Tag Archives: P. G. Wodehouse

A year in books – J. C. Greenway

Books have gone into and out of boxes this year, with the weight restrictions of international travel making it easier to borrow and pass on instead of adding to the permanent collection. I have also had to admit that, despite my early protestations to the contrary, the eReader is a very useful machine.  That said, as last year’s list contained six ebooks while this year I downloaded five, perhaps I am not quite ready to give up on print yet.

stack-of-books

After a cracking start to the year, where at times I was whipping through a book a day (oh, the beautiful reading weather that is England in January!), reality intruded and it became almost impossible to get through one a month (ah, motherhood). And yet I seem to have finished the year only one short of last year’s total and that is without counting the almost nightly re-reads of Beatrix Potter, The Hungry Caterpillar and other joyfully rediscovered childhood favourites.

Here then is my list of books read in 2013, in chronological order, with links to reviews I wrote along the way and some further thoughts following:

  1. Good Behaviour, Molly Keane
  2. Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin
  3. A Life in Letters: P. G. Wodehouse (ed. Sophie Ratcliffe)
  4. Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters
  5. Instead of A Letter, Diana Athill
  6. The White Cities, Joseph Roth
  7. Ellis Island, Kate Kerrigan
  8. The Assault, Harry Mulisch
  9. Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
  10. Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
  11. Homage to a Firing Squad, Tariq Goddard
  12. Racing Through the Dark, David Millar
  13. Ratcatcher, Tim Stevens
  14. Maus, Art Spiegelman
  15. The Diamond Smugglers, Ian Fleming
  16. That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick, Ellin Stein
  17. From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming
  18. All At Sea, Memories of Maritime Merseyside, Evelyn Draper and William David Roberts
  19. The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, Tim Harford
  20. Call For the Dead, John le Carré
  21. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John le Carré
  22. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
  23. Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945, Nicholas Rankin

Highlights of the year were Finding George Orwell in Burma, The Assault and Homage to a Firing Squad which all told very personal stories in attempting to unravel great conflicts. In spite of all the plaudits, I found Bring up the Bodies a less enjoyable encounter with Mantel’s admittedly outstanding characters.

In non-fiction, P. G. Wodehouse’s letters were a hoot – as if you would expect anything less – and his thoughts on Mr Orwell raised a wry chuckle. David Millar’s ride on the dark side of Le Tour de France’s peloton and (full disclosure, good friend) Ellin Stein’s whip smart tale of the National Lampoon crew making it from Harvard chancers to Hollywood legends, shared a compelling sense of the shadows concealed within hubris and humour, for all their differing subject matter. Stuart: A Life Backwards will stay with me for many years to come and is a must-read, albeit a harrowing one at times.

I finished the year with a run of gripping, classy and classic spy novels, comparing and contrasting the old masters Fleming and le Carré for a soon-to-be-produced (honest!) ten minutes hate review.

Thanks to everyone who has read or offered their comments on the site over the last twelve months and a very merry New Year to you all. May it be full of great books and the long journeys, bad weather days and cosy tea rooms that allow you to fully appreciate them!

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Literary treasure that packs a Punch

Literary pirate John Maguire hunts for a treasure trove in Liverpool’s academic archives.

Situated in the middle of Liverpool, nestled away in the Aldham Roberts Library is a literary pirate’s version of buried treasure. Amongst the many precious documents, there is  the Willy Russell Archive, the Everyman Theatre Archive, England’s Dreaming Punk Archive and now a back catalogue of Victorian periodicals and most notably PUNCH.

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The esteemed magazine of satire, humour and wit, ran from 1841-2002. P.G Wodehouse and Sir John Betjeman are just two of the greats that showcased work in this publication.

An accompanying exhibition explores PUNCH and the evolution of comic journalism rooted in this periodical (principally focusing on the period between 1820 and 1850). The very term cartoon stems from this renowned British Institution.

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What is striking in the exhibits on display is the attention to detail in the periodicals. Now, in an age of technological advances, it is quite humbling to see the level of expertise and pure craft illustrated in these historical papers. The work was also produced to an extremely tight schedule. Today, we can send out so many emails and deliver presentations that are all-singing and dancing with multiple effects, but how many of us can write a basic letter in a font that is from our own hands.

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The Exhibition itself consists of four cabinets of artefacts and twelve A1 posters reproducing the front covers of early magazines such as The Puppet Show and the Pickwick Songster. The pieces demonstrate the development of a very particular jocose and amusing style.

