A Pooter Revery

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1. Okay, enough of that French stuff. A recent link on Books Inq. reminded me of one of the funniest books I've ever read, the neat, smoothly vicious British satire from 1888 and 1889 called Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith.

Diary, originally published as a serial in Punch Magazine, is the fictional record of a humble but optimistic middle-class man who keeps house in the suburbs north of London. The parody of his provincial mind has a sharp, bitter sense that may remind you of P. G. Wodehouse, Noel Coward, the Marx Brothers or Monty Python (it predates all of them). This excellent article about the book from the Dabbler draws an original analogy between the character of young Lupin Pooter, the rebellious son of our respectable diary-keeping hero, and the later character of Jimmy Porter, the Angry Young Man invented by John Osborne.

It's easy to draw connections from Charles Pooter, the respectable father of Lupin Pooter and the diarist who calls himself a "Nobody". When I read Diary I always think of the beautiful songs Ray Davies wrote for the Kinks. The character that emerges from many of these Kinks songs is Pooter:

I like my football on a Saturday
Roast beef on Sunday -- all right!

This composite lyrical character calls his house "Shangri-La" even though "now the houses on the street all look the same". It's always been my theory that Ray Davies was inspired by George Grossmith's novel, especially because he grew up in the same North London suburbs where Diary takes place. These neighborhoods are also the settings for most Kinks songs (as well as, for what it's worth, Zadie Smith novels): Holloway, Muswell Hill, Willesden Green, the latter also the title of a quintessentially Pooter-esque song:

... there's one thing that keeps calling me back
to my little semi-detached.

There's no end to the Pooter connections. Author George Grossmith, then a popular man in British entertainment circles, was also the celebrated comic lead baritone who created the starring roles in the best Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Savoy. He created the role of Sir Joseph Porter in H. M. S. Pinafore, the Modern Major General in Pirates of Penzance, Bunthorne in Patience and Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado. Amazingly, he was neither a trained stage performer nor a trained writer. The character of George Grossmith can be glimpsed in a stirring performance by Martin Savage in Mike Leigh's film Topsy-Turvy (from which the photo at the top of this page was taken). Nervous, brittle and pasty-faced, the theatrical dandy portrayed in this film somehow channels Charles Pooter as well.

2. Lev Grossman's Time cover article about "Person of the Year" Mark Zuckerberg is pretty good. I particularly like this:

The reality is that Zuckerberg isn't alienated, and he isn't a loner. He's the opposite. He's spent his whole life in tight, supportive, intensely connected social environments: first in the bosom of the Zuckerberg family, then in the dorms at Harvard and now at Facebook, where his best friends are his staff, there are no offices and work is awesome. Zuckerberg loves being around people. He didn't build Facebook so he could have a social life like the rest of us. He built it because he wanted the rest of us to have his.

I've sensed the same thing about Zuckerberg (who I've written about here and here). The movie The Social Network depicts Zuckerberg as grasping for popularity, but I think he was obsessed with popularity as a puzzle. He wanted to figure out how it worked, how it could be engineered. I think it's safe to say he found the algorithm.

3. Vice Magazine interviews playwright Edward Albee.

4. Russell Brand imagines wrapping himself up in the Jack Kerouac scroll.

5. A Russian production team is turning Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita into an animated film.

6. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is coming to life in Indianapolis! Meanwhile, D. G. Myers takes Vonnegut down a couple of notches, though I think posterity will be very kind to Kurt's reputation.

7. Litkicks poet Mickey Z. interviews Bill McKibben.

8. What Laurel Snyder did when her children's book Up and Down the Scratchy Mountain went out of print.

9. Pens With Cojones reviews Bill Ectric while Bill Ectric ponders Steve Aylett and Voltaire.

10. Bat Segundo interviews Cynthia Ozick.

11. I caught a TV show called The Sing Off that includes Ben Folds as one of the judges, and I noticed that Ben Folds looks a hell of a lot like Jonathan Franzen. For whatever it's worth, which probably isn't much.

8 Responses to "A Pooter Revery"

by Claudia on

Levi, I think the movie The Social Network depicted Zuckerberg that way to make it more interesting for viewers by creating some dramatic tension. As for Lev Grossman's article, I also tend to agree with his characterization. But I don't think Grossman deserves any particular credit for applauding Zuckerberg at this stage, when he's at the pinnacle of success. It's a very safe endorsement. If he had written in Time Magazine about him starting Facebook--before anyone else could see any potential in it--then he'd deserve more credit for it. Speaking of starting social networks: I've been trying to rile up some interest for a writers' network on litkicks, since there are so writers among its readers. We have recently started such a network on Neatorama's bitlit. For anyone interested, I offer more details about it, on my literary blog link below:

http://literaturesalon.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/new-fiction-publishing-o...

by Levi Asher on

Claudia, you probably would have liked one of the earlier versions of Litkicks, the one that ran from 2001 to 2004. It basically was a social network, focused around a bunch of message boards. However, as I wrote here, this version of the site didn't please me much (and I'm the boss). Idle chatter's not my thing. Litkicks is less social now, but I think a whole lot more readable. Good luck with your social site, though!

by Claudia on

Boss, I don't like idle chatter either. I like whatever showcases most efficiently new writing talent, to put promising writers in charge of their careers. As you know, I feel that the publishing world is clogged up and literary agents and editors have much too much on their hands. We're long overdue for a social network for writers, similar to the readers' networks we have on shelfari, librarything and goodreads. Neatorama's Bitlit is a promising start to put writers in the driver's seat, as I show in the following youtube video:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici#p/a/u/0/_VcpCDl22z8

by Mayowa on

Laurel Snyder decision to buy all those copies is a brave one and I applaud her. It makes one wonder how we reconcile artistic passion with the business end of books.

Ben Folds does look like a young, shaggier Franzen. Must be the glasses hehe.

Thank you for the mention. Tamper was a great read.

What the hell, Levi? I just finished rereading DIARY OF A NOBODY!

by Levi Asher on

Ed -- great minds, thinking alike, and all that.

by Levi Asher on

Speaking of social networks for writers, I should mention that one single part of the old Litkicks community is still around -- "Action Poetry", still linked on every page. This was always my favorite part of the Litkicks community of writers, and the only part I kept when I shut down the old boards.

by Claudia on

Levi, I'm glad to hear that you kept the "Action Poetry" forum on litkicks, especially since poetry is the most neglected genre by the mainstream publishers. It doesn't generate much revenue, but it's valuable and beautiful for what it offers, aesthetically and emotionally.

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