Thursday, May 10, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #130: Louder and Funnier by P.G. Wodehouse

When you're famous for writing one thing, people try to get you to write other things for them. Often, they'll offer you a lot of money to do it. And so, if you're the kind of writer who likes writing and is good at it -- particularly if you have a style and manner you can adapt to slightly different purposes, or just shove every commission into the same framework -- you can find yourself doing really varied things, because people keep dangling checks in front of you.

P.G. Wodehouse was primarily a comic novelist. He worked up to the novels through comic short stories, and did some general mostly-comic journalism in his very early days (around the turn of the last century), and also wrote for a bunch of comic musical comedies, but that all came from basically the same place. So I expect when large, well-established, well-paying magazines (in this case, Vanity Fair) started asking him for non-fictional humorous articles, sometime in the late 1910s or early Twenties, he said something like "yes, please" and dove in.

Louder and Funnier is a 1932 book that collects -- in what it says is a substantially revised and funnier form -- nineteen Vanity Fair essays that originally appeared over the previous dozen years. The essays are on various subjects: there are a number of short series (theatre, literature, sports, gambling), but even those are loose, baggy categories. It's pretty clear Wodehouse wrote about whatever he thought he could make funny that particular month, and that he then punched up those jokes when assembling the book later.

For a book of writing about a century old, Louder and Funnier is still pretty modern and zippy -- Wodehouse is on this side of the big Victorian/Modern divide, and thinks about life in ways that still resonate today. His style may be more ornate that is usual in the Internet Age, but it's got a very familiar focus on trivial, silly things. His particular concerns about Hollywood -- that they ambush unsuspecting writers and lock them away in bungalows for years at a time -- may be different from the current crop, but the jokes are in the same continuum.

So this is a silly book and a trivial one, about why falconry is no longer popular and why people write letters to newspapers, about butlers and income tax, about ocean liners and forming a union for theater-goers. Yes, a lot of the specific concerns are very particular to the technology and society of his day -- just like modern comedy. But Wodehouse's point of view and air of quiet befuddlement are eternal. I'd still recommend that new Wodehouse readers start with his best novels -- they are so good -- but this is a fun look at The Way We Lived (Trivially) a hundred years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment