Friday, February 03, 2006

Right ho, Jeeves!

Slow to get started today. One of those dark, rainy mornings that sap the strength and deaden the will and make you feel all over as though, while suffering from a head cold and overdosing on NyQuil, you are stuck in the Newark Airport while your flight to Toledo is delayed. I'm working on a post about Peggy Noonan and politics in the movies, revising my post defining mush, trying to take into account all the great comments on the subject that have showed up here and here. But all I really want to do is blow this banana stand, find myself a table at a nice, warm, cozy Barnes and Noble someplace and, with a steaming mug of coffee on the table in front of me and orders in to the baristas to keep 'em coming, spend the day reading P.G. Wodehouse.

Which, incidentally, is what the 9 year old is going to be doing today, the lucky little blister. Well, he'll be at school, he won't be drinking any coffee, just chocolate milk, and he won't spend the whole day at it, he has a spelling test, for one thing, but he brought in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves for his free reading period.

I'm impressed with his ambition. I'd have thought Wodehouse was still a bit out of his range. The longest book he's read on his own so far, that I know of---perhaps he's been dipping into some Tolstoy on the sly---is Superfudge. But we watched an episode of the old Jeeves and Wooster series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie the other night and he decided he wanted to give the books the old college try. He picked a couple from the bookshelf, read himself some samples, and settled on Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, mainly, I think, because it features Aunt Dahlia doing her usual bit to land Bertie in trouble---

I tell you, Jeeves, and you may quote me as saying this: Behind every poor, innocent, harmless blighter who is going down for the third time in the soup you will find, if you look carefully enough, the aunt who shoved him in.

---and the unspeakable, would-be dictator in black footer-bags, Roderick Spode, Earl of Sidcup---

Our views on each other were definite. His was that what England needed if it was to become a land fit for heroes to live in was fewer and better Woosters, while I had always felt that there was nothing wrong with England that a ton of bricks falling from a height on Spode's head wouldn't cure.

---finding himself on the receiving end of a sharp right to the eye thrown by Bertie's old pal, the Rev. Stinker Pinker---

"That's what today's Church needs, more curates capable of hauling off and letting fellows like Spode have it where it does most good."

The 9 year old might be ready for this or he might be back to Chet Gecko and Judy Blume by tonight. He seems a little young to me to be developing adult tastes in reading. (An aside: Hugh Laurie who plays Bertie in the TV series and Stephen Fry who plays Jeeves met and became friends at Cambridge. One of the things that drew them together was their enthusiasm for P.G. Wodehouse. Both of them had discovered Wodehouse when they were kids. Laurie credits stumbling upon Wodehouse's Blandings stories with saving his life. Fry sat down and wrote a fan letter to Wodehouse, which Wodehouse answered! But both were around 12 when they started.) But this got me trying to remember how old I was when I read my first "grown-up" book and what book that was.

By the time I reached 8th grade I had read Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, lots of Sherlock Holmes, Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans, all three books in the Lord of the Rings, and other books in that line, boys' adventure stories---sophisticated and challenging reading for a kid but it's not as if I'd picked up The Brothers Karamazov, Nausea, or The Sound and the Fury.

I did read Moby Dick, but I'm pretty sure it was an abridged edition, and I wasn't conscious of its being a grown-up book. I thought of it as another adventure story. I also remember trying Huckleberry Finn right after I finished Tom Sawyer and deciding that I wasn't old enough to understand it yet. That was probably around fifth grade.

In 9th grade I read everything by Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, but I don't remember being impressed with myself over it. So I think I was already thinking of myself as a grown-up reader. Naively, I also made the decision to read the books on the New York Times Bestseller list, thinking that those must be the best books. I've blotted from my memory all the crap I read. Probably wasn't more than a few books anyway. A helpful teacher told me the truth about bestsellers. I was in the process of figuring that out anyway.

In 8th grade I started reading the political potboilers of Allen Drury and I was plenty full of myself over that one. But I think the first grown up book I read that I was truly aware of as a grown-up's book that showed I was "grown-up" or, it's better to say, proved to me that I was growing up, was Bullet Park by John Cheever. That was the summer between eighth and ninth grade. My parents bought a summer place on Lake George that year and the previous owner left behind several bookshelves full of Book of the Month Club main selections when she moved out. The house had a big den, a "study" as my dad called it, with a fireplace, and my father and I used to stay up late together, reading by the fire. Up in the Adirondacks you can have a roaring fire almost every night in the summer. I started reading the books on those shelves, starting with One Very Hot Day by David Halberstam and Slaughterhouse-Five. But it wasn't until I got to Bullet Park that it occured to me that there was something different going on, that reading John Cheever wasn't the same as reading Allistair MacLean or even Allen Drury, and my mind was responding differently, and strangely, to what I read.

By the way, I hated Bullett Park and it left me with a permanent distaste for Cheever, which is a shame. Maybe.

Ok, the heck with it. Damn Peggy Noonan. Nevermind mush. If I can't get to Barnes and Noble, I can at least go get some coffee here. Meanwhile: What was your first grown up reading?

Phantom update updating a post I haven't written yet: On the subject of politics in the movies: Cali Dem of Nite Swimming has inagurated The Swimmy Awards. Cali's looking for nominations for 2005's Best Political Movie, Best Political Book, and Best Political Song.


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