The organisers commented,

Punch was for long a household name, found on many a coffee table and in dentists’ and doctors’ waiting rooms across Britain. Its origins in comic journalism from the 1820s and 1830s are less well-known, and this exhibition seeks to situate the development of Punch within the history of periodicals. Showing earlier examples of comic periodicals that influenced Punch offers a very different and informative perspective on the magazine.

The catalogue is being published online as well as in printed form in order to make the exhibition internationally available to the widest possible range of readers.

The Exhibition is open until 20 December 2013.

Organisers Photo

The exhibition has been organised by Brian Maidment, Professor of the History of Print at LJMU, in collaboration with Valerie Stevenson, Head of Academic Services, Library Services, and Dr Clare Horrocks from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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P. G. Wodehouse and George Orwell

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I have been reading the rather excellent ‘P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe. It is full of gems, with sparkling slang – which has me resolved to address more people as ‘old cake’ this year – and crammed with indiscretions, just as any good biography should be. Here is Pelham Grenville’s take on one Eric Arthur Blair:

Orwell. I only met him once. We got on very well and corresponded fairly regularly, but he struck me as one of those warped birds who have never recovered from an unhappy childhood and a miserable school life. He took everything so damned seriously.

In many ways, Orwell and Wodehouse shared an upbringing: parents in the colonies, boarding school, Kipling, determined writers from an early age. Yet these similarities produced such very different outlooks on the society they shared.

I couldn’t imagine my bookshelves without Orwell, but I wouldn’t see them without Wodehouse either. Testament, perhaps, to the skill that they both employ, in the achievement of widely different aims.

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Why Labour lost

Following a defeat or set back it is natural to contemplate what went wrong, human nature having developed this tactic to avoid repeating mistakes forever.  One of my favourite and oft-quoted pieces of wisdom is that one, sometimes attributed to Einstein, about the definition of insanity being expecting a different result from the same action.

A political party displaying this most human of traits should therefore be an encouraging sight.  The Tory ‘brand’ wasn’t deemed to be detoxified until they had fought and lost two elections on the issues that had helped to turn everybody off them in the first place – immigration and Europe – so it is refreshing that the Labour party is wasting no time in beginning the process of staring at its navel.  Like a chorus of Wodehousian aunts, there have been no end of  ‘where it went wrong’ articles  seeking to assist Labour in this endeavour, so ten minutes hate has cut through the chatter to bring you two of the best.

The first is from Max Dunbar and targets two key points: the reaction to ‘dog-whistle’ scapegoating of welfare claimants and immigrants and the expansion of the intrusive security state, neither of which pleased the right-wing nor garnered much support on the left.  We have indeed reached a pretty pass where the coalition government can claim to be on the left of the previous government on its prison sentencing policy.  (H/T to Chicken Yoghurt for the link.)

The second article is a longer piece by Ross McKibbin, which begins with an intriguing break down of the electoral results.  It is interesting to learn that:

Despite very favourable circumstances the Conservative vote is proportionately much lower than it was in 1992

as well as hear of:

the continued failure of the Conservatives to make any gains among voters in the AB classes – the upper and solid middle classes, 57 per cent of whom voted Labour or Lib Dem, in almost equal proportions. In 1987, for the first time, the majority of those with university degrees didn’t vote Conservative, and they have not been won back

In spite of all the propaganda, it seems we are not heading straight back to the 80s and Thatcherism red in tooth and claw.  Which is almost a shame for the Labour Party, as it would make life, electorally at least, much easier for them.  They know how to fight those battles.  Instead, they are going to have to engage in some careful thought to bring about a reversal in their electoral fortunes.  One reason for so many differing opinions on the matter being aired is that there are a litany of different areas to choose from – was it the NHS, immigration, education – and each commentator has their own pet reason for the loss.  Mr McKibben cuts through all of these when he urges the Labour Party back to basic principles:

There are moral lines no social democratic party should cross and Labour has repeatedly crossed them. The result has been policies that are socially and morally objectionable as well as politically futile

A recognition of such would be a good place to begin.  Then they could approach the problems so concerning the leadership candidates from the correct angle.  This will require a deeper understanding of the issues than can be gathered from the tabloid front pages:

Those who worry about immigration usually claim that immigrants take British jobs and/or British houses. Neither is actually true; what is true is that there is an acute shortage of social housing, and that Labour connived at the shortage…  the housing shortage was, therefore, a source of real social deprivation

Let’s see if Labour can meet that challenge and avoid the temptation of a return to the old habits of setting policy by whatever plays best with the Sun, Mail and Express editors.  To use an overwrought footballing metaphor, there is everything to play for…

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