BOOK REVIEW: The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway

The Torrents of SpringThe Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This novella is atypical of Hemingway’s work in several ways. It’s one of his earlier works of fiction, so it may stand to reason that his style and genre preferences weren’t yet set. The book parodies certain works and authors and satirizes the conceits and affectations seen in some popular writers of the day. Not that Hemingway’s work is otherwise devoid of humor, but it rarely plays the central role that it does herein. The story also has plot points that feel surreal in their absurdity, which is a variation from Hemingway’s usual dramatic realism. The novella also features a number of fourth wall breaks in the form of “Notes to the Reader.”

The book combines two storylines, each featuring a different worker at a pump factory in a Michigan town. Scripps O’Neill is a writer who comes to town after wandering away from his home down a train line after his wife left him. Scripps goes native in the town, getting a job at the pump factory and marrying a local woman, but he’s perpetually restless. Yogi Johnson is already an experienced worker when Scripps arrives, and he’s shaped by his experience in World War I, which other characters continually question amongst themselves. He ends up wandering out of town down the train tracks in a way that echoes Scripps’ arrival.

The book is funny and quirky and oddly engaging. Some of the humor would probably land better for those familiar with the pretentious writers that were the book’s target, but even if one isn’t familiar with the literature of the era, one will come away with an understanding of how Hemingway viewed said writers.

I enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it for readers of American Literature.


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BOOK REVIEW: Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Right Ho, JeevesRight Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is the second novel and seventh book by P.G. Wodehouse to feature the comedic duo of Bertram Wooster and his butler Jeeves. Wooster is a young man from a wealthy family who thinks more highly of himself than anyone else does. He’s a schemer, but not a particularly adept one. He serves as both narrator and comedic foil. He’s not a bright man, but thinks himself clever and is jealous that people are always coming to his preternaturally professional and laconic manservant, Jeeves, with their problems.

The plot and the humor are driven by Bertram’s harebrained schemes to save the day while showing everybody that it is he, and not Jeeves, with the insight to solve their problems. In this case, said problems include rectifying two breakups, getting a relative to repay his aunt Dahlia, and keeping a temperamental French chef from quitting, forcing the household of Brinkley Manor (Dahlia’s estate) to be subjected to the horrors of British cuisine.

While lifestyles of the rich and British might not be relatable, the humor travels well. I found the book to be funny, and – while it has a slow build — it ultimately generates a compelling plot. If you like humorous novels, this one is worth reading.


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BOOK REVIEW: Humour: A Very Short Introduction by Noël Carroll

Humour: A Very Short IntroductionHumour: A Very Short Introduction by Noël Carroll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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As both Mark Twain and E.B. White made abundantly clear, humor is like a frog; dissection kills it and few are interested in watching that happen. Which isn’t to say that dissection isn’t useful. But it does mean that readers who are looking for a book that’s a laugh-riot are looking in the wrong place. Most of the example jokes were ancient when the book was first published eight years ago. (They’re good jokes. Bad jokes don’t become old jokes, they die ignominiously.) All that aside, this book provides an intriguing look into such questions as: 1.) why do we find things humorous in the first place? (We take humor for granted, but – think about it – there’s no rationale for things being funny that automatically springs to mind;) 2.) how, if at all, does humor relate to our broader emotional experience; and 3.) when, if ever, is humor unethical?

This concise guide has three parts. In the first part, we learn the various theories of humor, and learn that the author favors Incongruity Theory (i.e. humor is – first and foremost – a recognition of and response to incongruities.) In the second, the author discusses the debate over whether humor is an emotional experience, or something else. Finally, we learn about the value of humor and, in particular, the ethics of humor. There’s a continuum from those who believe that humor – in and of itself – is always ethical to those who think that it’s virtually always unethical (unless one can find a joke without a butt,) with many nuanced variations, in between.

I found this to be an intriguing guide to the philosophy and psychology of humor, and – if that’s what you’re in search of – you should check it out.


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Ram Dominion [Common Meter]

I met a ram in Madurai,
'twas tethered to a pole.
Though really it almost met me,
taking its cyclic stroll.

The ram's target was my keister,
but its rope was too short.
Saved by the narrowest margin;
my path I did abort.

The moral of this tale is clear.
If you're in Madurai,
give tethered rams the widest berth,
or kiss your ass goodbye. 

Bishkek Limerick

There was a diligent soldier from Bishkek
whose boots never saw as much as a speck,
but marching to the flagpole
he showed scuffs on the sole,
and the Sergeant said, "Your uniform 's a wreck!"

BOOK REVIEW: I’m a Joke and So Are You by Robin Ince

I'm a Joke and So Are You: Reflections on Humour and HumanityI’m a Joke and So Are You: Reflections on Humour and Humanity by Robin Ince
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book examines the intersection between psychology and standup comedy. It investigates questions such as whether comedians are truly disproportionately depressive personalities as a number of high-profile cases have led the public to believe in recent years. It explores issues such as anxiety and imposter syndrome. But it also looks at less pathological issues of the mind, such as the origin of creative ideas.

The tone is light, and stories and jokes are employed throughout. That said, the book is also dealing with scientific and psychological issues, but it doesn’t get into technical minutiae. Ince discusses how ideas in psychology relate to the acts of a number of comedians he’s worked with, including Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin, but – ultimately – he’s trying to present information that is useful to the reader. Whether the issue is grieving or parenting, the use of humor and comedy is just a tool to address issues most people face.

I enjoyed this book and found it thought-provoking. You won’t necessarily find it to be a laugh-riot, but you’ll learn a thing or two while being amused.

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