‘What’s the procedure,’ I said. ‘I suppose you lurk in a bush till a bird comes along, and then you out with the glasses and watch it?’
~ P.G. Wodehouse, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen
My father likes to fish. We used to drive into the Sierra and camp in rustic fashion at some mountain lake where Dad would spend all day fishing and my brother and I would join him for an hour or two before running off to explore the surrounding peaks. Very occasionally, it seemed to me, he caught something. I never had my father’s patience for fishing, though I admired it as a style of philosophy, which is roughly what he considered it to be. I take my kids bird watching instead. Like lake fishing, the activity can sound comical in bare descriptive terms, but the philosophy, I think, is equally admirable.
You can’t expect a dog to pass up a policeman on a bicycle. It isn’t human nature.
~ P.G. Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters
The trouble with ideals is their nonexistence. The final motivation for judging oneself or others by an abstract perfection can only be sadomasochistic. It guarantees failure. Meanwhile, Bartholomew (Stiffy Byng’s dog) can be reasonably impressed with himself if he gives up the chase after only a half mile.
Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson, An Apology for Idlers
A trick of alliteration will prevent forgetting: if the bark comes off in puzzle pieces, it’s a ponderosa pine. We camped all week in a grove of ponderosas and incense cedars, and when it wasn’t trees and mountains that distracted, it was birds: ravens, Steller’s jays, red-breasted sapsuckers, western tanagers, and black-headed grosbeaks. I’d spent an hour worrying which books to bring and settled on a Wodehouse collection, some Flann O’Brien, and Tove Jansson’s Moominsummer Madness for the kids. The Jansson we serialized at bedtime, but I only managed half a Wodehouse story and a mere two paragraphs of O’Brien. No complaints, however. The best holidays are perfect failures.
I brooded like the dickens.
~ P.G. Wodehouse, ‘Scoring off Jeeves’
One day in sixth grade I was summoned to the locker where B (dictatrix of schoolyard popularity) stood surrounded by her coterie of toadies. She ran her fingers through my hair, which there and then convinced me of the truth of every miracle ever committed. “I always wondered,” she lingered over each word, “what a monkey’s ass felt like.” Which convinced me of the devil’s wiles too. I mulled my revenge for months afterward, but never attempted it. Instead, to this day, when I catch myself in the midst of some folly, I do B the honor of putting hand to head and replying, “Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like.”
In these days in which we live, when existence has become a thing of infinite complexity and fate, if it slips us a bit of goose with one hand, is pretty sure to give us the sleeve across the windpipe with the other, it is rarely that we find a human being who is unmixedly happy… A severe indictment of our modern civilization, but it can’t say it didn’t ask for it.
~ P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Dynamite
His most blistering critique of the age. I wonder, is Wodehouse one of those writers whose books are so of a piece that a fellow who has read one or two can arguably claim to “know” him? The alternative is daunting: you’d have to read forty-six of them just to cross half-way mark.