The Importance of Being Bertie

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This past weekend, the Book Review of the NY Times had a fun article:

This article was reviewing:

By Ben Schott
316 pp. Little, Brown. $27.

Contrasting Bertie Wooster with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the article goes on:

When Ian Fleming died, in 1964, other Bondsmen came forward to extend 007’s adventures, producing dozens of books (by Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz, among others).

But hardly anyone has dared attempt to carry on the Wodehouse legacy.

Devoted readers of the doings of Jeeves and Wooster (they are legion) will recognize that it is the manservant, not the man, who usually gets the “inimitable” epithet, but Schott strives valiantly to make his hero earn the compliment.

The pages of Wodehouse contain an “empire of comic writing on which the sun has never set,” Schott writes. In elevating Bertie Wooster as its staunchest defender, he burnishes the gleam.

I cannot wait to read this!

As a teenager, in India, I read a lot of books. Certainly P.G. Wodehouse was on top of my list of the funnest books.

Just reading this review brought back memories of my youth.

I suppose that is how Marcel Proust felt in Remembrance of Things Past: involuntary memory due to the “episode of the madeleine.”

I had madeleine (with tea) at Mandarin Oriental in Boston last New Year’s Eve. It did not trigger any involuntary memories!

We were visiting friends, nostalgic for our years in Weston.

Had dinner at Paparazzi on Newbury Street. It was very crowded, and I remember the walk over from our hotel was in bitterly cold windy weather.

Don’t miss that about Boston (or Ithaca!)

We discussed a variety of things over dinner, including my new found interest in quantum computing, and how I was hoping to work on it in 2018.

A few days later, I got an email from NASA and USRA granting me access to their D-Wave machine!

Other fiction writers that I recall reading in my youth:

Robert Ludlum

I loved the The Bourne Trilogy series. And I enjoyed the movies with Matt Damon even more!

Frederick Forsyth

One of the most enjoyable movies (with Edward Fox as the professional assassin): The Day of the Jackal.

John le Carré

The movie (with a great cast including Gary Oldman) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was indeed well done.

Alistair MacLean

Still remember watching Guns of Navarone and Force 10 from Navarone, in the Open Air Theater (OAT) at IIT-Madras!

Louis L’ Amour

James Hadley Chase

Colin Forbes

Erle Stanley Gardner

Arthur Conan Doyle

The BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman was mostly good.

Agatha Christie

Must admit that the movie Murder on the Orient Express left me a bit unsatisfied, with Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, although it was fairly well executed.

Some years ago, a book, by Marilynne Robinson, caught my attention. It was titled

When I was a Child I read Books.

So did I!

Of course, the books I read as a child were very different from hers.

I am not even referring to Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) or Alfred Hitchcock (and the Three Investigators)!

I am talking Amar Chitra Katha.

Not just the stories from Mahabharatha and Ramayana, but also of worldly-wise (and noted for his brilliance and wit) Rama of Tenali.

Maybe he was the South Indian Brahmin pre-incarnation of the enlightened Frenchman Voltaire?😏

And: Tintin and Asterix.

I liked her book a lot. Here is a sample of her writing:

In any case, in America an abstraction called capitalism has truly begun to function as an ideology. The word is not included in the 1882 edition of Webster’s dictionary…Capitalism is presented as quintessentially American, though this form of it is deeply, and for some intolerably, at odds with many of our institutions…I realize that my drawing attention to this fact in certain quarters might set off a hectic search for Webster’s birth certificate.

So I bought her next book recently:

What are we doing here?

I wanted to know!

By the way, I still read books, although mostly non-fiction.

Rebecca Traister

Nancy MacLean

Nancy Isenberg

Judith Shklar

Naomi Klein

Susan Neiman 

It might not have escaped you that these authors are not likely to like my view of life!


I like reading. I really like it when the writers hold a world-view quite different from mine. What is important to me is that they write gracefully.

Obviously, the title of this post — and of the NYTimes article in the print edition — is an homage to one of my favorite writers: Oscar Wilde.

To this day, I chuckle at his play on words:

True Friends Stab You in the Front.

Of course, my favorite lines include this from The Importance of Being Earnest:

To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

It should not surprise you that as a free-spirited Academic Capitalist, I subscribe to:

Life is too important to be taken seriously.

Which brings us back to P.G. Wodehouse!



1 comment

  1. Thanks for the extensive reading list.

    I also read a lot. But growing up in a village, my list is that of Indian books: Premchand, H. Bacchan, R. S. Dinkar, Gandhi, Nehru, Radhakrishanan, Tagore, Kalidasa, and of course Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita.

    Later during IITB, it included Gardner, Holmes, Truman Capote, Lew Wallace, James Todd.

    In my first few year in US, I decided to bone up Western classics and read over a hundred of them with the exception of Proust and James Joyce whom I tried but didn’t go very far with them!

    Thanks for the recommended movies. It’s of great help in choosing movies on my air travels.


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