Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tales of St. Austin's, by P.G. Wodehouse

Loosely connected short stories concerning the same fictional public (read: private) school in England. Humorous tales, but still very heavy on the intricacies of cricket, including team politics. Like the other Wodehouse books I've read that delve heavily into cricket, that cricket book I read several years ago was invaluable. Another thing this book did was make me want to read Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes, for which, if I see Wodehouse in heaven, I shall kick him in the shin. Ten percent done on my Kindle and it still have nothing to do with school, and Tom Brown just came into the story. (Although I just started The Adventures of Augie March and the narrator's brother read the book when he was young, so maybe it's just a book to get through to get other references to it.)

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, by T.M. Shine

A book about an unemployed man whose life falls apart around him? This one hit a little too close to home. I thought there were excellent descriptions of the type of aimlessness that assails the jobless, but there was also too much that didn't seem plausible. Jeffrey is out of work just a few weeks before he takes his first assignment dancing with a sign on the side of a busy road. Isn't that about the last assignment you take? I've been out of work for 18 months and I've never done that yet. And the conclusion is completely unsatisfying. Instead of saving his relationships, or ending them, he just accepts that they are falling apart, and he doesn't really seem like he's going to do anything about them. There were also some too-timely references, like pop culture stuff from 2009 that I'd forgotten already. This book can very nearly be dated to the week.

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

A lot of the problems I had with Ginger Pye are missing from this book. Unfortunately, a lot of new problems cropped up. The end result is about the same: a book I didn't mind reading that much, and that my kids really liked to listen to.

The most glaring issue from Ginger Pye, Estes's insistence on using the word "waked" until she breaks your spirit, is unfortunately still present. I seriously think she had characters going to bed just so a paragraph later she could say they "waked up." I'd be surprised if Estes hadn't written a novel with an insomniac main character in it.

First the good news: the Pye kids aren't as dumb. In Ginger Pye they were outright fools, walking past their dog and thinking, "Too bad my dog, who was a puppy when he went missing six months ago, is still a puppy, and therefore can't possibly be this grown dog that looks just like my dog." Did they think their dog was the Emmanuel Lewis of dogs? I wanted to shout "Dogs grow up, morons!" about ten times each chapter.

In this book, the "mystery" isn't something you could expect the kids to know, so it's much less irritating when they spend pages on end speculating about the mystery.

Estes got a legitimate illustrator for this book, too, so the pictures are much, much better. I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I will regardless: Estes couldn't illustrate worth crap. Her publisher took care of that problem for her.

Unfortunately, the illustrator must have cost so much they couldn't afford an editor. The following sentences are just a few among the most egregious examples of her convoluted sentence structure.

Held captive in Papa's lap so she would not follow, as she often did, and with Papa murmuring enticing promises such as "string bean game" and "typing" in her ear to keep her satisfied (Papa didn't know that Pinky had a plan or he need not have bothered), Pinky yawned and stretched. (172)
This is supposed to be a children's book. What child can follow that sentence? Don't even begin to tell me, "Well, back in Eleanor's day...", because no kid ever has been able to follow that sentence.
Through now with throwing people, whoever they might be, or onlookers of whatever sort, off guard, Pinky sauntered into the living room, skirting the wall, and she hopped onto the living-room table. (180-1)
Two random clauses thrown in the middle of the phrase "to throw off guard." I've read Faulkner with less trouble than I had with Estes.

I usually try to get through a book without letting my kids know what parts of it are bothering me. I don't want them to dislike a book just because I do. They are kids, with kids' tastes, and it is only natural that I would find faults with books that they didn't understand. But even my kids knew Jerry was a moron when I read this exchange to them:

For a moment the children were speechless. Here was a man who had just come straight from their own town, Cranbury, from their own house, their very own tall house! "Did you see Dick Badger?" asked Jerry. "And Duke?" (138)
Jerry asked a complete stranger if he'd seen his friend's dog, by name. My daughter muttered to herself, "Oh, Jerry."

But again, the test of a children's book is would I read any of the sequels. And yes, I would read Estes's Moffats books out loud to our kids. Books from the 1950s are the perfect level of difficulty. Older books have too much archaic language, but these books have just the right amount to broaden their vocabulary without breaking up the pace of the story.

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Golf Without Tears, by P.G. Wodehouse

This book is a collection of short stories, all narrated by the Oldest Member, dealing with golf. They are unique in that they are all set at a country club on Long Island (Wodehouse spent more than half his life, I believe, in New York and environs), and they carry the further distinction of being one of the books with a different title on the other side of the Atlantic. Since either book is accessible to an English-language reader, this can spark some confusion (especially when titles are reused, like with The Prince and Betty, which is a completely different book in England). If you've read The Clicking of Cuthbert, you've read Golf Without Tears.

It was a bit much for reading straight through. It seems a fair portion of the humor comes from using funny golf words such as "mashie" and "niblick." Used sparingly, the desired effect is achieved, but when every story has it, maybe it wouldn't have become so stale if I were reading them at the original release rate of one every few months in the "Saturday Evening Post."

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not George Washington, by P.G. Wodehouse

I've started in on the less-popular, early-career books of Wodehouse. Like I've written before (I think), they tend to have more raw emotion and less farce. Humor is still there, but at times it can not be the primary focus. Wooster and Blandings book end with the boy getting the girl because basic storytelling requires all loose ends to be tied up; early non-school Wodehouse is usually the story of the boy getting the girl, with humor thrown in.

Something I've noticed about early Wodehouse is that often the narrator changes mid-story, and the reader shouldn't really expect it to ever change back. With this book that's a little more understandable, since most sources will tell you that Wodehouse had a co-author (Herbert Westbrook). The first several chapters, from Margaret's point of view, are not that funny, and I don't know if it's true or not, but I assumed they were Westbrook's contribution. The rest of the book is narrated by Margaret's fiancée James (and a few chapters are narrated by friends of James).

Something else striking about this book is how unsympathetic James is. Margaret has her hopes pinned to marrying James, but then when James becomes the narrator, I found myself not really wanted Margaret to get stuck with such an oaf of a husband.

Lastly, I can find no plausible explanation for the title. And that's always a bit of a strike against a book, isn't it?

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.