Dan Sandman

Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

#32 The Full Cupboard of Life

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Crime, Fiction on 04/08/2017 at 12:00 pm

#32 The Full Cupboard of LifeBotswana is a moral playground in this novel from the No. Ladies’ Detective Agency series. With his infectiously sunny outlook, Alexander McCall Smith cries in favour of the traditional Botswana values that stand for honesty and hard work. In this fifth installment, such principles are under threat from cowboy mechanics and gold-digger boyfriends. As ever, with her perfect blend of feminine intuition and common-sense, private detective Mma Ramotswe sets out to fight for the old Botswana ways her father believed in. As with the other books within the series, McCall Smith promotes an optimistic view of Botswana and Southern Africa in general; highlighting the generosity, compassion and courage of its people with his deceptively simple prose. On the surface, he provides his many fans with hours of comic fun; but underneath lies a moral philosophy which reveals his academic background and life experience. These popular books can be enjoyed entertainment or read as guides on how to live a moral and happy life in an ever-changing world. I think we would all benefit from a cup of bush tea with Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr J.L.B Matekoni.


#28 The First Men in the Moon

In Autobiography, Books, Comedy, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Science Fiction on 07/07/2017 at 12:00 pm

#28 The First Men in the MoonI was in Keats Library, working on a particularly difficult passage of my journal, when the lights went out again. I asked the elderly lady to put the lights back on and she did. My mistake, the trap I set for myself, was to say I wear glasses and then proceed to read without them on.

“Look. He’s not even wearing glasses.”

I stood up, waving my H. G. Wells novel at her.

“I’m short-sighted, that’s why I’m not wearing my glasses. When you keep turning the light off I have to adjust where to look. See. You can’t just keep turning the light on and off all the time. If you want the light off, you need to ask the staff or the volunteers. Or we should ask the people of the library what they want. Get them to take a vote. Most of them would probably want the light on. Especially if they’re trying to read.”

I looked around for support.

“What do you want? Do you want the light on?”

Sitting between us was another Tuesday regular. The guy who looks at graphs on his laptop and goes outside to answer his mobile every now and then.

“I just want what makes her happy. She’s an old lady. We’re contemporaries.”

“We’re not contemporaries.”

“We’re from the same generation. She’s my grandmother’s age. I want whatever will make her happy. We should do what we can to help her.”

“But I do usually help her. And age has nothing to with it. A moment ago, an old man was reading the paper and he wanted the light on because he was reading. It’s about whether people want the light on or off. Either we have it completely on or completely off.”

I looked around at the other people on their laptops. The lights gleamed down upon my forehead. Sensing my retreat, my opponent attacked.

“Well, I would like the lights off.” She said.

“Okay. Actually, I don’t mind whether they’re on or off. As long as its always on or always off.”

“I’ve had cataracts.”

“Eyesight has nothing to do with it.”

“The light makes the computer glare. I want the lights off.”

“It’s the changing of the light that bothers people. Makes them them loose concentration.”

“It’s better without the glare.”

And there it was, the comedy of the situation. Like the clicking of the light-switch itself, a verbal jostle between positive and negative polarities. Faces remained buried in laptops and I walked back to my seat. All the nice old lady wanted was attention and this was her way of getting it. I could see why I had lost control. It was the snide comment about the glasses that had set me off, in this war of the library lights. We either make her happy or we don’t make her happy. Either way, no work gets done when the peace is broken.

#25 Emma

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 16/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#25 EmmaEmma Woodhouse, an heiress of £30,000 and two-and-twenty years old, plays match-maker with her less fortunate and younger friend Harriet Smith. But when her social schemes backfire, she is terribly upset.

As the writer Sebastian Faulks has said, Emma is a snob and her snobbery has emotional consequences, both for herself and for those within her society. Emma’s self-satisfaction, her selfish pretenses and her manipulative social behaivour make her a figure of fun because she takes herself too seriously. To Emma, the false manners and codified language of her class exist for her pleasure and delight. Admittedly, as a young woman living in a man’s world, Emma’s approach to her own courtiers needs to be cautious and considerate; but this does not, should not, excuse her hobby of interfering with the love life of her naive friend Harriet. Faulks is right to argue that Emma is a snob; and I would go further to argue that she is one of the worst snobs seen in English literature: interfering and selfish to extremes.

I have mixed feelings about Jane Austen, whose novels are often imitated but never surpassed. Clearly, Austen is a writer of some genius—she almost single-handedly resurected the sentimental novel from the dustbin of literary history and transformed into the modern romantic comedy. However, Austen often attracts harsh criticism because her novels appear completely detached from history, ignorant of the servant-class and devoid of any serious political intrigue. And much to the dissatisfaction of the male species, Austen portrays men as binary opposites to woman. For Austen, war is a man’s business; marriage: a woman’s affair. In Austen view, the struggles of the lower-orders are ignored in favour of the struggles of chivalric love—-i.e. whether X will marry Y for a good fortune or X will marry Z for love. In Austen’s defense, I might add–at least when it comes to the under representation of ordinary people–minus the occasional gravedigger or porter—Shakespeare has been accused of the exact same narrow-mindedness.

