The Charles C. W. Cooke Newsletter
"When you're alone," wrote P.G. Wodehouse, "you don't do much laughing."
Little did he know that, nearly fifty years after he died, a large collection of his works would be available on Audible, and that, as a result, at least one person — me — would in fact be able to spend quite a lot of time both alone and laughing.
I got a subscription to Audible free with my credit card a few months ago, but I'd never used it until recently, when I discovered that Audible not only has a large collection of Wodehouse's books, but that they are read by the greatest voice actor of all time, Martin Jarvis (who also read the Just William stories, as well as Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar). Since then, I have been listening voraciously every time I have to drive anywhere or sit for hours on end on a plane.
I get funny looks when I say this, but I quite honestly believe that the only writer in history who has a better grasp on the English language than P.G. Wodehouse is William Shakespeare. As a general matter, they're not comparable, of course, because, as wonderful as Wodehouse's books are, they deal with nothing of consequence. But Wodehouse has a way with words that is not only unmatched, but that is so extraordinarily funny that the best lines stick around with you for years.
His insults are second to none. For example:
- "And she's got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need."
- "She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say 'when.'"
- "As for Gussie Finknottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming on sight."
- "It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required."
And then there's his flamboyant use of verbs. Nobody — nobody — in the history of the English language has ever used verbs in quite this way:
- "It's only after a bit of breakfast that I'm able to regard the world with that sunny cheeriness which makes a fellow the universal favourite. I'm never much of a lad till I've engulfed an egg or two and a beaker of coffee."
"Engulfed" an egg!
- "Angela nearly got inhaled by a shark while aquaplaning."
Wodehouse had a habit of writing like this when discussing food. The story I was listening to last night contained both "I asked if he wanted to mangle some luncheon" and "He pronged another bite."
He even does it when the subject isn't gastronomical. For instance:
- She got up with the baby and decanted it into a perambulator.
Wodehouse is occasionally criticized for being so light, which he is. All told, his stories are mostly about idle rich people falling in and out of love and trying to hold on to their allowances. But what this misses, I think, is that it is precisely because the stakes are so low that there are so many opportunities for humor. Conveying how uninterested in breakfast one of his character is, Wodehouse writes:
- "She spoke as if she belonged to an anti-sausage league or a league for the suppression of eggs. There was a bit of silence."
You just can't do that if your topic is Julius Caesar.
Really, the man was incapable of writing a straight sentence. Everything is jumbled up and looked at from an unusual angle.
Someone is in the bushes trying to get someone else's attention?
- "At this moment, the laurel bush, which had hitherto not spoken, said 'Psst!'"
Something bad is going to happen?
- "I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping."
Someone is melancholy?
- "He was in the frame of mind when a weaker man would have started writing poetry."
And with that, I'll move on! There's a short sample of Jarvis reading Wodehouse on YouTube here. If you have any friends you think might like to sign up, too, please feel free to forward this to them, or let them know that they can do that themselves here. If you do not want to receive this newsletter, you can easily unsubscribe here. And if this newsletter just isn't enough, you can also follow me on Twitter here, on Facebook here, and on Instagram here.
Writing, Speaking, Podcasting, and More
This week was something of a mixed bag. I started the week by writing a piece for the special abortion issue of National Review. "Every time I write about abortion," noted, "I receive letters in which I am accused of being a 'religious fundamentalist.'" But this, of course, is nonsense because, while "I am friendly towards, and respectful of, religious believers . . . I am not one myself, I have never been one myself, and I am not close to being one myself." Indeed, "as far as I am concerned, the core case against abortion neither presumes nor relies upon the existence of God, but holds simply that abortion involves the killing of an innocent human being, and that the killing of innocent human beings is wrong."
