Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson

[rating=4] ‘Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast’ is a cozy little novel perfect for vacationing, commuting, bathroom reading, or days when you & the weather are crappy; 30 sparkling vignettes told in 152 tidy pages.

Published in 1993, I didn’t hear about it myself until I started working at Quest Books in 1995. My Manager, Susan, enthusiastically hand-sold it to almost every customer who walked in the door, like so: “Buy this! It won the Leacock Award for Humour! You’ll LOVE it, I promise!”

People would squint at the uninspiring beige cover with it’s wild, unevenly-kerned, hand-penned fonts and inky-scribble men floating in a vaguely soixante-neuf pose, like a bad Chagall, and start looking nervous. They’d cast about for a shelf or big vase to hide it behind where Susan might not notice they’d abandoned it. Some would turn it over, and seeing that these stories started out as CBC radio pieces would mutter “Vinyl Cafe” in disgust and drop it like an old rag.

Yes, the cover is abysmal. (Sorry, Rose Cowles, but our design sensibilities do not agree). Yes, it started out as broadcast fodder. But please don’t let that stop you from enjoying this Canadian jewel.

Do you love books? Live to read? Are you a rambly absent-minded professor type? Feel that you belong somewhere quieter, more studious, more chivalrous? THIS IS FOR YOU.

While I enjoy clean, spare prose in my fiction, you won’t get that here. This is whimsical, dreamy, borderline florid writing. It meanders. It reaches deep into the lint-bottomed pockets of the English language for words that suit its purpose. It’s not afraid of a few extra syllables.

Here’s a sampling of the majestic argot found at the Bachelor Brother’s B&B: disapprobation, atavistic, sacrosant, tinntinnabular, lugubrious, cosseting, intuits, recalcitrant, expatiate, deracination, ruminant, braggadocio, febrile, comestibles, licentiousness, apogee, superannuated, seriocomic, nascent, intransigence, concupiscent AND… autodidact!

I enjoyed the mental workout. I even had to pull out Ye Olde Dictionary to look up the word ‘neurasthenically’ (p25), which is a rare occurrence for me these days. FYI, it’s an obsolete technical term for a neurosis characterized by extreme lassitude and inability to cope with any but the most trivial tasks – nobody uses it anymore, but since Virgil pulled it from the mothballs to describe his granny’s decline, it suits.

Author Bill Richardson seems to have a particular soft spot for large words beginning with the letter ‘P’. Witness: Patrimony, predilection, parochial, pernicious, peripatetic, pileated, preprandial, prophylaxis, patrilineal, ponderous, purdah.

I like any book that can make me question my own mastery of English. When I found a typo on page 25, a missing letter ‘S’ in the word “palimpsest”, I wondered for a brief moment if it was really a mistake, or just a very obscure variant I had somehow never heard of. I’m still willing to give credit that it might have been a very subtle pun, referring to a twin pair of palimpsests as a “palimpSET”, but probably it was just a standard boo-boo and I’m reading too much into it.

“It was as though we were some kind of palimpset, [sic] and she regretted or resented the evidence of his authorship.” – p. 25

The only pieces I really did not enjoy were “The Songs of Solomon Solomon” (p83-93), which was a thinly manufactured shell to showcase the author’s attempts at comic doggerel verse, and “Brief Lives: Beth” (p115-120), which had a hateful, racist, David Sedaris-style set of characters that felt utterly out-of-tune with the rest of the book, especially considering that it was really about Jane Austen’s “Emma”.

Overall, a solid read that provides genuine entertainment, a vocabulary refresher, some solid recommendations for other books to read when soaking in the bathtub, and a nice banana muffin recipe. Can be read in one sitting or taken in small doses, as needed.

Liked this? You might also enjoy: Garrison Keillor’s ‘Book of Guys’, Stephen Leacock’s ‘Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town’, or Stuart McLean’s ‘Stories from the Vinyl Café’.

4 of 5 stars / bookshelves: comedy, 152 pages, Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre (1993)
Re-read from February 21 to February 27, 2012

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