Summer of Wodehouse

It all started with an actual summer vacation. One with a cabin, and a lake, and lots of hiking and relaxing. A real week of getting away.

My husband and I don’t live in the same state as my parents so usually when we travel we go back to my hometown. And it’s fantastic to see old friends and family but it can be quite exhausting because we’re always trying to cram so many events and people into a few days.

But in June we took  a real vacation. It was with my family but that was a perk. Every year since I was in fifth grade my parents have rented a cabin up by Frankfort, Michigan for a week right after school gets out. Since college my participation has been sporadic but this year husband, dog, and I were able to make the trip. It was something we looked forward to for months.

But at a cabin that does not have TV or any of those media technology conveniences (one of the perks I personally think for that week) books are a requirement. There is almost nothing that beats sitting on the desk of a cabin, shaded by giant trees, on a bluff looking over a clear blue lake and enjoying a good book.

That book cannot be just any book however. It should not be too heavy or serious so as to dampen the relaxing and peaceful mood at the cabin. However, it should not be too frivolous or trashy that I feel my brain is dissolving into mush or am ashamed to be seen reading it in front of my family (which lest we forget includes my English teacher mother).

So the week before we headed to Michigan I was wandering around the aisles of my public library trying to determine what would be the perfect title for my week of summer vacation. As I neared the end of the alphabet in the fiction section I saw it – on the top of the shelving sitting snugly in a book display holder – Laughing Gas.

This began my earnest summer foray into P.G. Wodehouse tales that are not centered around the well-beloved characters of my childhood: Bertie and Jeeves. If you have not had the delight of reading these tales of a young foppish aristocrat and brilliant butler I would encourage you to head straight to your local library and check out the collection. Bertie and Jeeves closed many a night at our house and distracted us through numerous car trips – the brilliance of the stories (in part) being that while it may help to read them chronologically it is by no means a requirement to enjoy the hi-jinks that ensue.

But I digress. Laughing Gas  was not my very first non-Wooster Wodehouse (that honor went to The Girl in Blue) but it did begin a summer theme. I found this tale of a young British aristocrat’s ventures to California in an effort to retrieve a scallywag cousin and who inadvertently switches bodies with a child star completely absurd but diverting with nuanced criticism of Hollywood (where Wodehouse worked for a while) and the snobbery of the British. It really was an ideal read for my vacation.

But as the British idiom goes “one swallow doesn’t make a summer.”

What really built my Summer of Wodehouse was that my public library has an adult summer reading program. As a child I had participated in our local independent bookstore’s reading program every summer and our library only hosted one for children as well (but only for children to my knowledge). I was very excited to learn that some public libraries hold similar programs (with different incentives) for their adult patrons – Score!

Laughing Gas could count on that sheet (it fell within the date range) and as I perused the fiction shelves again I noticed that in its place of display was another Wodehouse book. It was as though someone knew I would be looking for it. And so I decided that the three books I would read and place on my summer reading program would all be Wodehouse. It would be a Summer of Wodehouse.

That second was Lord Emsworth and Others which is a collection of short stories. It starts featuring Lord Emsworth (of Blandings Castle) and continues with several other tales about Drones Club members (familiar to Beertie & Jeeves, or Blandings Castle fans), and Ukridge (a scoundrel whom I did not enjoy as I do Bertie, and Freddie Threepwood of Blandings fame, because although he gets into similar scrapes Ukridge does not appear to have any redeemable qualities).

I next inserted one of my own Wodehouse books that had been sitting on the TBR bookshelf for far too long. I could not include Blandings Castle … and Elsewhere in my library reading program (all books had to be from the library – up those circulation stats!) but after a brief foray into the Blandings crowd I wanted more. This is standard with Wodehouse – you start with a taste and end up wanting the whole cake. But alas, as the title may suggest, this did not consist of enough Blandings tales – the ones included were diverting as were the other stories provided, but I needed an ultimate dose.

Which led me to my final library Wodehouse – an omnibus. Life at Blandings is a compilation of 3 complete books by P. G. Wodehouse devoted to the family of Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle. This collection includes Something FreshSummer Lightening, and Heavy Weather. By the end of the 800-page volume I almost over dosed on the Blandings crowd. The real issue is that the plots are all quite similar and in the case of the last two books within the omnibus are almost identical with characters and motives. While each story was entertaining in its own standing reading the three back-to-back is not highly advised. Take into considerationthe fact that Wodehouse wrote each book at least  several years apart from each other: Something Fresh  was published in 1915, Summer Lightening in 1929, and Heavy Weather in 1933.

So I ended my Summer of Wodehouse feeling a bit bloated on the Blandings crowd – a little overwhelmed by his characteristic hard edged aunts and simpering young men. But overall pleased that I had broadened my fictional friends to include Freddie Threepwood, and Sue Brown, and Lord Emsworth himself (dottering gentleman that he is).

However, since then I have returned to my Bertie and Jeeves – in video format this time. In the last days of summer I am now making my way through the BBC’s Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.

Author’s note: My summer reading program rewarded with my an I *heart* my Library pin, a drinking glass, and a voucher for a free book from the Friends of the Library sale –  all excellent incentives in my own humble opinion!


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