I then turned back to the Biden administration, with a piece arguing that "the president’s vaccine mandate is part of a pattern" in which he "takes illegal actions in hopes that by the time the courts rule, his goals will have been achieved." Americans are encouraged to sue when their government wrongs them, I observed, but "there is a more effective, and more honorable, way for the people to retain the system of government they’ve inherited, and that is to demand leaders who won’t break the rules in the first instance."
On Wednesday, I asked why there is not more coverage of the "yawning chasm" that exists "between the substance of the daily news and the continuing political obsessions of the Democratic Party." "Apparently," I suggested, "it is Biden’s steadfast belief that he must under no circumstances take any of the steps that might help us escape from our predicament — increasing domestic oil production, say, or waiving the Jones Act — and that he remains duty-bound to obsess over a set of radical, unnecessary policy proposals that would, quite obviously, make our situation worse."
I finished the week by arguing that it is not only inappropriate for politicians and public figures to target the judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse case, it is absurd. "Why," I asked, "has Schroeder conducted the trial in the way that he has? Because that is how he always conducts trials. It has nothing to do with some preposterous wish to help Rittenhouse, or with some secret desire to defend the Second Amendment, or with some longshot play to replace Tucker Carlson in the 9 p.m. hour. Schroeder is a liberal on matters of criminal justice, and this is how liberals on matters of criminal justice tend to judge." (I use "liberal" favorably here; in classical terms, I am a liberal — especially on matters of criminal justice.)
For my full archive, which includes a bunch of shorter posts from this week, you can click here.
I was on two episode of The Editors this week. On the first, we discussed the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Americans who wish to make masks a permanent feature of the landscape, and whether anyone will ever answer for the Russiagate hoax. On the second, we talked about rising inflation, the Rittenhouse trial, and Chris Christie coming out against Trump. You can subscribe to The Editors on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.
I also recorded the second part of the Political Beats special on Fleetwood Mac. I believe that it will be released on Monday, although if you happen to subscribe to the show through Patreon, it is available already. If you haven't listened already, you can find the first part here.
Well . . . Fleetwood Mac. I thought, having talked about the band on Political Beats for the better part of six hours, I'd want to listen to pretty much anything else. But I actually had the opposite reaction. Almost as soon as we'd finished recording both episodes, I thought, "oh, you know which song I forgot to mention," and I dived right back in to the catalog.
Chief among my missed masterpieces is this, from 1975's Fleetwood Mac:
I was trying to work out how on earth I forgot it, and I think it's because its title, Sugar Daddy, is so close to the one track I don't like on Rumours, which is Oh Daddy.
On the second episode of the podcast, Jeff, Scot, and I all spontaneously agreed that Say You Love Me, a track from the same album, is "joyful." As well as being catchy as hell, Sugar Daddy has exactly the same quality: the poppy bassline, the drums that sound like a hippie clapping circle, the barroom piano, that warm, supportive guitar tone that Lindsay Buckingham perfected around this period, and Christine McVie's straightly pure, un-rock-star-like voice. Oh, and the fairground organ that lurks in the background and lightens the whole thing up.
At 1:57 when it drops into the instrument break it has exactly the same effect as does the little tremelo-laden guitar solo at 1:47 on Say You Love Me. When you play in a band, there are certain moments when everyone is so locked in that they involuntary look at each other to smile (or laugh — which music often provokes, for some reason), and that moment is undoubtedly one of them.
P.S. There's a moment on Say You Love Me that drives me absolutely up the wall every time I listen to it. Just before the aforementioned instrumental break at 1:47, McVie sings "it'll be the end of me," but instead of singing it correctly as she does the second time around — that is, in time with the music — she rushes through it, so that she finishes the "be" too early and has to elongate the rest. Every time I hear it, I wonder why the band didn't re-record it. Lindsay Buckingham was a Grade A tyrant in the studio (and deserved to be) , and he'd lose his mind over the slightest mistake. That most definitely is one, and it was present on one of their singles (the single is differently mixed, and has a much more aggressive and prominent guitar line, but it uses the same vocal recording).