The Man with Two Left Feet, P. G. Wodehouse

P. G. Wodehouse’s The Man with Two Left Feet is an early collection of short stories and contains the first short story featuring Wodehouse’s famous Jeeves and Wooster (“Extricating Young Gussie”). Most of the stories are humorous. Though the collection was published in 1917, the stories have a freshness that, with scant changes, could be adapted to modern scenarios. Most of the twelve stories have, at their heart, a romance, a bit of humorous confusion, and a happy ending.

Easily my favorite stories were “The Mixer: He Meets a Shy Gentleman” and “The Mixer: He Moves in Society.” The self-proclaimed “mixer” is a dog who defines himself by this term because he likes to socialize—he’s not shy. He’s a great little character, and is misunderstanding of human behavior is funny. These two stories reminded me just a little of the Disney film Lady and the Tramp. There wasn’t a dog romance or anything like that, but the Mixer’s confusion about humans reminded me a bit of Lady’s, while his personality was pure Tramp. Very cute stories.

All of the stories are at least good. Probably only Wodehouse could make a story about man about to commit suicide funny. However, as a whole the collection felt a little light, and towards the end, the stories were predictable.

If I were to read the stories again, or for that matter, any short story collection, I’m not sure I’d do it via DailyLit. There was nothing wrong with the formatting or anything, but the installment reading didn’t work for me with short story format. I think I might be better off just dipping into a short story collection from time to time and finishing a whole story in one sitting rather than reading in installments as I did. I found myself sometimes bogged down and falling behind, and then finding it difficult to pick up where I left off. I would try Wodehouse again, especially as I can see even from this early collection that he has a gift for a light, humorous story.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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WWW Wednesdays—October 5, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I haven’t done WWW Wednesday in a while; I skipped it for the entire month of September. I guess I’m back today!

I am currently reading several books. Despite what DailyLit says over there in the sidebar, I fell behind with The Man with Two Left Feet by P.G. Wodehouse and still haven’t finished it yet, though I have enjoyed it very much. I am also still reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I haven’t picked it up in a while. I think it’s perfect for dipping into occasionally.

I am also still listening to/reading along with Sense And Sensibility read by Juliet Stevenson. Oh, how I love crazy, flighty Marianne and admire steady, dependable Elinor. Wish I could be more like her. What a great friend she would be, too.

I am currently engaged in a battle with my daughter over The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. See, I bought it with an Amazon gift card I received for my birthday. Hence, it is a birthday present. She grabbed it while I was reading Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (review) and started reading it. I say I should get first dibs because it’s my birthday present. She argues she started reading it first and has also offered me two of her books to read. I also contend waiting for her will take too long. We nearly arm wrestled for it yesterday. We have an uneasy truce and have agreed to share it. For now.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next. Maybe something witchy like The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch or perhaps The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I have a rather large stack of books in my TBR pile. I also just received When She Woke by Hillary Jordan from a Goodreads giveaway, and the cover is so cool:

I have to admit it’s caught my eye. I also have a weakness for picking up books I just got instead of turning to my TBR pile.

I am in the mood to continue reading something gothic or creepy for RIP, though. Which would you pick?

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Reading Update: Spring is Here

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Nasty spring rain ruined my weekend plans. Drivin’ N Cryin’ (remember them? from a few blogs posts ago?) were playing at a free street festival in nearby Woodstock, and we had planned to go, but it rained. And rained. And hailed some. And rained some more. It is still kind of gross outside. I know we’ll have some other nice weekends this spring, but this one was to include a free Drivin’ N Cryin’ concert.

I’d like to say all that time indoors meant I read a lot, but mostly I worked on my genealogy. I am alternately engrossed in or neglectful of my family history. I seem to have no in between. Still, I enjoyed doing it, so it was productive.

I am still reading Joshilyn Jackson’s Between, Georgia, and I am enjoying it so far. It is what I thought it would be: a fun, light read. I started using my Audible app to see if I like it better than iTunes for listening to audio books, and it does have a few more features that I like, including connections to Facebook and Twitter, and a bookmarking/note-taking system like my Kindle. The books did take quite a while to download to it, however. I am listening to The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luiz Zafón, which I purchased via my monthly Audible credit some time ago. The reader does a great job with the Spanish names. I started a new book via DailyLit: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. I love a great Dumas swashbuckler, and though I’ve seen the movie version, I’ve never read the book. If I don’t put it on hold or read faster than one post a day, I should finish it around the end of October.

I talked to my sister today. It was great. I haven’t talked to her on the phone in ages. I miss her.

