Monday, January 3, 2011

Three Men in a Boat

We've always had a good time on road trips with the whole family, except for the first year of each child's life (neither one of them could stand their infant car seats), and part of our tradition is to go to the library and find an audiobook we all want to listen to together. For our most recent trip, I got the audio version of Jerome K. Jerome's comedy classic Three Men in a Boat, because it's long been one of Ron's favorites while I'd never gotten very interested in it, and the kids had never heard of it before.

I chose Ian Carmichael's reading of this book because of a review at A Striped Armchair; that was the review that decided me, after reading about this book at Booklust and Things Mean A Lot. Although I don't usually remember who spurs me to read something, I always wonder what spurs a blogger revival of a particular classic, and note where the revival first comes to my attention. Also, I was looking for audiobooks for our upcoming trip.

Our enjoyment of the traveling tale was enhanced by the teenagers' insistence that we sing along to "I would walk 500 miles" (featured in a road trip episode of the tv show How I Met Your Mother) after every stop along the way.

Another thing that greatly enhanced our enjoyment is how recognizable the characters in the tale are--we grinned at the portrait of Eleanor--the hypochondriac--and then at a second portrait of her as the person afraid of two feet of water. Scarcely were we done grinning at that when we were amused by the portrait of Ron as the expert on packing who wants help with the manual labor. And then came the bit about singing comic songs, which, while not true in the details to the way Walker sings them, made us laugh in recognition anyway.

One of our very favorite parts was this true-to-dog-life portrait:
"he labored under the fixed belief that, whenever Harris or George reached out their hand for anything, it was his cold, damp nose that they wanted."

Another good part is when the three men try to open a tin of pineapple, using a pocket knife, scissors, a sharp stone, and finally the mast of the boat. They are ultimately unsuccessful and end up throwing the oddly dented tin into the river "...and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot..."

Three Men in a Boat is the kind of book that is best read at leisure; you'll enjoy the humor so much more if you're not in any particular hurry because it's a kind of quiet, subtle humor that builds to absurdity. Take this long example:

I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow, and, when he took to fly-fishing, he determined never to exaggerate his hauls by more than twenty-five per cent.
"When I have caught forty fish," said he, "then I will tell people that I have caught fifty, and so on. But I will not lie any more than that, because it is sinful to lie."
But the twenty-five per cent plan did not work well at all. He never was able to use it. The greatest number of fish he ever caught in one day was three, and you can't add twenty-five per cent to three--at least, not in fish.
So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third; but that, again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two; so, to simplify matters, he made up his mind to just double the quantity.
He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then he grew dissatisfied with it. Nobody believed him when he told them that he only doubled, and he, therefore, gained no credit that way whatever, while his moderation put him at a disadvantage among the other anglers. When he had really caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used to make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had only caught one, going about telling people he had landed two dozen.
So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself, which he has religiously held to ever since, and that was to count each fish that he caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin with. For example, if he did not catch any fish at all, then he said he had caught ten fish--you could never catch less than ten fish by his system; that was the foundation of it. Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish, he called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty, and so on.
It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some talk lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in general. Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Anglers' Association did recommend its adoption about two years ago, but some of the older members opposed it. They said they would consider the idea if the number were doubled, and each fish counted as twenty.

To make a long story short, this is a great book for a road trip; it makes short stories long and its effect is to make a long trip seem short.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

Jerome K. Jerome! That used to be one of my favorite books -- my parents had it as part of the Time-Life paperback literature series and I read it over and over as a kid. I haven't, however, read it in many years. Thanks for the reminder!

FreshHell said...

This is one of my father's favorites. He's also a huge PG Wodehouse fan. I have probably read it sometime in the distant past but I don't remember. I'll have to read it again (or, perhaps, for the first time!).

kittiesx3 said...

I love your road trip traditions. We were pretty boring with ours: slug bug (with punches) and the state license plate count. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Alyce said...

