A lot was going on in February and March, workwise, so my list for those two months is small enough to combine into one post.
1. Literary Lapses – Stephen Leacock
Leacock was a Canadian humorist around the 1900s but you’d never guess his vintage by reading his witty, dry humour. This collection of essays contains too many gems to quote, with fantastic bits like “Men Who Have Shaved Me,” “The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones” (who was too polite to cut off a visit and ending up living in the drawing room, “departing” only after dying of insanity at his inability to find a way to take leave of his hosts), and my personal favorite, “Number Fiftysix.” A wonderful volume to dip in and out of, as most pieces are very short and extremely amusing.
2. Crampton Hodnett – Barbara Pym
This is about the fourth novel of Barbara Pym’s that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. It’s more like “Some Tame Gazelle” than “Excellent Women,” if that helps. The narration is a tongue-in-cheek story of old spinsters “collecting” young Oxford students, the unlikely friendship betewen a handsome vicar and a spinster’s plain companion, and the foolish affair of an professor. While the plot is not drop-dead hilarious, Pym’s way of showing us the weakness and absurdities of human nature make this amusing all the same.
3. A Tramp Abroad – Mark Twain
I haven’t read any Twain since junior year of high school, when we were forced to journal on each chapter of “Huckleberry Finn.” A sure way to turn kids off literature. However, I randomly purchased this when I needed something to read at lunch one day, intrigued by the forward from Dave Eggers insisting this really was just a funny, funny book. He is correct. Sure, there are times when Twain’s descriptions and narrative run a little long, but the many humorous vignettes in this book make up for those portions. The chapters detailing the humorously exaggerated epic ascent of a mountain, when they really were just lost in the fog, is a wonderful piece of sustained nonsense. The longest running joke throughout the book is how Twain and his companion hardly ever walk anywhere in their “walking tour.” The appendices are also very funny as stand-alone pieces, especially the one on the “awful” German language. Overall, a very enjoyable read, even if you are not a Twain fan, which I was not before reading this book.
4. Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
Very popular when serially published in Dickens’ Household Words in the early 1850s, “Cranford” details the tightly-drawn world of the upper-class citizens of a small English village. I definitely think E.F. Benson had the Cranford ladies in mind when he constructed his delightful societal struggles in the Mapp & Lucia books. Gaskell’s world is set earlier and is necessarily gentler, but has a similar level of detail and observation. An enjoyable read, with subtle humor.
5. Green Grows the City – Beverly Nichols
Written between his famous Allways and Merry Hall trilogies, when forced to move back to London in 1938 or 1939, this details how he created a garden to his liking in his city home. While I am not a gardener, his spirit is inspiring and his waspish relations with nosy neighbors are amusing. I’m not sure that this particular book has much to set it apart from the Allways trilogy, so I wouldn’t recommend it for less than the diehard Nichols fan.