual punchline usually makes any “shaggy dog” quality of the stories worth it. I’m interested enough to check out the man’s other work once I’m finished, so I think we can chalk this one as a victory up to ol’ Plum, even if all the jazz-age British slang does get a little grating once in a while.