Rated P. G.
The master humorist’s letters tell a different kind of story
P. G. Wodehouse:
A Life in Letters
by P. G. Wodehouse
W. W. Norton & Company
$35.00 List Price
Five years ago, anticipating the birth of my first child, I went to the hospital (my wife came along, incidentally) with only one book tucked into the suitcase: P. G. Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth and Others (hereafter L.E.A.O.). Its very title suggested grab-baggery, lighter-than-light reading—just another in the line of ninety-odd books of fiction that the British author wrote between his 1902 debut and his death in 1975. I can’t remember a word, only that there were golf stories, some tales from the Drones Club, and that it closes with an exploit or two of the mercenary Ukridge, arguably my favorite Wodehouse character. All I really recall is that L.E.A.O. served as the perfect prose pacifier for a particularly frazzling Life Episode.
Far be it from me to dissuade the more steely-minded from packing Serious Literature—what Bertie Wooster would term an “improving book”—for the birthing room, tomes in which the stakes are high, the narratives opaque or vertiginous, the revelations life-changing. My life was going to change; I needed something casual on that cold December day, a book that wouldn’t upset my fragile mental state: entertainment without conflict, verbal dexterity solely in the service of comic relief. What I am saying is that hospitals would do well to stock L.E.A.O. in the gift shop, next to the “It’s a Boy!” balloons.
It’s easy to think of Wodehouse (1881–1975) as the purveyor of literary comfort food. The flyleaves of Overlook Press’s Collector’s Wodehouse editions would make excellent wallpaper for a sanatorium, and simply seeing the spines on a shelf never
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