Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can't Resist a List: Update and Comedy

Since I last wrote on this subject I've read several more books from the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. (It's actually closer to 1100 if, as I do, you count multi-volume sets as the separate books they are rather than as one novel.) Here's what I've added to this particular Life List:
4 of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort, Equal Rites
Jack London: The Call of the Wild
Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell): A Dark-Adapted Eye -- this was a twofer as it was also an Edgar winner for Best Novel
David Lodge: Changing Places
If I keep up at this rate I shall be well ahead by the end of the year. I've reviewed all these books on Goodreads, where I am also known as Auntie Knickers.

I had promised a list of my Top Ten favorites from each of the Guardian's categories, and now I come to Comedy. Oddly enough, although this list includes some of my favorite books, it was also one in which I had read remarkably few of the books listed. One might attribute this to the Anglo-centricity of the list, were it not that nearly all my favorites are British books! So here they are, in order of publication:

1. Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). 1889. This will be a difficult list for those who dislike or don't "get" British humour. The tale of three friends (and don't forget the dog) on a boating trip on the Thames is a true classic, as enjoyable today as when it was written. After you read this one, go get Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog -- she is a fine writer of science fiction/fantasy and I only wish she wrote faster.

2. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. 1908. As the Guardian editors point out, "Comedy" doesn't mean that you will laugh uproariously on every page. There are certainly laughs in this lovely book, but there are also passages of astonishing lyricism (the chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, for instance), loving descriptions of the English countryside, animal characters in whom we can see ourselves, and one of my favorite Christmas chapters (Dulce Domum).

3. E. F. Benson, Queen Lucia. 1920. I saw the adaptations on Masterpiece Theatre years ago and immediately had to read the books (this is only the first). Benson details social life among the wealthy provincials of Riseholme with all its teapot tempests; as ridiculous as the characters often are, we still care about them, and that is why the books are still read.

4. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. 1932. This is one of my favorite books of all time, in fact, I might even take it to a desert island. It parodies a certain style of book that is no longer much written or read (although The Beans of Egypt, Maine comes close), but it transcends parody. The plot? Bright Young Thing Flora Poste pays a visit to her country cousins, the Starkadders. Hijinks ensue and she sorts them out good and proper. I have to agree, you must read this book.

5. P. G. Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves. 1934. There are several Wodehouse books listed in the Guardian's 1000 Novels -- in fact he got his own sidebar. I've chosen this one as it is the first novel about Jeeves, and it was the Jeeves and Wooster books that introduced me to Wodehouse. I must say that one thing I enjoy about Bertie Wooster is that, silly ass though he may be, he constantly makes literary allusions (quite often Biblical, as he won the prize for Scripture Knowledge at school), and it's fun trying to identify them.

6. Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One. 1948. Before Jessica Mitford and her non-fiction work, The American Way of Death, there was Evelyn Waugh and his darkly humorous novel of Hollywood and Forest Lawn Cemetery (called Whispering Glades in the book). Very funny but will also give you many points to ponder.

7. Barbara Pym, Excellent Women. 1952. Or anything by Pym, actually. However, of the two books chosen for the Guardian list, this is my preferred volume. As are many of Pym's heroines, Mildred Lathbury is a high-church Anglican spinster, one of those "excellent women" who serve on the Altar Guild, organize the jumble sale, and show up for every special service and Evensong. Some new people come into her life and changes occur. Pym's plots are not known for high drama, but her characters are drawn as perfectly as Jane Austen's.

8. Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City. 1978. This is actually another case where the Guardian listed several books as one. Tales of the City is the first of a series about the lives of a number of San Franciscans with many different "alternative lifestyles." You'll laugh, you'll cry, you won't be able to put it down.

9. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. 2003. Narrated by an autistic teenager (probably with Asperger's syndrome), is this comedy, mystery, coming-of-age novel? The narrator's voice is one of the most individual I have read in some time.

10. Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader. 2007. What if the Queen were to stumble upon the Palace bookmobile, and out of noblesse oblige, to check out a book? What if she then discovered the joys of reading and reflecting on what she read? How would it change her, and how would those around her react to the changes? This charming little book raises a number of interesting questions such as those, and is entertaining as well.

1 comment:

Processing Counselor said...

Cold Comfort Farm and Tales of the City, two of my favorites. The Lucia series I read years ago!