Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Thursday, September 07, 2006

By Jeeves!

One of the great advantages of working in Newark (as opposed to New York) is that I only have a rather painless twenty-six minute rail commute. Another advantage is having access to the Newark Public Library, a library that’s actually older than the New York Public Library (though it has far fewer books to be sure).

Still, there are a lot of dusty old treasures in the Newark library since they don’t seem to get rid of their older books. One interesting book that I came across recently is Author! Author! (Simon and Schuster, 1962) which is a book of letters that P.G. Wodehouse (who will always be remembered for giving us that unforgettable servant, Jeeves) sent to his friend W. (Bill) Townend, a fellow writer The book is a veritable writing manual and there are no shortage of great passages one could quote. Here’s one I especially liked about the genesis of ideas for stories:

Listen, Bill. Is this a crazy idea? I suddenly thought the other day that, as there are always a lot of rats on a tramp ship, why shouldn’t one rat, starting by being a good bit bigger than the other rats and so able to eat them daily, gradually grow and grow till he became the size of a bloodhound? This accomplished, he begins to throw his weight about. Mysterious things happen on the ship. The bosun is found dead with his face chewed off, two cabins boys disappear entirely. And so on. Is this any good to you? It certainly isn’t to me.

There really ought to be some sort of central bureau, an Ideas Exchange, where authors could send plots they couldn’t use themselves and other authors could buy anything that suited their style. The bureau would charge ten per cent for its services and clean up.

Wodehouse proposed this idea in 1920!

I didn't know that much about Wodehouse before reading this book. His early years make for great reading. On his second trip to New York (in 1909) Wodehouse had a great stroke of luck, selling two stories in one morning, to Cosmopolitan and Collier's for $200 and $300 respectively. He immediately decided not to return to England, instead renting an apartment in Greenwich Village. He thought he could "live there practically forever on $500, especially as there were always the Cosmopolitan and Collier's standing by with their cornucopias, all ready to start pouring." Of course, as usually happens, he was not able to sell either of them another story and he eventually gravitated to the pulps before being discovered by Vanity Fair (he wrote about half of each issue under a number of names) and then going on to success in the world of theatre, and then of course his great creation, Jeeves.

This from the front cover flap copy of Author! Author!: Our advice to all writers -- would-be writers, stalled writers, good-style-no-plot writers, good-plot-no-style writers, rejected writers, and writers who want to be better, happier writers -- can be summed up in three words: GRAB THIS BOOK.

It is our hunch -- only a hunch, but a powerful one -- that you will be seized with a burst of inspiration and resolve that will propel you to your own typewriter the minute you have finished the last page of AUTHOR! AUTHOR!

Propel yourself to a library to look for this -- you won't be disappointed!


Blogger Bill said...

Anything by Wodehouse is worth reading, but this sounds like essential stuff.

7:21 AM  

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