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Wednesday, or What You Will

What I've Finished Reading

In the end I decided to keep A Confederacy of Dunces, though I don't know why I should. The beginning is good and the last two or three pages are good and in between there are a lot of almost unbearably tedious set pieces, but I like Mrs. Reilly and Santa and the hapless old John Bircher and Darlene's boffo bird act. And it was recommended to me by a very old friend, back in high school when she was still a new friend; that probably has something to do with it. I'm not disappointed in it or anything, it just is the book it is.

In less emotionally confusing comedy news, Galahad at Blandings: a late Wodehouse and a pleasant rather than a great one. A young millionaire is thrown into the drunk tank after having his cash stolen, and calls on his wealthy future uncle-in-law Clarence to bail him out. Clarence is absent-minded at the best of times and accidentally conflates "lost a roll of cash in a drunken spree" with "lost all his money on the stock market and reduced to selling apples," which causes an upheaval for the millionaire's fiancee's golddigging parents. There are other plots. They all come together reasonably well, though it takes a little forcing here and there. The best part of the book is Clarence's appealing fondness for his magnificent prize-winning pig. Unfortunately this means that for comedy purposes, other people are always maligning or misunderstanding the pig (I'm sure this isn't the first Wodehouse I've read in which a meddling outsider stubbornly fails to understand that prize-winning pigs are supposed to be fat) or hiding their liquor flask in the pig's mash so that the pig gets drunk.

Wodehouse uses the word "retarded" twice, which is a bit of a jolt: part of its rapid transition from official medical term to middle-school insult.

I really enjoyed The Outsiders, albeit in a kind of condescending maternal way rather than a relating-so-hard one. It's a teenager's poem of teenage life, which makes it sympathetic, but it's a very different reading experience from, say, Henry Williamson's memories of adolescence, with its chaos of contradictions and its grubby suburban romanticism, hindsight making everything more cluttered and more incomprehensible. Here the lines are clear and melodic, and life is nothing like a song except that it's exactly like one. I don't think it's inferior, though its appeal for me is not nearly as strong. I do feel like I've missed out on something by not having any patience for this kind of thing as an Actual Teen. I pretended to be too old for it when I wasn't, but I really am too old for it now.

What I'm Reading Now

A Fox Under My Cloak by Henry Williamson! Volume WHO KNOWS of a million-part series, and still good, good, good, at least as far as I can tell. I'm worried that Williamson must get really bad later in order to have fallen out of favor to the extent implied by Burgess - though maybe he doesn't, maybe sometimes books just get overlooked. I'm also worried that Williamson's politics are already all over the book and I just don't notice it because 1) I'm oblivious, and/or 2) I'm too willing to separate depiction from endorsement. Right now, Phillip's home from Ypres on medical leave and everyone is being well-meaning and horrible about it, in that glurgey thank-you-for-your-service way; he's been trying to talk about his experiences but no one wants to hear it and he gets shouted down for trying to talk about some bad decisions made by command staff. Meanwhile, his dad is calling for internment of all Germans and avoiding talking about his German grandmother, and a Scottish shopkeeper has gotten a brick through his window because his name looks kind of German.

Also started: Among Others by Jo Walton, about a girl whose relationship with the fairies is as difficult and confusing as her relationships with other humans. It's interesting, even if I'm not sure what to make of it yet.

What I Plan to Read Next

I bought a copy of Portnoy's Complaint, one of the 99 Novels, at this grubby used bookstore in Tallahassee, so maybe that? It's been a very long time since I read it and I was a child at the time, so 99% of it went straight over my head and I have no idea what to expect now. The grubby bookstore also had Cousin Bette by Balzac, but I didn't buy it because I didn't want to pay $5 for a paperback that rats had eaten all four corners of. I support used bookstores, but that one was kind of overpriced.

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