Posts Tagged ‘P G Wodehouse’

Paul Graham’s heroes

April 5, 2008

I liked the list because, among other things, P G Wodehouse and Jane Austen appear on it:

P. G. Wodehouse

People are finally starting to admit that Wodehouse was a great writer. If you want to be thought a great novelist in your own time, you have to sound intellectual. If what you write is popular, or entertaining, or funny, you’re ipso facto suspect. That makes Wodehouse doubly impressive, because it meant that to write as he wanted to, he had to commit to being despised in his own lifetime. Evelyn Waugh called him a great writer, but to most people at the time that would have read as a chivalrous or deliberately perverse gesture. At the time any random autobiographical novel by a recent college grad could count on more respectful treatment from the literary establishment. Wodehouse may have begun with simple atoms, but the way he composed them into molecules was near faultless. His rhythm in particular. It makes me self-conscious to write about it. I can think of only two other writers who came near him for style: Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. Those three used the English language like they owned it. But Wodehouse has something neither of them did. He’s at ease. Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford cared what other people thought of them: he wanted to seem aristocratic; she was afraid she wasn’t smart enough. But Wodehouse didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of him. He wrote exactly what he wanted.


Jane Austen

Everyone admires Jane Austen. Add my name to the list. To me she seems the best novelist of all time. I’m interested in how things work. When I read most novels, I pay as much attention to the author’s choices as to the story. But in her novels I can’t see the gears at work. Though I’d really like to know how she does what she does, I can’t figure it out, because she’s so good that her stories don’t seem made up. I feel like I’m reading a description of something that actually happened. I used to read a lot of novels when I was younger. I can’t read most anymore, because they don’t have enough information in them. Novels seem so impoverished compared to history and biography. But reading Austen is like reading nonfiction. She writes so well you don’t even notice her.

Graham’s analysis of the patterns in his list is interesting too:

After I made the list, I looked to see if there was a pattern, and there was, a very clear one. Everyone on the list had two qualities: they cared almost excessively about their work, and they were absolutely honest. By honest I don’t mean trustworthy so much as that they never pander: they never say or do something because that’s what the audience wants. They are all fundamentally subversive for this reason, though they conceal it to varying degrees.

And, then there are gems of this sort:

One of the things I’ve learned about making things that I didn’t realize when I was a kid is that much of the best stuff isn’t made for audiences, but for oneself. You see paintings and drawings in museums and imagine they were made for you to look at. Actually a lot of the best ones were made as a way of exploring the world, not as a way to please other people. The best of these explorations are sometimes more pleasing than stuff made explicitly to please.

Take a look!


P G Wodehouse and programming

March 23, 2008

Basildon Coder on what software programmers can learn from P G Wodehouse’s techniques of writing:

The first time we pinned up the printouts, I suddenly recalled a Douglas Adams foreword reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt. Adams was a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse, and explained Wodehouse’s interesting drafting technique:

It is the next stage of writing—the relentless revising, refining, and polishing—that turned his works into the marvels of language we know and love. When he was writing a book, he used to pin the pages in undulating waves around the wall of his workroom. Pages he felt were working well would be pinned up high, and those that still needed work would be lower down the wall. His aim was to get the entire manuscript up to the picture rail before he handed it in.

(Adams, 2002)

Hmm, isn’t redrafting a literary cousin of refactoring? In many ways, I think it is – so why not apply this technique to refactoring?

And we’ve made it so. We tied a piece of string horizontally across the wall – that’s our ‘picture rail’. Every week we reprint the classes we have been working on, and replace the old printouts. Then we move them up towards the string, in accordance with how happy we are with the view.

Obviously, this doesn’t replace all the other tools we have for evaluating code quality – e.g. the aforementioned metrics, unit tests, manual QA, and so on. It does, however, make for a brilliant way of tracking our subjective satisfaction with the class. Software quality tools can never completely replace the gut instinct of a developer – you might have massive test coverage, but that won’t help with subjective measures such as code smells. With Wodehouse-style refactoring, we can now easily keep track of which code we are happy with, and which code we remain deeply suspicious of.

As an added benefit, all those pages nicely cover up the hideous wall colour. Bonus!

Link via /. Take a look!