When I say I want to read the book before seeing the movie, I don’t want brownie points or bragging rights. I want to be able to read the book with my imagined world and idea of the characters without the movie’s influence at least once. After you see the movie there’s always some part of it that sticks in your head for a long time and you lose the enjoyment of making it up yourself.
thank you so much for putting it into words
think about the concept of a library. that’s one thing that humanity didn’t fuck up. we did a good thing when we made libraries
Oh my goodness, what an absurd and cool question! I can’t say I know why you’re asking it, but sit down on yonder settee and I will tell you the painful story of my literary obsession.
P.G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse, or “Plum” to his friends, was a British chap who started writing at right about the turn of the century and didn’t stop until his death in the mid-1970s, which is pretty good, I should think. He was a very prolific writer who shot stuff off to magazines on both sides of the ocean to put food on the table and who sometimes (often) shamelessly cannibalized his own writing, but I am hesitant to call him a hack. If he was a hack, he was indisputably the most joyous, brilliant and good-hearted hack that ever eked out a living by nabbing a chapter from one of his old manuscripts and changing all the names, and I don’t fault him a bit for it.
Because, somewhere along the line, while he was pounding out these millions and millions of words, he learned how to create sentences like this:
I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s
Shakespeare—or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad—who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.
That’s Bertie Wooster, narrator of his Jeeves and Wooster series, and THAT is the sentence that let me know in no uncertain terms that I was a goner. Because how do you leave an author alone who tosses off things like that like it’s nothing? You can’t. Or at any rate, I couldn’t. And here I am. Running a blog that I’m trying desperately to keep from being devoted entirely to him and frankly kind of failing. He was, well, I can’t describe him. You just kind of have to read his books.
Wodehouse is known for creating (among other things that I’m sure I missed):
- the Jeeves and Wooster series
- the Psmith series (too short, alas)
- the Blandings Castle series
- a bunch of short stories about golf narrated by the Oldest Member who’s seemingly some sort of golf god (or at least a high priest)
- a bunch of short stories about a guy named Mr. Mulliner who tells increasingly absurd tales about his extended family to the hapless chaps in his pub
- countless stand-alone rom-com novels.
And if you looked closely, all these characters lived in an immensely complicated expanded universe that crossed over in a million subtle ways. They went to each other’s clubs. They knew each other’s friends. They tried to impress girls and inadvertently ended up at Blandings Castle. You never really know who you’re going to run into when reading a Wodehouse book, which is a delightful experience.
Wodehouse had adventures in his real life, too! He escaped at around age 20 from the clutches of a bank that had seized him alive after his father lost all his money (which you can read about in Psmith in the City because from what I gather it was pretty much exactly like that only hopefully with less monocle-wearing friends of his turning up and blackmailing people) and he wrote for theater and worked in Hollywood and one time he got interned by Nazis, which wasn’t fun, and did some completely harmless radio broadcasts for them, letting his fans in America know he was all right and making fun of his captors, and then England completely misunderstood the thing and decided he was a traitor and they wanted nothing to do with him and he lived out the rest of his natural life on Long Island. So he had some dark periods in his life, too. But they knighted him anyway! At just about the last minute. I mean, he slid through the pearly gates Indiana Jones-style, seizing his knighthood after him. Metaphorically.
And he died on Valentine’s Day, which I think is heartwrenchingly beautiful, because honestly, P.G. Wodehouse was one of the most sincerely nice people ever to write books. He loved his characters. He loved his audience. He loved…pretty much everyone. (Except for A.A. Milne. Creator of Winnie the Pooh. Whom he earnestly hoped would trip over a bootlace and break his neck.)
This is a painfully inadequate tribute (I’ll do better when I’m asked to write the introduction to the bicentennial editions, promise) so I’ll try to leave you with a taste of what he was. Here is his Paris Review interview. And here are all those books of his that are not under copyright, available for free on Project Gutenberg. Get them on your ereader, if you’ve got one. I recommend starting with My Man Jeeves (though I warn you, things get a little confusing because there half the stories in it are about a chap named Reggie Pepper who was sort of the prototype for Bertie Wooster, so you may feel discombobulated). After that, you can sort of read any of them.
Goodbye. Good luck. Oh, and—do turn up at my askbox again if the addiction seizes you and you need someone to shout at. It happens to the best of us.
Honestly? As time goes on, the more I find myself baffled by the lack of easily-findable resources on the histories (political, cultural, anything) of African nations from before the 16th-17th centuries. Everything seems to be the same topics: War, Slavery, Poverty, Crisis.
I’m very much reminded of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s speech for TED Talks, “The Danger of a Single Story”.
I’m throwing this one out there to be readers: do you have faves or recommendations? I’ll reblog this with a list if there’s a response.
I had a section on precolonial African states and governance as part of my comprehensive exams. To cut and paste some of the better pieces I incorporated (which is by no means an exhaustive list and skews South and East since that is where I work):
- Connah, Graham. African Civilizations: An Archaeological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Ehret, Christopher. An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa in World History, 1000 BC to AD 400. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
- Ehret, Christopher. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2002.
