Sunday, August 19, 2007

P.G. Wodehouse on Publishing

For the past week, I've been sitting back on the rear porch and reading The World of Jeeves, a Jeeves and Wooster omnibus of short stories by P .G. Wodehouse. I've avoided reading Wodehouse before, as I'd seen a few episodes of the BBC Jeeves and Wooster, and thought it often just plain silly. But as I readied John Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained for publication, Wodehouse kept coming up. I decided to give him a try.

If, like me, you've not read Wodehouse, you're in for a treat. His stories are incredibly funny, a pure pleasure to read. John has told me the novels are even better. At one time, when I had the bricks and mortar bookshop, I probably had most of Wodehouse in one format or the other; now I'll have to search him out. But search him out I will, as this is as much fun as I've had reading in many a year.

Wodehouse is not merely light fluff, either. He's a brilliant writer. Evelyn Waugh used to refer to him as the master. I'm beginning to see why.

In the story "The Artistic Career of Corky," Wooster muses on the world of publishing, in a short bit which probably hits a bit too close to home. I enter it here, for your amusement.

"I always used to think that publishers had to be devilish intelligent fellows, loaded down with grey matter; but I've got their number now. All a publisher has to do is to write cheques at intervals, while a lot of deserving and industrious chappies rally round and do the real work. I know, because I've been one myself. I simply sat tight in the old flat with a fountain pen, and in due season a topping, shiny book came along."

The truth of the matter is, alas, most of us publishers cannot even manage to "write cheques at intervals"; or if we can, t 'is often at long intervals, after much hounding and gnashing of teeth. So much for the whole noble profession bit.

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