Welcome to the Book Room at Life is a Fountain. Pick out a comfy chair.
No, sorry, they’re all plush armchairs. But I can get you a Whiskey Sour and that might help your… lumbar.
Below this unfortunately mandatory text you will find the current book that all of Life is a Fountain is reading. And by “all of” I mean that I read it and… that’s about it. But you can read it too if it piques your interest and then it will be like a book club. You can even leave a comment! If it doesn’t pique your interest you can scroll down to our previous book. And so on, and so on. Until you eventually find that you haven’t read dozens of books.
Don’t worry, I haven’t read dozens of books too!
The Life is a Fountain Current Book that everyone in the Universe is reading is:
The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking
Which is the entire Pippi Longstocking Trilogy including
Pippi Goes On Board
Pippi in the South Seas
I will start us off with a short, very short bit from Pippi Goes on Board. It’s in the chapter where Pippi goes to a school picnic. It is the best illustration of how these books can be completely brilliant:
“That is why we are here,” said the teacher, “to be good and kind to other people.”
Pippi stood on her head on the horse’s back and waved her legs in the air… She said “Then why are other people here?”
Pippi Longstocking is a book I like to read every 15 years or so. I have always loved the very idea of Pippi Longstocking, but after 15 years or so I forget what I think about the books themselves, beyond the idea of the books. So I go check them out, much like a devout Christian might want to check in on the New Testament every 15 years.
“Wait. It says this?” The devout Christian blurts out in the alarming moment before they start lawyering up and red can turn grey again, and yellow white.
Sorry, I digress.
But hey, like said devout Christian I’m a little surprised too.
The Pippi books are just all right as books.
I mean, there really isn’t much plot to them. And I like a little story in my stories. If you know what I mean; Conflict, resolution, tension, character development. A story of even moderate consequence would make these some terrific novels! What they really are is just a series of shenanigans.
But there is no faulting the shimmering, no holds barred commitment to anarchy, justice, beauty, and fun of Pippi Longstocking. And while the Pippi books are just all right as books, they are my kind of Religious Literature
I mean, Pippi is an absolute inspiration who will not allow you to take her seriously. She makes her own fun. She won’t let other people set terms for her. And she is pure of heart.
If Jesus really were the son of God I think he could have managed to at least prevent people from taking him seriously!
And very wild.
And regularly extremely annoying.
I don’t know if I’ve ever related to a literary character so much in my life.
I just wish I were as rich and strong as her.
8/12/21: Weird experiment day!
Today I am going through every page I have in Life is a Fountain and adding something hopefully relevant to it from the annals of Clerkmanifesto. It’s my desperate attempt to freshen up everything after being away for a couple weeks. It’s going very slowly and I’m about to give up. Plus I’m finding things like how my last book of the week is from a month ago! I should be doing a new book of the week instead of shoehorning random old posts into every last room of Life is a Fountain, which takes such a weirdly long time anyway that I wonder what the point is.
Plus I thought I changed this to “Our Current Book Selection so that things don’t look so dilapidated when a month goes by (plus two days!) with the same book.
So here you go:
Our current Book is
Heart of a Goof
P. G. Wodehouse is funny. But I don’t laugh all the time reading his books. In fact I can easily go a novel and a half with ol’ P. G. and I’m mostly just smirking a lot. Nevertheless behind the scenes it’s all collecting in me, a drip here, a drip there, and then suddenly in the book they’re having a grave discussion over Jeeves’s unexpressed dissatisfaction with a purple tie and I’m overcome. The accumulated smirks have created a flood and I am guffawing. Laughter overcomes my respiratory system and I am choking to death, hyperventilating with hysteria until I am collapsed on the floor, tears pouring from my eyes. As it fades enough for a single breath it only rises back up in me, the terrible lunacy. I am pounding the floor weakly, uncontrollably writhing with my fits of laughter. Finally, after ten minutes, I manage to gather myself. Where was I? I read the passage that convulsed me again. I can quietly see that it’s mildly amusing, in a distant sort of way. I continue reading on silently for another hundred pages.
So I like P. G. Wodehouse. His tone makes me gleeful, and I recently mentioned here how I am usually trying to copy him without any success or any concern that I’m not successful, as success was never the point. But outside occasional moments of raving hysteria I never made what I felt to be the full connection with P. G. Wodehouse until I stumbled upon his golf stories. A couple months ago I picked up Heart of a Goof. These consist of about half of Wodehouse’s golf stories. Oh these are the thing! They revolve around a quiet, lunatic obsession with golf and its virtues much in the way, say, Lord of the Rings revolves around the troubles and virtues of a lovely, half wild land called Middle Earth. The thing that really won me hard in these stories though was the oldest member. Each story involves someone having a hard time with something either on The Links, or tangentially related to The Links, usually all golf and love. The oldest member, a person who seems to be hanging out in the clubhouse at all times, is sort of a shoulder to cry on, mostly because he’s the only one around at that moment, and he invariably shares a golf story relevant to the situation at hand.
