I’ve never quite understood the concept of “summer reading.” On the one hand, it appears to denote a certain kind of book, a page turner, a thriller or some sort of light material suitable for reading on the beach, as if we all spends days and weeks there in the summer months, and don’t read these types of books at any other time of the year. On the other hand, as when various worthies broadcast their summer reading lists, it seems to imply a getting down to brass tacks kind of study, of finally sitting down and consuming all of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” or “Don Quixote” or “Ulysses” because it’s good for you and since you’re a professor you have the summer off from your rut of a job. But never mind and at any rate, here are the two books I currently have my head in and I really don’t know what the season has to do with it.
“The Mating Season” by P.G. Wodehouse. It has the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, of the Jeeves and Wooster novels, but then, don’t most of them? It’s definitely a pip, though, and Wodehouse seems on a roll. The prose glides off his pen. I’ve rediscovered something while reading it, too (I’ve read a lot of Wodehouse). It is best to read his books at a certain pace, not too fast, not too slow … but definitely not too fast. Here’s the opening of the book, which requires a certain tempo (Bertie Wooster, as always in the Jeeves and Wooster stories, is the narrator):
While I would not go so far, perhaps, as to describe the heart as actually leaden, I must confess that on the eve of starting to do my bit of time at Deverill Hall I was definitely short on chirpiness. I shrank from the prospect of being decanted into a household on chummy terms with a thug like my Aunt Agatha, weakened as I already was by having her son Thomas, one of our most prominent fiends in human shape, on my hands for three days.
I mentioned this to Jeeves, and he agreed that the set-up could have been juicier.
‘Still,’ I said, taking a pop, as always, at trying to focus the silver lining, ‘it’s flattering, of course.’
‘Being the People’s Choice, Jeeves. Having these birds going around chanting “We Want Wooster.”‘
Now, if you just skimmed that or read it too fast (as people do when reading blogs), you will have missed the best part, the mot justes (if that’s the word I want) that give the passage not only a quality that defines the character of the narrator (a lovable upper crust boob) but its zing. I give you chirpiness, decanted, thug, fiends, human shape, juicier and chanting, among others.
The other book I’m reading now is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As the title suggests, it’s about the way some people are able to achieve optimal “experience” (not “success,” a nice distinction) and thereby something very close to happiness. There’s quite a lot of science in the book — or at least, a number of scientific studies are used as its basis — and the author writes in a plain and engaging style. Optimal experience comes when one can get into “flow,” a state where the challenges of what one is doing is nearly matched by one’s skills. That sounds a little too technical for what this book really is, which is a kind of philosophy for living. In the course of it, the author talks about all manner of lives and many types of thinking and consciousness. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much he talks about classical music, too, including listening to it, and the levels of skill it requires to enjoy it.
If you have an e-reader or iPad or ever read on a laptop, I recommend a classical music mystery, “Xylophone Fragments,” by Mark Woodward, available on ebook websites.
Tim, your excerpt from “The Mating Season” so thoroughly whet my appetite for P.G. Wodehouse that I immediately went on-line and ordered it as part of a collection of several Wodehouse novels. This is just the sort of impeccably structured prose that nourshes the soul. I’ve seen Wodehouse works dramatized, but never read them.
You also reignited my passion for precise vocabulary with the term “mot justes”. (Okay, I’ll just admit it. I had to look up that one).
Inevitably, all of this led to the purchase of no fewer than five additional books on the pronunciation and/or meaning of words, one of which was aptly titled “Le Mot Juste”.
Amazon.com and I both would like to express our thanks. If life were fair, they’d be forced to pay you a commission!
Bob, I hope you enjoy Wodehouse as much as I do. It’s an honor to introduce him to anyone.
Mot juste is a term that Bertie Wooster uses himself, as you’ll see.