Jerome K. Jerome,
Three Men in a Boat
(To Say Nothing of the Dog!)

(1889; Penguin, 1956)

It may not be hard to believe that a book written over 100 years ago could remain as fresh and funny as when it was first published, but certainly Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat is an extraordinary case. The tale of three men -- Jerome, Harris and George (to say nothing of the dog, Montmorency, a witless fox terrier) -- who take a two week boating excursion up the Thames is part travelogue, part philosophical musing and part slapstick comedy.

The three take the trip to fight off a certain malaise they've been feeling, and the preparations for the trip include haggling over the decision whether to camp or sleep in hotels, with the pros and cons of camping thoroughly discussed, ruminations on how one should decide what gear to take (make a list of everything you can't do without), as well as what provisions to pack. Finally, though, they set off on their voyage.

They experience the joys inherent in setting up the covering for their boat when it's time to sleep -- at least two of them get hopelessly snarled as well as savoring Harris' culinary accomplishments. Then there's the infamous tinned pineapple section, where they discover that they neglected to pack a tin opener, and if you are particularly partial to pineapple, you can understand what an exercise in frustration that can be.

So they beat on, boats against the current -- oops! (Sorry! Wrong book!) [Editor's note: Bonus points to anyone who gets Donna's literary reference!] So they press on, dodging steam launches, unsnarling tow ropes, and solving the Curious Case of Harris and the disappearing pie. Along the way, Jerome reflects on other adventures and misadventures both on the river and off as well as the history of some of the places they pass. At times, his meandering can be confusing, but it soon becomes easy to tell when events happened.

At once quirky, funny, and thoughtful, Three Men in a Boat is well worth the effort to find and read.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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