- McIntosh, Susan K. Beyond Chiefdoms: Pathways to Complexity in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
- Northrup, David. Africa’s Discovery of Europe, 1450-1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Oliver, Roland and Anthony Atmore. Medieval Africa, 1250-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Vansina, Jan. How Societies Are Born: Governance in West-Central Africa Before 1600. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.
- Vansina, Jan. Paths in the Rainforest: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
- Thornton, John K. The Kingdom of the Kongo: Civil Wars and Transition, 1641-1718. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
- Bhila, H.H.K. Trade and Politics in a Shona Kingdom: the Manyika and the Portuguese and African Neighbors, 1575-1902. London: Longman Group Ltd., 1982.
- Pikirayi, Innocent. The Zimbabwe Culture: Origins and Decline in Southern Zambezian States. New York: Altamira Press, 2001.
- Horton, Mark and John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile People. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
- Pearson, Michael N. Port Cities and Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
- Lamphear, John. The Traditional History of the Jie of Uganda. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
- Burstein, Stanley, ed. Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum. Princeton, NJ: Marcus Weiner Publishing, 1998.
- Welsby, Derek A. The Kingdoms of Kush. London: British Museum Press, 1996.
- Welsby, Derek A. The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia. London: British Museum Press, 2002.
- Hall, Richard. Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and its Invaders. HarperCollins, 1998.
- Alpers, Edward A. The Indian Ocean in World History. Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Austen, Ralph A. Trans-Saharan Africa in World History. Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians: A History. Blackwell Publishers, 2001.
- Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn abd Al-Kadir. Futuh Al-Habashah, or the conquest of Abyssinia. Edited by Sandford Arthur Strong. 1894.
- Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Baṭṭūṭaẗ. Ibn Battuta in Black Africa. Markus Wiener, 1994.
The book ‘When we Ruled’ by Robin walker.
For East Africa, David Schoenbrun’s A Green Place, A Good Place. Also work on the Indian Ocean can be excellent for precolonial history, although Africa is less well-covered than Middle East and South/SE Asia.
Robin walker, when we ruled (I read his shorter kindle book, the big book is enroute from amazon!)
They Came Before Columbus - Dr. Ivan Van Sertima.. of the top of my head is one. The Destruction of Black Civilization - Chancellor Williams… African Origins of Major Western Religions - Dr, Yosef Ben Jochannon
Sundiata, the lion king of Mali is good
This might be off-base, but I enjoyed reading the first part of Roots by Alex Haley, which is about the village life of Kunta Kinte, before he is captured. I know it is common knowledge, but who knows ?
Christopher Ehret’s The Civilizations of Africa!! It is a huge, in-depth, well-writte textbook that ranges over the whole of the continent and from the beginnings of agriculture to the 1500s. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
My dad was helping a friend edit a textbook he and other Ethiopians wrote, on the history of the country, since the 90s. Unfortunately it’s all in Amharic. Which sucks because 1. My dad is now unwell and 2. I can’t read the language.
(Ethiopia was never colonized but its pre-coup history and its involvement on the world stage—founding member of the UN for one— would blow every misconception out of the water. The initial history of encounters with Western nations pre 19th century is interesting to read about too. I would also suggest people watch the last Emperor’s speech (it’s in English) to the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, asking for military assistance after the Italians invaded (gassed) and occupied the country in the lead up to WWII. The LN, which Ethiopia was member of, refused aid. Namely because everyone was afraid of Italy back then, with good reason )
There’s more English resources these days, let me find them. Alot of what I know comes from what my dad told me, and from older family friends and acquaintances—including a chance meeting with a former embassy employee (who almost obeyed a request to return to Ethiopia when the coup occurred, which would’ve led to his imprisonment by the Marxists and death, he told me). It is possible I’ve gotten an incomplete version given lack of resources back then. I’ve done my own looking about though, the 20th century history is interesting.
Do you want books by those (colonising) Europeans who observed African peoples or by Africans themselves? I am Nigerian and Yoruba so off the top of my head The Female King of Colonial Nigeria by Nwando Achebe; The History of the Yorubas by Samuel Johnson; Mother is Gold, Father is Glass: Gender and Colonialism in a Yoruba town by Lorelle D. Semley.
George Basen was an Anglican missionary who wrote about the Igbo and is a “good” source on pre-colonial Igbo culture.
There was a good BBC series a couple of years ago called Lost Kingdoms of Africa. I don’t know how easily available it is in the states but there is a kindle edition of the accompanying book. amzn.to/1tV19rx
West Africa Before the Colonial Era by Davidson, Africa’s Discovery of Europe by Northup, and The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, And Songhay by Patricia and Frederick McKissack are the ones I’m currently using for writing research. I’d love more, too.
I’m taking this course called Precolonial African Chiefdoms and my professor for the course is amazing and insightful. Forgotten Africa by Graham Connah was introduced to me here and it reads quickly and covers human origins to european imperialism
theamazingdalet.tumblr…. There’s a documentary series about old African kingdoms, with a book by the same presenter/author!