In other news, Diana Wynne Jones died on Saturday. I haven’t read her books, though I had planned to, and my daughter, who has read some of her books, was sad to hear this news. Neil Gaiman has posted a wonderful tribute to her on his blog.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cia de Foto

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Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Great ExpectationsWhat can I say about Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations? I am not sure if a summary is necessary or not, but it’s the story of an orphan named Pip who is raised by his cruel sister and kind brother-in-law (seriously, Joe Gargery is one of the sweetest men in classic literature, isn’t he?). One day he encounters a convict who threatens him if he doesn’t bring food and a file to remove the convict’s chains. Pip steals food from his sister’s cupboard, but feels guilty and is dreadfully worried he will be caught. Some time later, his uncle brings him to the home of Miss Havisham so he can be a playmate to Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella. Estella is a cold-hearted witch, and she learned well the lessons about hating men taught by her adopted mother, abandoned at the altar and forever after frozen in that moment of time (from the wedding dress to the moldy cake and clocks stopped at the time of the catastrophe). Seriously Miss Havisham is one piece of awesome characterization. Pip wants more than anything to be a gentleman so he has some chance of earning Estella’s love, for predictably (though who knows why, because she doesn’t deserve it), Pip falls in love with her. Pip suddenly has a mysterious benefactor who pays for him to become a gentleman. He goes to London, embarrassed by his humble beginnings and ashamed of his family (thus avoiding them). He racks up debts. He discovers who his benefactor is, and it is NOT who I thought it would be or who Pip thought it would be, either. In case you haven’t read it, I will not spoil it for you. Eventually Pip loses his money, but he gains his old sense of self back with Joe Gargery’s help.

I read this novel via DailyLit, and despite it being originally published as a serial novel, I have to say I think I might have done better to read it on my Kindle. I had a little trouble following everything, or I felt like I did. After reading some summaries online, I discovered I actually followed the novel fairly well, but I had forgotten a major character and therefore did not make a very important connection late in the book. Charles Dickens is a master of writing character, and his characters Miss Havisham, Joe Gargery, and Abel Magwitch jump off the page. I also loved Wemmick’s father, who everyone calls “The Aged.” The characters were a bit difficult for me to keep up with because of how I chose to read the book. Pip I found frustrating. Why does he fall for Estella when she clearly does nothing to earn his affection? (I guess he’s a masochist.) Why does he turn his back on good old Joe? He turns out all right in the end, but he makes a lot of annoying mistakes that make you want to kick him.

I don’t know why I never read much Dickens. This is only my third Dickens book (after A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities). It was an enjoyable read, and I will of course read more Dickens, but more than anything else, it’s satisfying to cross off a book I feel like I should have read a long time ago.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I read this book as part of my own Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn’t Challenge. It’s my first read for that challenge, and I need to read five more to complete it. I’m not going to count it as historical fiction because it seems to me to be set in Dickens’s own present, which doesn’t fit my definition of historical fiction per sé. Miss Havisham brings the gothic, however, so I will count it toward the Gothic Reading Challenge (16 more books to go on this challenge). My next DailyLit book will be The Man in the Iron Mask. Oooh, I love Dumas’s adventures! And French! Bonus!

Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't

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Reading Update: Where is Shelley’s Ghost?

Does anyone know how long it takes a book to travel through the post from the UK? I ask because I won this book:

Shelley's Ghost

For creating this video:

YouTube Preview Image

(And before you get excited, I was one of three entrants, so they just decided to award the prize to all three of us.)

I want my book! It was mailed on or around March 3, I think, and given that was over two weeks ago, I’m starting to wonder.

So last week was a good reading week for me, as I devoured Water for Elephants in a day, and I finished listening to the audio version of A Discovery of Witches. I will be wrapping up Great Expectations on DailyLit this week.

I started reading Jon Clinch’s Finn, the story of Huckleberry Finn’s infamous Pap. It’s a little dark, and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for dark right at the moment. It calls to mind Faulkner, and I think I will be glad I’ve read it when I finish it, but I think I want to pick up Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector, though it has really mixed reviews on Goodreads. I planned to read it anyway for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. I also toyed with the idea of picking up Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson. First of all, I’ve been through Between, which is a real place. Second, Jackson was hysterical in person when I heard her talk about her books. Third, I know it will be funny and light.

Yeah, I can’t decide.

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Reading Update: August 8, 2010

HatsI’m still reading books set in Salem. After finishing Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places and The Lace Reader, I returned to Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, although this book is set more in Marblehead than Salem, it does have some scenes in Salem. I think my favorite thing about Salem was just walking around and looking at everything. It truly is a unique town, and I do hope I have the opportunity to go back.