I hadn't even heard of this book until last week when I read "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis. Three Men in a Boat gets quite a few mentions in the book and I really want to read it now.

Amanda said...

I have this on audio from the library right now, except read by Martin Jarvis (who I love as a narrator). I'm very much looking forward to it!

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this book! It was so fun, and now I want to read PG Wodehouse if he is similar in writing style to this one.

Also, I adore How I Met Your Mother and remember that episode well :-)

Jenny said...

Hahaha, that episode of How I Met Your Mother cracked me up.

What a fantastic family tradition! When we did car trips, we usually listened to lots of Disney film soundtracks, or else I read to my sisters.

Ron Griggs said...

Three Men in a Boat is also mentioned in Robert Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, where it is the favorite book of the teenage narrator's father.

I read Three Men in a Boat as a young teen after reading Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, which led me to other Jerome K. Jerome classics like Diary of a Pilgrimmage and Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. How often does one book lead to another like this?

Karenlibrarian said...

I LOVE this book -- the bit about the pineapple is my favorite. Also the packing. And the stinky cheese! My kids love it too. I did find another Jerome K. Jerome book at the used book store and snapped it up, it's called Diary of a Pilgrimage. I look forward to it.

Jeanne said...

Harriet, it's always been one of Ron's favorites, which is why I wanted to have it read to me. I think I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy it, before.

FreshHell, our copy advertises the Wodehouse Collection on the back, so a lot of people must think the style is similar.

Elizabeth, we've been fortunate and smart enough to raise children with good taste in literature! I didn't actually talk about Eleanor's favorite part, which is about a hideous china dog being put in a museum a hundred years later and admired--when we were at the Art Institute, she said we should go see the Victorian china dog collection.

Alyce, I finally did figure out that the publication of Willis' book led to the recent Jerome revival!

Amanda, I'll be interested to see how you like the other reader. Ian Carmichael has a plummy British accent.

Aarti, as I said to FreshHell, a lot of people think they're quite similar. Glad you fully appreciated the HIMYM reference--why we had to sing the song over and over again...

Jenny, glad you got the reference, too! We do audiobooks because some of us are prone to carsickness. If you could read to your sisters, you have a stronger stomach than I do.

Ron, oh yeah, I remember that Heinlein reference. I think one book leads to another like that fairly often--already two people who commented here are off to read Wodehouse from thinking about far as I'm concerned, our best find in terms of one book leading to another is reading The Borribles because Funke used so many quotations from those books at the beginnings of her chapters in Inkheart.

Karenlibrarian, the pineapple tin is also one of Ron's favorite parts. The plummy British accent really added to the humor of that part, for me.
Ron likes Diary of a Pilgrimage and Idle Thoughts almost as much as Three Men in a Boat, so he thinks you won't be disappointed in your used book find.

farmlanebooks said...

I enjoyed this book - mainly because I recognised all the places mentioned. It is such a funny little story - glad you enjoyed it too.

Jeanne said...

Jackie, It must be fun to read a book like this and recognize all the places! I was interested in what you said about the grotto he mentions being destroyed.

Mumsy said...

Oh, I've been wanting to read this! And I could've asked for it for Christmas! That's what I get for keeping a mental TBR list as my memory card fills up and ultimately shuts down...

Jeanne said...

Mumsy, maybe you could ask one of your daughters to bring you a library's in the public library here.

Eva said...

Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed it for a roadtrip as much as I did. :D

Also, I'm working my way through HIMYM: it's so funny!

Jeanne said...

Eva, yes--thanks for the audio recommendation!
We found that it took us a few episodes of HIMYM until we really liked it--the sword fighting episode won us all over. We actually starting watching it because the guy who plays Ted went to Kenyon.

Eva said...

In a coincidence, my sister just watched her first episode of HIMYM last night & it was the sword fighting one! :)

Jeanne said...

Eva, what a great introduction!