funniest book you never read #1

Three Men in a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog – Jerome K. Jerome (1889) One fine summer day 3 young wastrels and a dog went for a boat trip up the Thames and literature was never the same.

I made it more than 35 years before I discoved this book existed which is just as well since I would never have appreciated it before. It’s definitely one of those books, you can only appreciate it after you have read a lot of other books, a lot of BAD books in fact. The plot is very straight forward, three men and a dog get in a small boat and go up river, but that’s not why you read the book. It’s the language, it is just straight forward Queens english and dead funny. Written in the first person, it recounts the adventure in that wonderfully droll way that the Brits have of telling you some utterly outrageous story all the while leaving their tongue OUT of their cheek. The 1st time I read it, I had to check the copyright, as I would have never guessed it had been lying around for over a century.

Jeremy Nicholas, President of The Jerome K Jerome Society has a delicious history of the book on the Society website: What was entirely new about Boat was the style in which it was written. Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson were widely read and highly popular but Jerome differed in two respects: his story was not of some fantastical adventure in a far-off land, peopled by larger-than-life heroes and villains, but of three very ordinary blokes having a high old time just down the road, so to speak; and, in an age when literary grandiloquence and solemnity were not in short supply, Jerome provided a breath of fresh air. In the preface to Idle Thoughts, Jerome had set out his stall: ‘What readers ask now-a-days in a book is that it should improve, instruct and elevate. This book wouldn’t elevate a cow.’ He used everyday figures of speech for the first time (‘colloquial clerk’s English of the year 1889’ as one critic described it) and was very, very funny. The Victorians had simply never come across anything like it.”

You won’t need any help in finding a copy, I think I have about five. If you handle used books all the time, you will come across it at least once a year. It’s never been out or print, in fact there are innumerable editions, including several audios also downloadable. I recommend the slightly abridged version read by Hugh Laurie. Rebekah Bartlett of Coelacanth Books found that one can downloard the Hugh Laurie recording as a set of MP3 files for 7.99 pounds. The e-text is in several places on the net. Here’s a nice one with all the illustrations inset.

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