Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 160 (7/13) -- The World of P.G. Wodehouse by Herbert Warren Wind

In 1971, P.G. Wodehouse, then as now the indisputably best humorous novelist of the twentieth century, reached his ninetieth birthday and just kept motoring forward, with a new book (Much Obliged, Jeeves) that year, just like every previous year back to 1946. Even the stuffy New Yorker had to take notice of that [1], and sent Herbert Warren Wind out to Remsenberg on Long Island to interview and profile Wodehouse for the magazine.

The profile appeared in the May 15 issue -- you can tell it's a profile because it says "Profile" in large letters at the top of the page; the New Yorker left nothing to chance in those days -- under the title "Chap With a Good Story to Tell," which is actually a quote from Wodehouse about someone else. (And surely the most interesting thing about Wodehouse, from a profiler's point of view, is how many stories he'd already told, and how he was hard at work on yet more of them. But never mind that; it was a great quote, and it makes a decent title.)

Not long afterward, that profile found itself spiffed up and expanded -- mostly by the addition of (as the cover puts it) "photographs drawings manuscript pages and captions in P.G.W.'s handwriting," with some additional H.W. Wind text -- as this book, The World of P.G. Wodehouse. The title is mildly misleading, since the book is a short biography coupled with a brief appreciation, rather than any sort of deeper exploration of Wodehouse's world. This book has been entirely superseded since then by Robert McCrum's fine biography, Wodehouse, but it's an amusing curio, and a primary document of Wodehouse's writing habits (which, apparently, didn't vary much over his seventy-year career). So, if you come across this -- say, as a giveaway at the Book Thing of Baltimore, from which it made its way to me via an unnamed friend -- it's worth a look, but it's no longer the best (or only) serious book about Wodehouse.

[1] I read and like The New Yorker, but it has always been vastly more convinced of its own importance and propriety than of anything else in the world.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Pomegranates - Everybody Come Outside
via FoxyTunes

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