In addition to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, I’ve begun a new DailyLit selection: Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. I haven’t read this one. I know, I know. Well, it sure starts off with a bang! Dickens was a master of characterization.

I am still reading just finished Charity Girl. I believe I’ll be finished with that one in a day or two, but my review will not appear here until the day it is published at Austenprose.

I am now about halfway through A Farewell to Arms. At this point, Catherine is pregnant, and Henry is going back to the front. I am wondering what is going to happen. I know the ending of this book. Years of being an English teacher have spoiled that plot, but I still wonder how we will get from here to there, and I wonder what will happen in between. I also found myself looking up “jaundice” on Wikipedia to see if it can be caused by alcoholism, and it looks like it can. Hemingway’s economy with words is beautiful in its simplicity. He still manages to capture so much with so little.

I’ve been trying to decide what I should read next. I’m still on this Salem kick, so I might read The Heretic’s Daughter, but I think I will scout around. Has anyone read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman? I was going to swear off Hoffman after her Twitter rant last year, but this book looks interesting to me.

On a side note, Apture, the tool I use to create links on this site, appears to be broken at the moment, so the links might not pop up as enhanced links the way they usually do. And this post took twice as long to write as it would have with Apture. Hope they fix it soon!

Creative Commons License photo credit: danahuff

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Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver's TravelsJonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels is as excellent a satire today as when it was published in 1726. Lemuel Gulliver is a surgeon with the soul of an explorer. Gulliver’s Travels purports to be the tale of his voyages, including descriptions of the strange peoples and sites he encounters. Most readers are familiar with his iconic adventures in Lilliput, a land populated by beings six inches tall, where Gulliver towers over the inhabitants like a giant. Gulliver is initially mistrusted and even held captive in Lilliput until he enters into the service of the king. Over time, Gulliver learns that Lilliput is at war with neighboring country Blefuscu over which end of the egg it is most proper to break—the little or the big. When Gulliver refuses to help Lilliput fight her enemy Blefuscu, he is charged with treason. He manages to escape and is rescued by a ship and returns home.

It’s not long before he’s at sea again and winds up in the land of Brobdingnag, a land populated by giants. Gulliver now finds himself in a land where he is of Lilliputian size in comparison to the inhabitants. He is cared for by a Brobdingnagian girl and exhibited as a curiosity. This time, his leave-taking is accidental as an eagle snatches the traveling box in which he’s being carried and drops it into the sea, where he is once again rescued.

On his third voyage, Gulliver visits several more interesting countries, including Japan, which I found curious as it’s the only “real” country described in the novel. The flying island of Laputa, with its focus on mathematics and music, was really interesting to me, especially in light of their impracticality. It reminded me a little bit of Donald in Mathmagic Land. You remember seeing it in school?

The final voyage, which Gulliver undertakes after swearing off exploring for good, takes Gulliver to the land of the Houyhnhnms, who are horse-like creatures. Gulliver comes to admire the Houyhnhnms more than people. The people he encounters in the land are course, uncivilized Yahoos. In this final voyage, Gulliver learns to appreciate the Houyhnhnms over his own kind, which he afterward refers to as Yahoos.

I think Lemuel Gulliver is a huge jerk. He abandons his family. His wife was pregnant when he left on his last voyage. When he returns, he rejects his family and prefers to spend time with a pair of horses he has procured. He passes judgment on the people he encounters. I found the Houyhnhnms to be haughty and proud and certainly couldn’t understand Gulliver’s adoration of them. Perhaps it is Swift’s way of asking the reader to think about why they look up to anyone. As usual, Swift’s satire is razor-sharp. I admit some of the book surprised me. Gulliver talks quite a lot about his bodily functions, and I admit I didn’t expect that out of a book written during that time, but I suppose it makes sense given that this is not the prim Victorian period. The book had some enjoyable moments. I liked the parts set in Brobdingnag and Laputa the best. I’m glad I read the book despite finding its protagonist to be hard to sympathize with, but I think a book about Gulliver’s wife would have been interesting, too. I would have kicked his sorry tail out the door, and good riddance. I think one of the chief ironies of the book is that Gulliver criticizes so many of the societies, ultimately idolizing the Houyhnhnms (undeservedly, in my opinion) and despising his own race, without seeing that he is one of the least likable, least worthy, and most fallible of them all. Ultimately, I just like to read about protagonists I can care about more. I found myself hoping Gulliver would suffer harm. A good frying pan over his head and kick in the ass administered by his wife when he showed up after the Houyhnhnms kicked him out would have redeemed the book nicely for me.