#21 Candide

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 19/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#21 CandideCandide begins his journey in a German castle, closeted off from reality by his optimistic philosophy tutor Dr. Pangloss. One day, he innocently kisses the beautiful Cunégonde’s hand, strays his own hands into other areas, and is kicked up the backside by Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk. So then, as so many stories do, the trouble all begins with two young people falling in love…

First published in 1759, Candide sold twice more than Gulliver’s Travels within the first month. Like Swift, Voltaire sends his hero on an unlikely adventure with many twists and turns. Like Cervantes, he has a trusty servant accompany his hero along the way. On this hilarious journey of incredible misfortune, Candide is flogged, taken in by the Spanish inquisition and has the riches of Elderado fleeced from him aboard a merchant ship. And yet, despite the sheer scale of catastrophe that befalls young Candide, he continues to draw hope that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’.

The question is, will he remain optimistic until the end of the tale? The answer is no. And so, what we have is a universal message about faith versus reason; optimism versus cynicism; youth versus experience; and romantic love versus companionship. Candide is foolish to trust everyone he meets along the way, believing them to be trustworthy, without making any reasonable judgement about their character beforehand. As he is scarred by his foolishness, he begins to develop into a more reasonable person, behaving in a way which is less trusting of other people.

Written during the Enlightenment, otherwise known as age of reason, Candide is both a moral and philosophical tale about the power of substance over superstition. At a time of great scientific discovery, a period that is often seen as a turning point from religious thinking to scientific thinking, this deceptively simple tale can be enjoyed on several levels. On the surface, it is a wonderfully funny boy’s adventure about a young man going off on an unlikely journey. Nothing is taken seriously, deaths occur in a sentence, and the children’s-story-like prose doesn’t appear to struggle with the depths of the human psyche. However, like all the greatest fictions, when its depths are delved into, Candide becomes a wonderfully informed discussion opener for any number of essential topics: war, love, death (to name a few). Give this classic to a ten year old boy or an elderly woman and they’ll each have something to say about it.

It was banned though, probably because of its flippant treatment of such delicate matters as murder, rape and slavery. I would argue that making fun of serious matters is a good way to challenge any preconceptions or prejudices we may have about them; other disagree. Without a liberal attitude, growing from the age of reason, there could be no stand-up comedy, no rock n’ roll and no critique of religious matters. Such a world would be full of solemn prayer, pious attitudes towards sex and (to be flippant myself) absolutely no fun whatsoever. It would also be a world where public shaming or public executions occur whenever an artist challenges the status quo. When censorship goes too far, suddenly, jazz music, Jewish poetry and black comedy are being stamped upon by the jackboots of fascists, as they burn the works of Voltaire outside the gates of the Reichstag. By the butt of a gun, in a world without liberal humanism, violent troops of young fools fight for some tyrant’s idea of a religious ideal: unthinking and under orders. With great wit and wisdom, Voltaire reveals the sheer absurdity of such human history and teaches us to see such serious matters in the true light of day. And most importantly, with a good sense of humour and a decent dose of irony.

#2 Rites of Passage

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction on 06/01/2017 at 12:00 pm

Edmund Talbot is the narrator of this comic sea adventure, set upon a warship heading out to colonize the antipodes. Talbot is an aristocrat, writing a journal addressed to his lorded godfather. His style is energetic, utilizing exclamation marks wherever possible. Talbot humorously conveys his boredom, his sickness and his desires on board ship. His aristocratic wit–literary and foreign language references brandished as intellectual insults–can be endearing, but his attacks, particular on the vulnerable, veer close to plain snobbery and can be abusive. As an influential man of some power, but a young man of little experience, Talbot learns that a high station in life comes with a high level of responsibility.


Primrose Hill 03/01/17


52: Complete Prose by Woody Allen

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 23/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

complete-prose-by-woody-allenWoody Allen is arguably one of the greatest wits of our time, and his Complete Prose is the perfect book to make giggle over the festive season. Between its pages, a rich tapestry of odd-ball philosophy, jokes that make fun of life’s most serious subjects — e.g. religion and death — and a myriad of ingeniously incongruous ideas await. Pick up this book almost anywhere in the world, at almost any point in time, to find yourself near prostrate with laughter.

Merry Christmas everyone and thanks for reading — four years and counting!

43: The Paper Men by William Golding

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 21/10/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-paper-men-by-william-goldingWilfred Barclay is an alcoholic writer whose first novel Coldharbour is famous around the world. Much to his disgust, Barclay is being pursued by a pushy and unpleasant American academic called Rick Tucker. In his desperate attempts to be Wilf’s official biographer — rifling through his bins, stalking him around the world — Rick is a ‘paper man’ without any solid substance to define him outside of the written word. However, the same can be said for Barclay himself, whose manic attempts to write about — and physically avoid — his would-be biographer are equally ludicrous and farcical. For lovers of fiction, the result is a very funny novel from Sir Golding; a writer who is not famed for his comic prose.

