Tag Archive: humor

An Upper Class British Bachelor

Many years ago a friend of mine recommended to me P. G. Wodehouse’s short stories about a British gentleman named Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves.  At some point I saw a T.V. episode based on the stories, and found it pretty amusing, but it took me a while to get around to finally reading some of the stories, which I did this past weekend.  Since a couple of Wodehouse collections are conveniently available as a free download for my Kindle (new toy), I decided to give one a whirl.

My Man Jeeves is a collection of eight short stories, most of which center around Jeeves and Wooster, but a few of which focus on Wodehouse’s earlier character, Reggie Peppers.  The stories present a comical window into the life of the pre-World War II social elite, and they are told from the first person perspective of Wooster.  In this collection Wooster, a man of considerable means, has taken up residence in New York City, in part to get away from the influence of his burdensome Aunt Agatha, who still lives in London.  Wooster’s world consists of being waited upon by Jeeves, enjoying NYC’s nightlife, and (with the considerable help of Jeeves) helping get his friends out of fixes.

The stories are somewhat formulaic – a friend approaches Bertie with a problem, Bertie asks Jeeves to help find a solution, hilarity ensues, Jeeves finally solves the problem – but are no less amusing for the familiar pattern.  Wodehouse’s characters – not least the title characters – are positively eccentric, the dilemmas they face, absurd.  My favorite story in the collection involves the Reggie Peppers character.  Peppers’s friend Freddie, in an attempt to be reconciled with his girlfriend, kidnaps a child he mistakenly thinks to be her cousin in the hopes of winning the girlfriend back by returning the child safe and sound.  Upon discovering that the child is not her cousin, he seeks out the child’s family for fear of being brought up on kidnapping charges, only to find the family quarantined with the measles.  Freddie and Reggie – two uppercrust British bachelors – are thus left to care for the child until the family has mended.

Another amusing feature of the stories is the dynamic between Jeeves and Wooster.  Though Jeeves is a more than able servant, he has his opinions about Bertie’s fashion and grooming habits, which often leads to tension between the two.  Needless to say, in the context of the master-servant relationship, the tension is all the more amusing, as the two seek determinedly to win a battle of wills over which tie or hat Wooster should wear.

On the whole, these stories are excellent light entertainment, particularly for Anglophiles like me.  Though it wasn’t my favorite book this year, it was certainly worthwhile and a nice light diversion, both from work and from some of the heavier books I’ve read.

Sixteen down, (at least) thirty-six to go.


Having recently read one award-winning author by the name of Berry, I decided to pick up a book by a very different, also award-winning Barry, namely Dave.  As many of you probably know, Dave Barry is one funny man.  A regular columnist for the Miami Herald for a couple of decades, Barry has also written numerous books in the categories of both non-fiction and fiction (including children’s literature).

Today I read his Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway: A Vicious and Unprovoked Attack on Our Most Cherished Political Institutions, and I laughed almost without ceasing for the four hours it took me to breeze through it.  The book is a hilarious send-up of the absurdity of American political institutions, with absolutely no claims to providing actual, reliable information.  On the contrary, as Barry notes in the introduction, “So if you were concerned about encountering a lot of actual information in this book, relax!  There’s almost none.  To compensate for the lack of facts, I have included a great many snide remarks.”

Barry begins with a brief and very tongue-in-cheek account of the evolution of government from prehistoric times to the arrival of the pilgrims in the New World.  The account itself is a riot, but it is made even funnier by the accompanying illustrations, many of them involving giant prehistoric zucchinis (a recurring theme throughout the book).  The rest of the book focuses specifically on the U.S. government: its ever-expanding size, the highlights of a trip to Washington, D.C., the process of presidential elections, and the typical shape of a modern political campaign.  The book closes with two chapters ostensibly on the 2000 presidential election, though the first chapter has more to do with the madhouse that is South Florida and the second with the indecipherable nature of legalese and the general incompetence of the media, esp. television.

Despite its obviously humorous character, the book offers some perceptive criticisms.  Take for instance, Barry’s explanation of how people vote for presidential candidates:

“I believe that how a candidate looks and sounds is way more important to the voters than his position on anything, which is why the public periodically decides that it likes some politician who totally disagrees with some other politician that the public also likes.  The public to this day is crazy mad for John F. Kennedy, not because of his policies – nobody has a clue what his policies were – but because… he had class!  He was handsome!  His wife was beautiful!  He was President Beatle!”

Surely nothing like this has gone on in recent elections </sarcasm>.  Barry also has some hilarious (and yet borderline practical) suggestions for improving presidential campaigns, such as regularly injecting candidates with truth serum on the campaign trail, and requiring them to wear donor logos like NASCAR drivers.  There’s no doubt that these changes would make the campaigns more transparent, as well as more interesting.

One of the funniest sections of the book for me was his description of South Florida.  He devotes nearly an entire chapter to this description in order to make a case for kicking South Florida out of the Union.  His account is hysterical and his case strangely compelling, particularly for those who have spent any extended amount of time in the greater Miami area.

If you are even half as cynical about politics as I am, you will enjoy this book.  Though it was published ten years ago, it (sadly) still rings true today.  My only advice is not to read it in a library – you will be laughing too loud and people might look at you funny.  Other than that, enjoy, and keep an eye out for those giant prehistoric zucchinis – they sneak up on you.

Nine down, (at least) forty-three to go.