[DWJ] Book recommendations

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Fri Nov 17 06:45:35 EST 2006

>Minnow wrote:
>>If I *haven't* already recommended *The Brontes Went To Woolworths*, I'd
>>like to do so at once.  It's not very easy to explain in a short form, but
>>I'd class it in a category with *Cold Comfort Farm* and *No Bed For Bacon*
>>as being a 'tween wars light novel (and Classic) written by someone taking
>>a light-hearted tilt at things generally taken Altogether Too Seriously.
>>At one end of that sub-sub-genre one could probably put *1066 and All That*
>>and at the other, I don't know, maybe *I Capture the Castle*, which is
>>mostly quite serious when it isn't being utterly surreal.  It's a very
>>small s-s-g; far too small in my opinion.  P.G. Wodehouse subverting the
>>Minor Public School Story in *Mike* is another example, I suppose, and
>>there are traces of it in the description by Sayers of Harriet Vane going
>>up to London for Christmas in *Gaudy Night* and attending a Prize Book
>>party and talking about the Modern Play, and Peter Wimsey going to the
>>Bohemian Party in *Strong Poison*.  Compton Mackenzie has it a bit in *The
>>Adventures of Sylvia Scarlet*, in which he invented a school of painters
>>called the Blanchists (an advance or offshoot from the Azurists), who
>>assert that All Is White and paint accordingly...

Robyn replied:
>Extremely interesting genre-identification Minnow, and I immediately ask
>myself, "why is it I love almost all of the books on this list, but hate
>No Bed for Bacon?"

I invented the s-s-g as I was writing that post, because I realised that
*The Brontes Went To Woolworths*, *Cold Comfort Farm* and *No Bed For
Bacon* are living on a shelf by the bed with *I Capture the Castle* and
*1066 and All That*, between the LMBs and the Heyers, and I couldn't for
the life of me find any reason for them all to be together except that
these are all books I read or dip into when I desperately need to lighten
up a bit.  *Musrum* is too tall to fit that shelf, or it would probably be
there too.

>I am tempted to read this Bronte book.

It's not exactly a Bronte book, though two of them do make an appearance,
sort of, and they are influential.  It also involves three sisters whose
father has died (but also puts in a brief appearance) and their mother, and
a High Court Judge and his wife, and two governesseses (sequentially, not
in tandem), and a sheepdog, and a Music Hall star and a seaside Pierrot,
and a woman who gives advice in a pseudo-French accent (not unakin to Miss
Blossom, now I come to think of it).

>Would you put the Thursday Next books in this genre? Or only the first one?

Um.  I don't think so.  If there were only the first one I might, but I
have a feeling that books in this s-s-g have to be one-offs.  And TN
perhaps tries too hard: the author is a little too self-conscious or aware
or knowing about the whole business, somehow.  A sort of insouciance and
accidental "how on earth did I come to write this?" is an essential element
of the way such books feel.  That's why nothing of Terry Pratchett's is in
there: he's doing it very much on purpose, when he does do it, and that
doesn't have the same effect.  (And his books have a complete plot, too,
which is probably contrary to the spirit of the thing.)  That's also why
attempts to repeat the success don't quite work: the other one by Brahms
and Simon, *Don't, Mr. Disraeli*, hasn't got the same inate silliness, and
*Return To Cold Comfort* is embarrassing.

Oh, and Erik Frank Russell's *Next of Kin* is very nearly in the s-s-g
where *Wasp* definitely isn't, and I think that's because in NoK the
sabotage is the inspiration of a moment whereas in W it has been carefully
planned in advance.

I have no idea what to call this small set of books, as a genre, and I am
absolutely certain that one couldn't set out to write one.  Maybe
Happenstance Gems would be how I would think of them.

It's possible that *The Rose and the Ring* should be in there.  I'll have
to re-read it.  And *The Phantom Toll-Booth* would be a candidate if only
it didn't have that pot of message about not being a waster, though I think
it may be another that tries just a little too hard.


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