Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Books before I'm 30: P.G. Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters

Several people suggested I read some Wodehouse in my facebook post, and having never done so, I decided it was high time I complied. My particular choice was based on that being the only Wodehouse book we had in the house, although I'm told it is considered one of the best of the Jeeves and Wooster books.

I'm not quite sure how I managed to avoid Wodehouse until now. I had seen snippets of the television program, but not read a single word by him. I'm probably not going to shock anyone by saying his writing is a delight, but it truly is. Wodehouse has a marvellous way with words that, to be honest, I'm not sure I've ever seen repeated. I rarely actually laugh at comic books, but I felt compelled to do so several times throughout this book, so delightful was the turn of phrase Wodehouse uses.

The plot itself is insubstantial: Bertie Wooster on a quest to avoid being engaged, or, worse yet, losing the services of the excellent chef Anatole by stealing a cow creamer. It is pure farce, and it is not really a surprise that the writers of Frasier had Wodehouse as a massive influence. Its very nature is rather whimsical to be honest: theres some fun to be had with speculation as to Wooster's sexuality  (he does seem rather eager to avoid getting married), but its mostly just fun and froth. But what excellent fun and froth to spend ones time with. The only thing I will say is that the highly arch nature of the writing did tire me out on occasion, leaving me having to have brief breaks before re-engaging. Still, I shall definitely be searching out more Wodehouse.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Books before I'm 30: Things the Grandchildren should know, by Mark Everett//E

The Eels (technically its just "Eels" but my mind always puts in the "the")  are one of my favourite bands. I got into them around the time their fourth album, Souljacker came out, in 2001, fairly shortly after I was getting properly into music. The lead singer of the band, E, who is basically the Eels, is pretty prolific, and excluding his first two albums, released before the Eels existed, has 11 albums, excluding some best of and curio albums.

I love the sheer variety in their output. While there are certain "types" of songs that E produces, there are huge differences between the heavy sound of Souljacker, and the lighter sound of Daisies of the Galaxy, or the depressingly wonderful Electro Shock Blues. I've seen the Eels play three times, and had fairly different experiences. The first time they were in a "rock" phase, touring Hard Rock Times, with electric guitars (although also a harmonica. E gave myself and the others with me a brief jig with his harmonica when we wondered up to see them rehearsing, and the door left open), for a pretty pounding concert. The second time was with a string orchestra for the contemplative "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations". The third time was a somewhat uninspiring performance at Leeds Wireless festival, where they gave a frankly uninspired performance.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. The point is that I have followed the Eels for a long time, so its probably about time I got round to reading E's autobiography. I don't read much autobiography. I think I've read Richard Feynman, Bill Bryson and  Derren Brown, but that may be about it. My worry with autobiography is that the level of prose is going to vary depending on how well the person involved can actually write.

E has a funny writing style. Its extremely bare bones, and in fact he has a brief detour where he gives a paragraph in more flowerly prose, but explains that he doesn't like telling his life in that way. The narrative progresses in a fairly linear fashion, through a series of connected anecdotes and remembrances of his life. As those who are familiar with him might be aware, he hasn't had the easiest life, with his only sister committing suicide, and his parents dying while he as fairly young. The starkness of the prose works well for communicating the kind of pain he's gone through, and throughout he quotes his own songs. Electroshock Blues was written in the wake of his sisters suicide and his mothers terminal cancer, and for anyone who has listened to it, it really tells the story of the pain he was experiencing at the time.

The music though, was his way to work through all this, and for all the painful experience, the book is an optimistic one. After all, despite numerous obstacles in his way, he has succeeded, and produced music which was personal and unique to him.

Its hard for me, as a huge fan of the Eels, to tell if the book would be that engaging to someone who wasn't. I think so, as its a compact, well told story when you get to the bare bones of it, but for anyone who is a fan of the Eels, I would argue that it is essential.

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