Nov 20, 2020

Ask Jeeves (Larry Did)


Many of us knew the Oakland based search engine/question-answer website Ask Jeeves (now just Ask.com) was related to an English gentleman’s personal valet, but the MBC’s September book – The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse—as Zoom hosted by Glenn provided a path to the “Jeeves” origin.

 The book provides a humorous account of British aristocracy in the lates 1930s, a time when the sharp “Upstairs, Downstairs” line between the aristocracy and the working class begins to fade. The Code of the Woosters follows the escapades of English gentleman Bertram “Bertie” Wooster and his manservant, Jeeves. The beauty of Wodhouse’s book is that it is told through Bertie as narrator who believes it is “he” who is controlling the action, while the reader quickly surmises the real brains of the duo lies with Jeeves.  The book then leads the reader on a romp through the daily social pratfalls of the British upper class where, like Seinfield, nothing of substance occurs.

For a short and humorous work, there was a surprisingly wide set of opinions among the meager number of MBC Zoom attendees.  Several including Tom and Glenn found the book enjoyable and a fun read as each chapter unfolds with Bertie dealing with one predicament after another only to be left at chapter’s end in another social “pickle”.  Glenn and Paul appreciated Wodehouse’s ability to turn a phrase in the King’s English. I was in the middle of the pack – liking the lighthearted storyline but only by skipping over some of the 1930s idioms to keep the book moving.  Jack found the book a light farce with unredeeming characters, yet found himself rooting for several of them anyway.  Andrew (for the part he read) and Dean found the book uninteresting and repetitive with each chapter structured beginning with the protagonist extracting himself from a sticky wicket left hanging at the end of the previous chapter, only to be thrust into a new tight squeeze by chapter end.

But the big news of the month was the nuptials of Glenn and Gamin, which was celebrated in this time of COVID through a slightly disjointed webex meeting via the Sonoma County Clerk’s office.  Congratulations to the couple from all of MBC.  Unfortunately, we were not able to throw Glenn the kind of bachelor party that Bertie threw Gussie in the book.  In other news, the Tom/Dan/Dean winery group is well into their 2020 crush with 2 ½ tons of varietals in process.  Tom reported that the crop did not suffer smoke damage from the fires as of the initial press. Overall MBC members continue to grapple with the vagaries of COVID, wildfires and the election.  One member recounted how their parent contracted COVID and survived but with lingering aftereffects.  We do count ourselves lucky, however, as none of us is an essential front-line worker – although Glenn is now married to one.

Up for October is Dean’s recommendation and 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Overstory by Richard Powers.  After reading this, you will not look and feel for trees in the same way. 

--Larry

4 comments:

  1. Larry -- thanks for the writeup! I think you captured the essence of the book, which may explain why your writeup on the book was brief and your writeup of our lives more detailed. The Code read like a sitcom, though it predates sitcoms so perhaps Wodehouse helped form TV. At first I found the book fun -- I liked the very British turns of phrase, and the silliness. About half way through, though, I started to tire of the predictable, ongoing pattern of one silly predicament after another. If you want a laugh, there was a BBC series based on the books starring Hugh Laurie (House) as Bertram and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. They did sketch comedy in their early days, then this, and it's pretty funny to see Dr. House as a nincompoop.

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  2. OK, here is my problem with The Code of the Woosters. We picked this book in part because it promised us a lighthearted reprieve from Covid, politics, and too much social isolation. And while it worked on one level (as Larry notes--the clever language and the social pratfalls were amusing), I couldn't help but think about Britain at the time Wodehouse penned his novel.

    Published in late 1938, the country had finally recovered from the Great War and yet was just a year away from another catastrophic conflict with Germany. Despite the obvious clouds on the horizon, Wodehouse's characters are utterly oblivious. Theirs is a world of indolence punctuated by comedy and absurdity.

    Maybe because 2020 has been such a crap year--with everything on edge socially and politically. But I just lost my patience with Wodehouse's story early on and kept thinking: don't they know what is in store for them? And, looking back, I'm sure my reaction was entirely Covid-induced. So my apologies to the rest of you for giving up early on Wodehouse. And my thanks to Larry for capturing our time together, no matter what we thought of the book.

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