I read this novel via DailyLit.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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Crime and Punishment

Crime and PunishmentThough I wasn’t due to finish Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment via DailyLit until next week, I decided to go ahead and finish today. I really wanted to like this book. It’s one of those books you hear a lot about. It’s one of those books people like to say they’ve read. I should preface this review by saying that I’ve read very few Russian classics. I tried to read Dr. Zhivago; my sister Lara is named after Yuri Zhivago’s love interest. I couldn’t get into it, even though I loved the movie. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review), and I really didn’t like it all that much, although I found the concept intriguing.

The central character of Crime and Punishment is Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg who murders a pawn broker and her sister with an axe. Most of the book centers around his mental state both before and after the crime. I had a great deal of difficulty with the names. Some of the characters have nicknames, which made it nearly impossible for me to keep up with the characters. I’m sure this is purely a cultural-based confusion because if a character in a book were named William but variously called Will, Willie, or Bill by other characters, I doubt I’d have trouble. However, in a book with names that are already challenging for me to keep straight, I found myself quickly confused, and I think that confusion hampered my enjoyment of the novel. I might have done better to read a version with more notes. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the end result is that I’ve been put off Dostoyevsky. I’m not sure I’d want to try another book of his after not enjoying this one, especially when I think about the large number of books in the world I could read instead that I might truly enjoy. I found parts of the book compelling—the murder scene, Svidrigailov’s death, a fight among some of the women (whose characters I confess I had the most difficulty keeping straight) in the middle of the book, and the end—but these moments were few. Most of the book I found hard to get through both because of my confusion and because the story was not grabbing my interest. I had already reached what I call “the point of no return” before I decided I didn’t like the book. The “point of no return” is the point at which you’ve read so far into the book that you feel you should just go ahead and finish. I really, really wanted to like this book, which is why I pushed myself up to that point. When I realized I didn’t like it, I felt sad. I have so rarely been disappointed by classics.

My next novel from DailyLit will be Gulliver’s Travels, a much shorter novel, and one I have neglected. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I found it difficult to understand at that age. I think I will enjoy it better twenty years on from the last time I tried to pick it up. It’s a British book, which will enable me to continue to the next level in the Typically British Challenge.

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Reading Updates

I have three books going at the moment. I am listening to The Help whenever I’m in the car, and sometimes I have to sit in the car a little longer so I can finish a particularly good part. I am absolutely loving this book, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my faculty’s book club.

I’m also re-reading Pride and Prejudice. This annotated version is helping me understand nuances I’m not sure I picked up the first time I read it years ago. The only problem I have with the annotations is that they give away much of the plot. I would like to use this edition with students, but some of the annotations should be read as they are reading, and some will give away the plot a great deal, which I think some students may find frustrating.

Finally, I am still working through Crime and Punishment on DailyLit. I am just not enjoying it at all. I found the murder of Alyona Ivanovna and her sister Lizaveta chilling and compelling to read, but for a few scenes since that time, the book never grabbed me. I am close enough to the end to stick it out, but I’m not inclined to read any more Dostoyevsky. I don’t know whether I should feel stupid that I’m not getting something that so many people in the past have clearly enjoyed and esteemed, or just accepting that it’s OK to feel the way I feel about this book.

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DailyLit Bookroll

I wonder if anyone reading this blog subscribes to books via e-mail or RSS with DailyLit? I’ve mentioned DailyLit many times on this blog. I love it, and my mother and sister are now big fans after being introduced to it. It’s been the best way for me to read books I otherwise might not read because I read just a bit at a time, and for some reason, that helps me more than telling myself I can just read a page or two at a time of a paperback. I’m not sure why. DailyLit books are free if they’re in the public domain, but you can also purchase books (much more cheaply than they retail for, I might add).

I had been wanting to include a bookroll of my DailyLit books on this blog, but I really didn’t like the way the CSS was coded, and the DailyLit folks did not allow CSS code customization. I knew I could alter my own CSS stylesheet to render the code how I wanted it to appear, but I didn’t know the proper title for the div class. I asked for help in DailyLit’s forums, and thought I would share the solution with you all in case you want to use DailyLit and include a bookroll. I guess I really like for people to know what I’m reading! It was bothering me that I could use Now Reading Reloaded, a plugin that helps me display what books I’m reading, but I couldn’t get the DailyLit code to look right. If you want to see what I’ve read and am reading via DailyLit, check out the sidebar to the right and scroll down to the part where my Now Reading books are. The DailyLit bookroll is right under that section.

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