Highlights from Recent Reading

But as I was saying, the hotel ladies behind Mrs. Massey and me at the beach were talking about our girls, not knowing they belonged to us. “do you see that slim flowerlike young thing?” one of these ladies said. “She’s the sister of that lovely dark-haired girl just throwing the ball. They certainly seem to be the belles of the place. They belong to a family that lives in that big cottage the driver pointed out to us yesterday, and of course would never deign to notice us mere hotel people—high-and-mighty cottagers! Their name’s Massey and they’re just about the leading family here. The waitress at my table told me so this morning.”

— from Mary’s Neck, by Booth Tarkington


“Don’t look now,” said Joe, “but will you marry me?”

— from The Old Reliable, by P.G. Wodehouse


“What’s wrong with marriage? It’s fine. Why, look at the men who liked it so much that, once started, they couldn’t stop, and just went on marrying everything in sight. Look at Brigham Young. Look at Henry the Eighth. Look at King Solomon. Those boys knew when they were on a good thing.”

Out of the night that covered him, black as the pit from pole to pole, there shone on Smedley a faint glimmer of light. Something like hope dawned in him. He weighed what she had just said.

Brigham Young—Henry the Eighth—King Solomon—knowledgeable fellows, all of them, men whose judgment you could trust. And they had liked being married, so much so that, as Wilhelmina had indicated, they made a regular hobby of it.

— from The Old Reliable, by P.G. Wodehouse


[From a short story about a man who caught a whale, hoisted it on his canal boat, hollowed it out , and sold tickets to anyone who wanted to go inside.]

He himself got a sailor’s coat and his hat and a new tie and done the steering. Every time he came to a village he blew on his horn and put into the dock. And the whole town came down. And danged near everyone would go inside the whale. It certainly was rigged out.

Uncle Ben’d built a regular room out of matched lumber and he had a winder on the far side opposite the door, and a chair and table in the front end, and a bunk and a stove running through a double pipe, which he didn’t never get up his nerve to light. And on the shelf in the back end he had a cupboard with all Aunt Em’s best china set out. And as he told the people, it was all real shipshape and very actively arranged, all but the plumbing.

And a lot of those farmers thought all whales was rigged out like that, and commenced to take the Bible seriously after.

from Mostly Canallers, by Walter D. Edmonds


After Rome’s fall, communications links in the West were largely limited to kings, monks, and scholars until the thirteenth century, when European businessmen began to sponsor services that were commercial rather than governmental. (The word “mail” derives from Middle English maille, or “metal link,” for the woven-metal bags carried by the armed couriers of the Hanseatic League, an organization formed at that time to protect the business interests of member German towns and merchant communities).

from How the Post Office Created America, by Winifred Gallagher


If a husband uses a guest towel, he should be quietly reprimanded, but under no circumstances sent to his room. After pointing out, briefly, that the guest towels are not to be used, the wife might even give him a piece of bread and butter with sugar on it, or a kind word. Too many wives do not consider it important to explain the facts of the guest towel to their husbands. A wife expects her husband to pick up his knowledge in the gutter or from other husbands, who know as little about the actual truth as he does himself. If a husband uses a guest towel, he should be gently reproved and then told where guest towels come from, in a clear, simply language. The wife should lead him to the drawer where she keeps the guest towels and show him wherein they differ from ordinary towels—the kind he may use. The average guest towel can be identified by curious markings, either elaborate initials or picturesque designs in one corner or running all the way around the border. The husband should also be told that the use of such towels is not pleasurable, because of the discomfort caused by the hemstitching, the rough embroidery, and the like. He should be made to understand that no man ever uses a guest towel, either in his own home or when he is a guest somewhere else, that they are hung up for lady guests to look at and are not to be disturbed. If he is told these simple truths in a calm, unexcited way, the chances are that he will never use a guest towel again and that he won’t worry unduly over the consequences of his having used one once or twice. But as soon as he is given the idea that he has done something terrible, that old feeling of being boxed in comes over him. He begins to think that he will never do anything right about the house, and that his home is merely a laboratory in which he has been trapped for the purpose of serving as the subject of strange experiments with towels and furniture.

from Is Sex Necessary?, by James Thurber


“You see, with smoke signals, that was the very first time in the whole history of the human race that you could tell somebody something that he couldn’t see you when you told him. You get what I mean?”

“No,” Dortmunder said.

“Before Smoke signals,” Medrick said, “I wanna tell you something, I gotta come over to where you are, and stand in front of you, and tell you. Like I’m doing now. And you get to look at my face, listen to how I talk, read my body language, decide for yourself, is this guy trying to pull a fast one. You get it?”

“Eye contact.”

“Exactly,” Medrick said. “Sure, people still lied to each other back then and got away with it, but it wasn’t so easy. Once smoke signals came in,  you can’t see the guy telling you the story, he could be laughing behind his hand, you don’t know it.”

“I guess that’s true,”  Dortmunder agreed.

“Every step up along the way,” Medrick said, “every other kind of way to communicate, it’s always behind the other guy’s back. For thousands of years, we’ve been building ourselves a liar’s paradise.”

from Watch Your Back!, by Donald Westlake


When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon.” I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is bacon.”

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two. If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is bacon,” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is bacon” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd but thoughtfully agree. I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10-minute explanation of the “knowledge is power” bit but nothing on “France is bacon.” When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is bacon?” in a questioning tone I just got a “yes.” At 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand.

It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.

from the Internet, written by Lard_Baron on Reddit


The story of the vengeful curtain rod is an exciting and dramatic tale told by the people who only say “hup hup” on the east coast of Borneo. The real facts are vague and misty, but the legend of the vengeful curtain rod as told by the people who only say “hup hup” goes like this: “Hup hup hup hup hup hup hup hup hup hup hup hup.”

from Cruel Shoes, by Steve Martin


Soup is a robust addition to any meal and just about everyone has a favorite. but the primary concern is “how can  you carry soup on your body without appearing ridiculous?” When you ask yourself this question, you are ready for soup folding.

from Cruel Shoes, by Steve Martin.


It’s an old joke that the hypothesis that a million monkeys with typewriters would sooner or later produce the works of Shakespeare has been conclusively disproved by the creation of the internet.

from Blonde Bombshell, by Tom Holt


The word “slogan” derives from the Gaelic gluagh-ghairm, a battle cry. Man’s changing concerns are thus neatly summed up: the term that once stood for the fierce yells of Scotsmen carving each other with claymores now stands, according to advertising textbooks, for “a phrase used in order that the prospect may become favorably disposed toward the article for sale.”

from They Laughed When I Sat Down, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.


Pears’ Soap continued to lead the way in the slogan field with its interminable “Good morning. Have you used Pears’ Soap?” It grew to be part of the language, a humorously impertinent rejoinder to anyone who had the misfortune to say “Good morning” first.

from They Laughed When I Sat Down, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.


“Is there anything nearer or dearer to you

Than I am?” asked the lover with tremulous dread;

“There’s nothing that’s dearer

But something that’s nearer

And that’s my P.D. Corset,” she said.

from They Laughed When I Sat Down, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.

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