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The Standard Reader

New books on P.G. Wodehouse, progressive politics, and more.

Jun 13, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 37
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Books in Brief

P. G. Wodehouse by Joseph Connolly (Haus, 150 pp., $15.95) In the acknowledgments of his mini biography of P. G. Wodehouse, Joseph Connolly complains that the Wodehouse estate refused him permission to quote any of The Master's words. This would appear to be a serious stumbling block for a biographer whose subject poured all of his genius directly into his writing.

What was so great about the writing is, however, a little hard to formulate. Wodehouse's books did not succeed on the strength of a writing style as usually understood. The masterly manipulation of the language that makes, for example, Nabokov's prose so richly poetic was not Wodehouse's thing. And though he seems to be the type of writer who should have produced one-liners by the thousand, because he did write so many funny lines, his style was not very aphoristic. Rereading some of his most famous books turns up precious few examples of great stand-alones. The choice of individual words and the inflections within sentences were often ingenious, but the greatness seems to have lain in the writing's overall tone and, to use a term borrowed from the textbook industry, ease of reading. Once beguiled into a Wodehouse story, the reader zips through it effortlessly.

Since I, unlike Connolly, enjoy the right to a little quotation, why not let 'er rip? It being still spring, I'll cite a short opening passage from one of Wodehouse's relatively under-celebrated golf stories to illustrate the clear-as-a-songbird tone.

It was a morning when all nature shouted 'Fore!' The breeze, as it blew gently up from the valley, seemed to bring a message of hope and cheer, whispering of chip-shots holed and brassies landing squarely on the meat. The fairway, as yet unscarred by the irons of a hundred dubs, smiled greenly at the azure sky; and the sun, peeping above the trees, looked like a giant golf ball perfectly lofted by the mashie of some unseen god and about to drop dead by the pin of the eighteenth.

Connolly has done something worthy, which is to provide the interested reader with a precise life of ole Plum in just the kind of breezy style one feels compelled to use when writing about Wodehouse. But while the tone is right, the information is needlessly thin in spots. Connolly, for example, mentions that, in revising, Wodehouse would cut out all of his very best stuff. This detail demands further discussion, but none is forthcoming. In another oblique reference to craft, Connolly mentions that Wodehouse had concluded that "every line in a Jeeves story has to tell." How this makes a Jeeves story different from a Psmith story or a story written by someone not named P. G. Wodehouse I am not sure. Connolly, unfortunately, does not use any of the space made available by the Wodehouse quotes he cannot use for explication.

--David Skinner

The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today by Stephen Malanga (Ivan R. Dee, 156 pp., $22.50) With judicial wars, stem cell legislation, and the Oil-for-Food investigation dominating the headlines recently, it's appropriate that Stephen Malanga is offering a fresh reminder that all politics is local. In his new book, Malanga focuses on this concept, and notes that the reality of this phrase may cause conservatives headaches for years to come, because of the ascendancy of what he calls "The New New Left."

While the nation's political persuasion may be shifting right, Malanga theorizes that political discourse is now based upon those who thrive off larger government (the New New Left) versus those who pay the burden of the government expansion. In Malanga's words, it's "the tax-eaters versus the taxpayers." Unfortunately, the tax-eaters are winning the battle. These tax-eaters (public sector employee unions, subsidized social service groups, radical left-wing organizations, etc.) have overtaken metropolises such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and New York. These various networks of organizations have established themselves as de facto political clubs that pursue policy initiatives that seem altruistic, but in reality are about placing supporters in politically connected jobs.

Malanga writes concisely about a wide variety of subjects, whether Wal-Mart or the New York City Council. The New New Left probably is, however, more policy-wonkish than its targeted audience. Nonetheless, The New New Left is filled with surprising facts and cogent analysis that should fulfill the desires of those who want to know more about today's political climate.

-- Jordan Fabian