While certain among us appear to extract quite a bit in the way of pleasure from it, I have personally never been the sort who enjoys merely browsing at a bookshop, the pastime doing little else but to cultivate within me a sort of mental exhaustion and corresponding grudge with the species for having carried on at such terrible length.
One advantage to age — although one hardly substantial enough to compensate for the many terrors it will ultimately exact upon my person — is that it has taught me to develop a strategy for such times as I am compelled (typically by my ever-loving wife) to visit a bookseller.
Now what I do mostly is to (a) proceed directly to the fiction section, (b) search for such works as have been written by any one of five unassailably talented and frequently amusing authors*, and then (c) purchase the two or three titles which most appeal to my feeble mind. If, after having performed these tasks, I found that my spouse still requires more in the way of space and time, what I then do is to locate the nearest drinketeria and divest them slowly of their stock.
*To wit: Kingsley Amis, GK Chesterton, Jerome K Jerome, David Lodge, and PG Wodehouse.
Given my very refined and specific technique for bookshopping, it is perhaps curious, then, that after a visit this weekend to Berkeley Books in Paris, France, I departed from same having acquired The Best of Ring Lardner*. Curious, I say, because Ring Lardner is not one of the five unassailably talented and frequently amusing authors for whose books I typically search. On the other hand, not that curious, it turns out — first, because (at Berkeley Books, at least) Ring Lardner’s books are very close to David Lodge’s and, second, because the introduction to The Best of Ring Lardner has actually been composed by David Lodge himself.
*Which author (Ring Lardner) wrote extensively about baseball for the Chicago Tribune, Sporting News, etc.
What I would like to communicate here is little else but that (a) I have read David Lodge’s introduction to The Best of Ring Lardner and that (b) it (i.e. Lodge’s intro) is brief and pleasant.
In it, for example, one finds:
- That Lardner — despite having been born in Niles, Michigan, and receiving little in the way of higher educations — developed first into a sports reporter and then literary author of some distinction; and
- That Lardner participated in a tradition started by Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn of allowing characters with distinctly American voices to act as narrators capable of deceptive profundity; and
- That no less a literary personage than Virginia Woolf praised the work of Ring Lardner; and
- That friend and neighbor F. Scott Fitzgerald published a strangely critical obituary of Lardner, in which he wrote, for example, that “Ring moved in the company of a few dozen illiterates playing a boy’s game”; and
- That Lardner aspired less to be Literary Giant than Mere Entertainer.