08 April 2008

Two Years of Bully's Life

Among the things I can't presently do because my commute usually runs from my bedroom to my desk downstairs is to read lots of books while waiting for the subway to ever start moving again. So I'd never be able to keep up with Bully's Wodehouse a Week project.

After all, diligently reading a P. G. Wodehouse book a week is an undertaking of slightly less than two years. As Bully explains:

Consider this when you want to mull the length of P. G. Wodehouse's writing career: he published his first book a year before the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk. He published his final book during his lifetime five years after Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.
Rather than reading in order, or by series, Bully appears to be picking titles nearly at random from all periods of Wodehouse's oeuvre. I say "nearly" because he seems to be saving the best titles for later, with the understandable exception of Joy in the Morning. Thus, I'll have to check back for Bully's thoughts on Leave It to Psmith, Summer Lightning, and Hot Water, among my other favorites.

But Bully can even appreciate the lesser books:
The beautiful thing about Pearls, Girls, and Monty Bodkin is not its originality or uniqueness, oh no no no.
Of course not. Late Wodehouse was just a fun riff on middle Wodehouse. But early Wodehouse? Well, that can be strange territory indeed, as he tried out different modes before confirming that his strength lay in a certain type of comedy rather than, say, the serious themes of The Coming of Bill, the broad farce of The Swoop, or even the children's story William Tell Told Again.

Bully analyzes each book with generous excerpts, and offers occasional other remarks, such as these in regard to Psmith in the City, Wodehouse's transition from school stories to novels of young men about town:
both [Mike and Psmith] wind up working as junior clerks at The New Asiatic Bank, a thinly disguised City of London financial institution not unlike the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in London Wodehouse himself toiled at for two years in the early twentieth-century. Ah, isn't that a name that takes you back? "The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank." It seems to suggest romance and adventure and far away places. It's a pity there aren't any such banks these days, isn't it? Well, actually, stand on a street corner and look around. Can you spot a HSBC bank anywhere near you? Same company. Had I known this when I was looking for a new bank in Manhattan, I would have trotted into the lobby of the HSBC on Fifth and Thirty-Ninth, placed my clinking bag of dimes on the counter, fixed the teller with a stern stare and declared "I would like to deposit my money in a bank that Mister P. G. Wodehouse once worked in." And if they knew what I was talking about, then boy howdy, that's the bank for me.

But I digress.
Each review also comes with important bibliographical tips for folks who like their popular literature cheap:
The Swoop is back in print in at least a couple public domain editions. Mine (printed by Bibliobazaar) features the odd design choice of a peacock on the cover. There are no peacocks in this book.
Since many Wodehouse novels were published with different titles in the UK and the US, this is helpful for keeping them sorted out. (For more complete dissections of different editions, you can try PGWodehouseBooks.com.)

I should also note that Bully's blog is nominally about comics, so it's also generous enough to offer this tribute to Charlton Heston and a summary of "For the Man Who Has Everything", a Superman story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that was probably the first Jason Todd's finest hour as Robin.

No comments: