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[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]

Posted on July 10, 2004
Tags: book_reviews

– Wodehouse. The Code of the Woosters and The Mating Season. It got so that I couldn’t really read these in public, they’re so funny (and I’ve never shown much restraint with laughter anyway, being a jolly, life-affirming sort of guy). When it comes to Wodehouse, once I manage to wrestle my own left-wing hatred of snobbery and classism into submission, there’s really no looking back.

– Margaret MacMillan. Paris 1919. A wonderful read. MacMillan looks at the six month long peace talks in Paris after the first world war. That the peace conference botched a great many things, no one could deny. And indeed, for a long time after few were willing to affirm that it got anything right. MacMillan challenges some of the harsher verdicts on the conference, and offers a fine sense of some of the complexities facing leaders, as they juggled revolutions, nationalisms, the break up of empires, public opinion, and oh so much more. I’ve been meaning to post a bit on this book, and I may yet if I can wrestle my inveterate laziness into submission. So much wrestling, so little time.

– Evelyn Waugh. The Loved One. A dark and funny novel. Not as dark or funny, though, as his A Handful of Dust1 a book which will change forever the way you think of Dickens. (But if you are looking for one really funny book by Waugh, start at the beginning with Scoop.)

– Fromkin. Kosovo Crossing. Now, what’s the point of writing a clever, well-written little book that ranges over hundreds of years of history while exploring various conceptions of foreign relations in the context of U.S. political thought and meditating on humanitarian intervention within these traditions - what is the point, I ask you, if the book turns out to be really very shallow in the end? This is hit and run criticism, because I can’t be bothered to substantiate the complaint in that rhetorical question. But there you have it. If you want to decide whether or not the book is worth reading, you can weigh the author’s gargantuan reputation against some throw away criticism from an obscure know-it-all blogger. Choose wisely.

– E.M. Forester. Where Angels Fear to Tread. Good. Not as good as his others (Maurice excepted, which wasn’t great, but even so was worth reading), but good enough to keep writing a multi-volume study of E.M. Forester’s works high on my fantasy list of things to do.

– Currently reading: Butler. The Way of All Flesh. Prompted by a friend, to whom I am already feeling grateful, despite being only 50 pages into it. My only reservation is that Butler parades his characters’ hypocrisies right past the reader’s nose. In that way, he is a bit like Sinclair Lewis (I’m thinking especially of Babbitt). And while it’s a fine show, after a while I begin to remember that I prefer it when an author lets hypocrisy play mostly in my peripheral vision, so that there’s an interesting question about how serious it is, if in fact I’m right that hypocrisy is what I saw, and whether anything mitigates against it. There’s more art in that, and also more to think about. To be fair, though, there is also a lot of art in Butler, of a different sort, and almost every page gives me something new to enjoy.

1. Originally, I had written “A Bend in the River” for some reason, a very different book by a very different author. Thanks to a reader for pointing this out.


Author: pogge
Date: 2004-07-10

Re: Wodehouse

Thanks for bringing back pleasant memories. I was fortunate to grow up in a house that had a pretty complete collection of his writings and I got into them before I had a chance to develop any serious concern with the politics involved. I loved them.

Re: Paris 1919

Agree with your thumbs up. I read this over Xmas, right after reading David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace. Taken together, they explain a lot.

Author: Backword Dave
Date: 2004-07-11

But, Chris, isn’t one of those Wodehouse books the one with the scene where Bertie Wooster is walking in Hype Park with Bingo Little’s uncle when they’re denounced by young Bingo (in a beard), in an explemplary take-down of the upper classes. “I bet he hasn’t even paid his tailor for those trousers.”

Not to mention that every big-hearted girl is a waitress or a chorus girl or in service, while the toffs are snobbish, bossy, stupid, and/or kooky.

Wodehouse, whatever he does do, does not promote or defend “snobbery and classism.” The hero is Jeeves.