Critics have often complemented Golding for his ability to adopt new linguistic techniques in each and every novel he composes, never producing the same book twice. And yet, there are certain themes and motifs that hold the body of his work together in one coherent stream. Later in this book, for example, we see the protagonist go through a spiritual epiphany in the form of a life-changing dream. This kind of symbolic moment, where the absence of an explanation might be filled by an omniscient presence, is seen also in Golding’s other books. It is the kind of moment that is more akin with poetry than prose. This would make sense, as Golding has been quoted — I very much paraphrase — as saying he started out wanting to be a poet.

Seeing as one can only read a book once for the first time, and I am closer now to completing all of Golding’s books, I have treasured this week’s review with great pleasure. It was very refreshing to be taken through a series of comical situations by a writer who is usually rather seriously minded in his work. From all evidence, Golding appears to have been a pleasant and funny man with a teacher’s enthusiasm for learning. I recently read a series of essays edited by John Carey, written a while ago to celebrate the writer’s seventy-fifth birthday. It was a fantastic opportunity to read about the man and his works, especially because Sir Golding liked to keep his private life private, like the fictional Wilfred Barclay in this enjoyably comic novel.

I would like to thank John Keats Community Library for loaning out this lovely first edition.

34: Forty Years On by Alan Bennett

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Plays on 19/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

Forty Years On by Alan BennettYou probably won’t have come across Alan Bennett’s 1969 play Forty Years On. It was his first West End show and follows similar themes to The History Boys, dealing comically with our anxieties about the British education system. In this early work for the stage, the target for Bennett’s satirical pen is the old British public school system, as characterized by the old-fashioned school Headmaster (originally played by John Gielgud). The comedy builds around the staging of a play within a play, of which the somewhat clownish headmaster keeps interrupting to criticize its lavatory humour. As becomes apparent, large parts of the play appear to be based around the headmaster’s life-story, revealing a darker side to the private schooling of young boys.

Upon first reading, what stands out is Bennett’s knack for writing funny lines. His approach to laughter is erudite, often drawing on his wide reading of literature and sound knowledge of wartime history for the basis of his comedy. The best lines are well put together in terms of syntax, with each word having a precise function. These jokes are intelligently placed to draw us to the playwright’s themes, which reveal an intellectual concern for Britain’s flawed education system; an arguably unfair set of divided organizations, dubiously created to reproduce the British class system.

Mr. Bennett has said that not in favour of independent schools. Like myself, he would like to see them abolished, something which our politicians are unlikely to push forward. Unfortunately, the British people continue to live in an unfairly stratified country reinforced by our schooling. But I am an optimist, and suggest that nothing is stopping us from working hard to build bridges between people from all walks of life.

Along wiser paths.

33: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 12/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

A Passage to India by E. M. ForsterBy 1924, E. M. Forster had made his name as a successful writer of social comedies which wittily poked fun at the British class system. This was the year that he published A Passage to India, Forster’s much celebrated book about British colonial rule. Like his previous works, it reads well as a comedy of manners. Forster is brilliant at exposing the misunderstandings between differing social groups, here aiming his pen at colonial India.

Forster is very good at structuring his novels. He usually begins a chapter with a paragraph which either describes a place or presents us with a philosophical viewpoint on which to judge the following scene. Such scenes often centre around social gatherings, for example the ‘bridge party’ held near the beginning of the novel. Forster is then able to present his characters with awkward situations that challenge their social positions within an inflexible class system.

I am looking forward to reading more of this novel. So far, I have become very interested in the character Aziz and his mixed feelings towards the British. The blurb on my paperback states that this comedy will expose ‘the racism inherent in colonialism’. It appears that a book can now be marketed as an exposé of colonial racism, perhaps a sign that being critical of British rule has become popular.

What do you think?

32: A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 05/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

A Room with a View by E. M. ForsterPolite society must have been difficult to navigate in repressed Victorian England. Whom should marry for love and whom for social standing? How should one deal with one’s servants? What does your appreciation of Ruskin say about your views on socialism? Oh dear, life for social climbers can be such a slippery slope!

But fortunately, English literature has produced E. M. Forster to help us dissect the manners and foibles of those puzzling times gone by. With great wit and a good ear for conversation, Forster creates entertaining social comedies which take us into the drawing rooms of the Victorian middling classes. Tea is served, gossip is shared and the wrong end of the stick is oftentimes produced. Written six years before the Great War, A Room with a View is a devilishly amusing novel which sharply exposes the mechanisms of a particular group of people, as Jane Austen had done a century earlier. And as in Austen’s famous novels, the narrowness of the middle classes is reflected by the novelist’s inability to discuss the working classes in any meaningful way whatsoever. The silent majority are simply there to pour the tea, being treated as if they weren’t complex human being themselves.

I have enjoyed reading this relatively short novel, and I think it works well as a casual summer book with a fairly good plot that moves along at a decent pace. Readers will be encouraged to laugh at many of the characters, of which Forster is a skilled creator. In terms of genre, it might be worth thinking of this book as a romantic comedy, which is further evident when we look at the film version starring Helena Bonham Carter.

It will certainly pass the time rather nicely.