Now these stories are fantastic, but my favorite part is, as he commences to tell these stories to his troubled visitors, they generally realize they are in for a long account full of implicit advice and they try to make a run for it. But pleading excuses, lack of time, or some other pressing engagement is nothing to the oldest member, who ignores their entreaties and, clutching perhaps the hem of their jacket in a surprisingly powerful grip, he implacably launches off into his germane tale. The victim groans, accepts his fate, and settles in reluctantly for the story.
So humor, a light and brilliant tone, and dazzlingly deft little romantic comedy plots won me over to P. G. Wodehouse, but the oldest member did me in. Finally, out in the world of the arts, I recognized, finally and absolutely, myself. It’s all the Ancient Mariner with a twinkle in his eye and something at least halfway from a curse to confidence. As much “I need to say” as “You need to hear what I have to say.”
Oh yeah, you need to hear what I have to say.
It is July 10, 2021 and it is time to discuss our book of the week.
I am not reading very much. This makes it hard to come up with a book I’m really feeling it for. I am instead spending tremendous amounts of time working on Life is a Fountain, and especially on editing disparate pictures together.
Like this one of Mr. Putter and Tabby at my library, taken from the staircase:
Or this one of Mr. Putter selecting a book from the hold shelves at my library:
Or this one of Mr. Putter and Tabby asking me at the desk if we have a copy of “Shop Around the Corner”, a 1940 James Stewart movie:
And as I was putting all these pictures together I could not help but reflect that these are fantastic illustrations by Arthur Howard; loose, lively, fun to look at, and full of personality.
But the thing is, when I first picked up the Mr. Putter and Tabby series it wasn’t for the pictures, it was for the sheer low key charm of Cynthia Rylant’s writing. The pictures are just icing on the cake. Loads of icing. But really, really terrific icing, I don’t know, like the kind with cream, and chocolate maybe. And also icing that goes perfectly with the cake.
Here’s the crazy, wonderful thing about the Mr. Putter and Tabby series of kid’s books:
They are about an old man and his cat, and also about their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and her dog. They all get along very well. Stuff happens, but not very much stuff.
These are great books! Great great great against all odds kid’s books. Alchemical books in which fabulous children’s literature happens out of nothing!
So as I was taking picture after picture of their illustrations it suddenly occurred to me:
This should be my book of the week!
I chose the one I took the most pictures of. It’s called
Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Oh man is it good!
Spoiler alert! I am now going to give you the whole plot to show you just how great this book is and why it belongs with the likes of my other weekly recommended books like the super fancy Finnegan’s Wake.
Mr. Putter and his cat, Tabby, can’t sleep because Mr. Putter had too many jelly rolls at his friend Mrs. Teaberry’s. So Mr. Putter and Tabby go for an interesting walk in their neighborhood in the night. They run into Mrs. Teaberry and her dog Zeke who can’t sleep because Zeke also ate too many jelly rolls. So they sit up together and talk.
That’s pretty much it.
Yes, I know that sounds fantastic! Why do you think I picked it for the book of the week here?
But you know what?
It’s even better when you read it!
Plus the pictures are amazing, no matter what crazy things I do to them.
From July 1, or 2, or 3:
This week we are featuring Rex Stout and The Doorbell Rang.
Here, after the picture of Rex chilling at my library, are a couple pieces, somewhat related to said book:
Rex Stout and Me in the Clouds
Astonished as I am that I am not regularly quoted in the press and in everyday erudite conversation (“When you fire into a crowd you will kill someone you would not dream of hurting”), I am even more surprised that Rex Stout isn’t (“We are all vainer of our luck than our merits”). While it is impossible for me to read through a play by Shakespeare without coming across some wildly famous saying that makes me cry out “Ha! This is where it’s from!”, it is equally impossible for me to read a Nero Wolfe novel without being compelled occasionally to stop everything and jot down some tossed off piece of genius from our narrator, Archie Griffin. Why the one is so famous that I know it, and the other so excellent that I am amazed I don’t, seems purely a matter of chance, since as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with merit, both of them being roughly equal on that score.
In the last Nero Wolfe book I read there was this quote that I have been carrying around for awhile:
“No man should tell a lie unless he is shrewd enough to recognize the time for renouncing it, if and when it comes, and know how to renounce it gracefully.”
