Three Men on the Bummel // by Jerome K. Jerome


//published 1900// originally published as ‘Three Men on Wheels’ //

After enjoying Three Men in a Boat so thoroughly, I approached its sequel with anticipation.  And while Bummel wasn’t quite as funny as Boat, it was still a very worthwhile and engaging read.

Several years have passed since J., Harris, and George tooled about on the river.  Harris and J. are both now married with children, and our story opens with the three friends discussing how they could really do with a bit of a break from the wear and tear of domestic life.  I think that one of the things that I greatly enjoyed was that while J. and Harris are definitely eager for a holiday, there is never a feeling that they are tired of being married or that they wish that they could abandon their families forever.  Both wives are portrayed as intelligent and hardworking, and on the whole everyone seems to be quite happily married.  However, that doesn’t mean that a bit of a vacation wouldn’t be welcome.

And so, the three decide to bicycle around Germany (specifically through the Black Forest).  The first few chapters are them deciding where to go and what to do, and then persuading the wives to let them go off and do it – without tagging along.  My first genuine laugh came in chapter two, when J. begins to imagine how he will broach the subject to his wife, and how his wife will respond.

I opened the ball with Ethelbertha that same evening.  I commenced by being purposely a little irritable.  My idea was that Ethelbertha would remark upon this.  I should admit it, and account for it by over brain pressure. This would naturally lead to talk about my health in general, and the evident necessity there was for my taking prompt and vigorous measures.  I thought that with a little tact I might even manage so that the suggestion should come from Ethelbertha herself.

J. imagines a lovely discussion with his wife, in which she humbly pleads with him to take a break from domestic life and go off on a little jaunt with Harris and George.  The whole paragraph had me giggling, with sentences like, “Go away to some green corner of the earth, where all is new and strange to you, where your overwrought mind will gather peace and fresh ideas.”  Or, “Go away for a space and give me time to miss you, and to reflect upon your goodness and virtue, which, continually present with me, I  may, human-like, be apt to forget, as one, through use, grows indifferent to the blessing of the sun and the beauty of the moon.”  The whole thing is absolute balderdash, but one can still see a man thinking that this may be what his woman will say to him!

It is extra funny when contrasted with how the conversation actually goes – from Ethelbertha not actually noticing that J. is more irritable than usual, to her completely turning the tables and persuading J. that she should go on a holiday.  It is all just too perfectly written.

Eventually, the friends get away and begin their journey.  It is full of the usual adventures, although Jerome is less apt to go off onto his historical and natural meanderings – and I found myself rather missing them.  Still, he does give many observations about Germany and the people who live there.  On the whole, Jerome tends to admire their hardworking and law-abiding attitude.  His writing on the way that Germans obey rules that the English would flaunt was quite funny, and a reminder of how different cultures really can be.  However, I never felt that Jerome crossed the line to unpleasant mockery.  His teasing is always gentle and kind.

This book was published in 1900, with World War still over a decade away, yet Jerome already seems to sense the possible danger of a culture so tied up in automatic and unquestioning obedience to the government.

Their [the German schools] everlasting teaching is duty.  It is a fine ideal for any people; but before buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to what his ‘duty’ is.  The German idea of it would appear to be: ‘blind obedience to everything in buttons.’  It is the antithesis of the Anglo-Saxon scheme; but as both the Anglo-Saxon and the Teuton are prospering, there must be good in both methods.  Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be exceptionally well governed; if this continues, it will go well with him.  When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine.

All in all, while Bummel wasn’t the rollicking, nonstop laughter of Three Men in a Boat, it was still an interesting and entertaining volume, reflective of its time, yet still full of the timeless observations of human nature that made Boat so enjoyable.  Not quite as highly recommended as the first book, but Bummel is still an easy 4/5 read and recommended as well.

Proof Positive // by Phillip Margolin


//published 2007//

I really, really enjoyed the third book in the Amanda Jaffe series – it may be my favorite that I have read so far.  I got almost nothing useful done when I was reading this book because I couldn’t put it down!

Question for you:  If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone had committed a terrible crime, and you knew that the only way that this person would be punished for his crime was if you were willing to lie under oath, would you be willing to commit that perjury, when telling the truth means that a perpetrator gets off free?

The crazy thing about this book is that we know from almost the very beginning who the bad guy is – and yet it did not relieve the tension a single iota.  Instead, I found myself basically bouncing in my chair when people are talking with this guy, begging them to see through his veneer.  People die because of this guy, and Margolin does a really great joy of making him believable as a villain, but also believable that people wouldn’t see his villainy – I completely bought the fact that people were trusting this guy, and I also completely bought the idea that he has become unhinged, convinced that his lies are for the greater good, and that protecting those lies – no matter the cost – is also for the greater good.

I really enjoy the reintroduction of characters from earlier books, especially two of the bad guys who have been with us from the first book.  Amanda’s dad has represented them on multiple occasions, and they did him a favor in the last book – and collect on it in this one.  Their characters are done quite well.

Once again, I really enjoy these crime procedurals, with minimal swearing, violence, and sex.  It’s almost like Margolin realizes that a good story and strong characters are what make a book realistic and enjoyable, not mindless f*ing, gore, and shagging.  Brilliant.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a little bit of all three of those components, but they are seasoning, not the main course – as they should be.

I do feel like Amanda herself could have been a stronger player in this story.  In many ways, she was sort of a background person.  This happened in the last book, where Kerrigan’s story ended up overshadowing Amanda’s.  In this book, a great deal of time is spent on another defense attorney, Doug Weaver.  And Doug is a great character and his story is a good one, but if you have a theoretical main character of the series, it seems as though she ought to be a bit more…  main.

But that’s a fairly minor quibble.  The truth of the matter is, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.  I had trouble reading it fast enough.  I already have a problem where I basically read while I’m doing…  well, almost everything.  This book got read while I was cooking supper, making the bed, vacuuming, feeding the chickens, walking to the post office…  it was pretty intense.

This puts me at the halfway mark for this series, and so far, I highly recommend it.  This book was a definite 4/5, and I’m pretty stoked about delving into the next book.