Friday, August 7, 2009

For Criminating Readers

One joy of reading is the way a book can lead me back to texts I've read before, while simultaneously pointing me toward those books I haven't met yet. Last week I had just a few minutes to run into the Patrick Beaver Library to scan the shelves for something new among their audiobooks. I landed on The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a young adult novel by E. Lockhart. Frankie, the title character, is a fifteen-year-old girl attending the same prestigious boarding school where her father "Senior" spent what he considers his glory days. Frankie is tugged between her thrill at catching the attention--and the heart--of the most popular senior boy and her natural affinity for and position among the self-proclaimed geeks: She's on the debate team, and her roommate's boyfriend, as chief A-V Tech student, has keys for every door on campus.

Frankie has discovered P. G. Wodehouse, an author I must admit I have not read, and she has taken to developing and using what she calls "neglected positives," borrowing from the line in The Code of the Woosters well-known to Wodehouse fans: ". . . if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." Frankie uses gruntled, ept, and mayed (the neglected positive of dismayed), to the confusion or amusement of others.

I may not have been among that esoteric group of readers recognizing the Wodehouse reference immediately, but I did recall on of my favorite pieces that ran in the New Yorker's former back-page column "Shouts and Murmurs" by Jack Winter called "How I Met My Wife" (7/25/94), which opens, "It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate." The piece ends, of course, with loved "requited."

A quick internet search shows that many others have given their take on Wodehouse's "gruntled," including William Safire in the New York Times in 1999. I suppose what I find most charming about Frankie (or Lockhart) is that while taking the author's word play as her own, she manages not only to give him credit, but to lead other readers to his novels as well.

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