Perhaps I find that so compelling because we as a people may have come to the ragged end of renouncing lies. And no quote is quite so compelling as one that seems to upbraid others.
I checked out a three story collection by Mr. Stout today. I saw a bit of the introduction in which there was much talk of what a terrific admirer Rex Stout was of Jane Austen. I can be happy enough with that. There is the lineage; from Jane Austen, to Rex Stout, to me. Whether that power waxes or wanes is for you alone to decide. No, that’s a lie. I renounce it. It’s downhill all the way. But I’m not put out. Even successively lower than the two, I can still see everything from up here.
Rex at the desk:
And perhaps the slightly more appropriate:
The Greatest Book of the 20th Century
I am prone to fits of wild enthusiasm. I’m okay with having them. On the whole they are more enjoyable than my fits of wild rage. But either way there’s a lot of spinning tires to all these fits. That is, I’ve got my engine racing, and the tires are spinning wildly, but things aren’t really moving much, maybe at about the same speed as a slow walk.
I’m just saying that I don’t expect to convince you with my wild enthusiasm. I don’t expect to even slightly convince you. I’m even pretty sure I’ll look back at this in half a year and not be convinced.
But I believe it now.
The Doorbell Rang, by Rex Stout, is the best book written in the twentieth century.
Yes, I know, there were a lot of books written in the twentieth century. Yes, some of them were super good. But I’m not going to list them for you. I am not here to make your argument.
I know that The Doorbell Rang is just another of 33 mystery novels about Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. It’s not the first of his. It’s not the last. As I march along through my middle years as a writer, I rather like that Stout was pushing eighty when he wrote this book in 1965, but that doesn’t really make any difference to what it is. It’s not unique in his canon. It’s not miles better or very much different that his other 33 Wolfe novels. But it is a little better than them, just like it’s a little better than everything else.
When it comes to greatness everything is bunched up pretty close there at the top.
Here’s the thing, sometimes when one reads one comes across some great sentence or passage that says so very much that one wants to share it. That’s how I felt about the sentences in in The Doorbell Rang.
Oh, which ones?
Pretty much all of them.
But fine, here, almost randomly, because I don’t go around underlining books, are two:
She did all right. A woman who can toss you a check for a hundred grand without blinking hasn’t had much practice listening to reason from a hireling, but she managed it.
The answer was really simple, but of course that’s one thing we use our minds for, finding complicated reasons for dodging simple answers.
Yeah, this book is funny, dead smart, and too perceptive by half. It messes with the FBI with a cold, light clarity, as if it’s hardly even the point, and it does it right there in the mid sixties. It’s a piece of work this book, an easy pleasure that can keep up any day of the week with anything Shakespeare has to say on the human condition.
So should you read it?
No. Not after I went and built it up so much.
Last week’s book, with fancier inaugural design, Finnegans Wake:
“Dear Hewitt Costello, Equerry, were daylighted with our outing and are looking backwards to our unearly summers.”
book of the day
It was St. Patrick’s day at the library, but I swear I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I was upstairs shelving in fiction where it gets very heavy at the ends of the “J’s” and the start of the “K’s”, literarily heavy, all James Joyce and Franz Kafka. As I do, compulsively, frequently, and appropriately, I pulled a book off the shelf to take a look. Something about Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, called to me. I think it was the nice old edition we have.
Oh my. This book is splendid! Out amidst the stacks and stacks of books all screaming about their own wonderfulness, but all roughly enough the same with their stories and characters and normal English and all that, I finally open a lauded book and it is MADNESS. I cannot even begin to dare to formulate any real opinion about this thing by looking at the first page. Do you know how rare that is?
You may have read every word James Joyce ever wrote and this is nothing to you. Surely I have opened Ulysses several dozen times and thought how wonderful I might be if I would read such a thing. But today I am here without agenda. There is no way I will read Finnegans Wake. If I didn’t decide to tell you about it I doubt I would have fully worked my way through a whole sentence. A whole sentence… here, let me share a random one with you from the first page of this book:
“Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.”
You can’t see my Google spell check light up like a four alarm fire here, but it has. In fact, I think that sentence just broke my spell check, and more power to it. That spell check and I have never gotten along. And if you’re thinking I only chose that sentence because it was especially fulsome, you are mistaken. I chose it because it did not contain the word
which is a word that I seriously did not want to have to type. The jokes on me though. I typed it anyway.
It wasn’t so bad.
I took Finnegans Wake downstairs with me to admire on my dinner break, or, as it turns out, to blog about, but certainly not to read. But who needs to read it when I’ve already extracted such joy from it?
So, I wish to you, a late happy St Patrick’s day from “out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.”
Well, I may read it just a little…
“Suck it yourself, sugarstick!”