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Old 08-15-2020, 12:20 AM   #1
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August 2020 Discussion • Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock

It's time to discuss our book for August, 2020 - Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock.



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Originally Posted by GrannyGrump
Stephen Leacock was a Canadian educator, political scientist, writer, and humorist. Between 1911 and 1925 he was so well-known as the world’s greatest humorist that it was said more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada.
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Originally Posted by wikipedia
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is a sequence of stories by Stephen Leacock, first published in 1912. It is generally considered to be one of the most enduring classics of Canadian humorous literature. The fictional setting for these stories is Mariposa, a small town on the shore of Lake Wissanotti. Although drawn from his experiences in Orillia, Ontario, Leacock notes: "Mariposa is not a real town. On the contrary, it is about seventy or eighty of them."

This work has remained popular for its universal appeal. Many of the characters, though modelled on townspeople of Orillia, are small town archetypes. Their shortcomings and weaknesses are presented in a humorous but affectionate way.
So, what did everyone think?

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Old 08-15-2020, 12:24 AM   #2
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I suspect this was a polarizing read this month, though I admit I'm not sure why. Personally, I found it charming and quite humourous, in a quiet sort of way. This isn't laugh-out-loud slapstick, this is the quiet chortle shared with a loved one.
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Old 08-15-2020, 12:45 AM   #3
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We already have a pretty good idea of what a few readers thought from some premature ... comments on the voting thread.

I quite enjoyed the preface and the first couple of chapters. They reminded me of my father. Not that he had anything to do with Canada, but it was the sort of humour that I think my dad would have appreciated. Much as CRussel said, it's a quiet smile rather than laugh-out-loud.

I think that had I read this over a period of weeks, a chapter here and a chapter there (as it was originally published), that I would be inclined to say better things about it. But trying to read it all at once, like a novel, meant that I quickly tired of its repetitive nature, with many of essentially the same lines appearing again and again. To paraphrase a common refrain from the book: "of course, you know all about it just as well as I do."

But despite the drawbacks, there was still some small amusement from following the lives of these people, and seeing something of their lifestyle and how much we still share in the same absurdities.
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Old 08-15-2020, 12:50 AM   #4
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I read this in chapter size chunks of an evening, before bed. I wasn't really all that aware of the repetition, but I suspect had I tried to read it all at once, it might have been a bit much.
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Old 08-15-2020, 09:33 AM   #5
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I enjoyed it. Like Charlie, I read it over time, so the repetition wasn’t grating.

It wasn’t a riveting read, but I enjoyed the pleasant stroll through earlier times. Part of the appeal is definitely the nostalgic scenes and memories of small town life. But, I can appreciate why someone may just find that idealized, boring and irrelevant.

However, setting aside the ‘quaintness’, I enjoyed Leacock’s low-key, wry sense of humour. Some of it felt dated and a bit overdone. But for the most part, I found it still chuckle worthy, and I thought his observations of human nature held true for today as well.

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Old 08-15-2020, 10:38 AM   #6
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I had to give up on this. I found it rather dry. I also did not find it amusing. It was light reading, but there was nothing I found to keep me wanting to read more.
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Old 08-15-2020, 03:03 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CRussel View Post
I suspect this was a polarizing read this month, though I admit I'm not sure why. Personally, I found it charming and quite humourous, in a quiet sort of way. This isn't laugh-out-loud slapstick, this is the quiet chortle shared with a loved one.
Polarizing? To me, that implies strong emotional reactions; I found this selection far too bland and meaningless to work up any reaction beyond relief at finishing it.

What was the point? I was not entertained, I was not educated, I was not made to think. I was bored.

I don't find charm in people being stupid, which seemed to be the overall theme of the stories. I felt sparks of annoyance at the offhand discussion of suicide and the depiction of women, but they were snuffed out in the general blandness.
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Old 08-15-2020, 04:35 PM   #8
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Polarizing simply means that it will split into two distinct opinions, with pretty much no middle ground. It doesn't really require emotional response.
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Old 08-15-2020, 06:03 PM   #9
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I enjoyed the book. It reminded me of Mark Twain. I also took the approach to read the book over several weeks. A chapter here and there. Sometimes 2 if the storyline continued between the chapters like the marriage courting. You know, like “tasty morsels - short and sweet.”
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Old 08-15-2020, 06:12 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
What was the point? I was not entertained, I was not educated, I was not made to think. I was bored.
I can understand how you felt these things. To me, it was pleasant, slow-paced, light-humor escapism into a different time period. I like imagining what life would have been like to have been alive then. Simpler or not simpler? Maybe simpler from the perspective of today’s chaos or from the perspective of the city-people adventuring to Mariposa. Not simpler from the perspective of the town-people who find plenty of activities and gossip and community issues to keep them busy. I liked the way the opening chapter set the stage for this perspective and how the different Mariposa residents threaded through the stories and that the book started and ended with Mr. Smith.
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Old 08-15-2020, 06:31 PM   #11
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But despite the drawbacks, there was still some small amusement from following the lives of these people, and seeing something of their lifestyle and how much we still share in the same absurdities.
Great point, gmw! Several times I felt like even though it was written over a hundred years ago some of the issues and community interactions felt modern and relatable. Sometimes I thought to myself I’m surprised this was an issue then and other times I thought to myself some things don’t change.

I liked the ending chapter too. For those that have moved away from where you grew up and built a life somewhere else, I could relate to those feelings of remembering or returning to places you have lived in the past.
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Old 08-16-2020, 10:17 AM   #12
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I quite enjoyed this book. A very pleasant aspect of it was the way the narrator varied his tone throughout the various episodes. Sometimes. As with Mr Smith there was an appreciation of the sheer audacity of Smith’s exuberant projects combined with a delighted humour at his limitations (which no one noticed). Thus, he used French in his caff because it was the thing to do—no one was expected to actually know what the words meant.

There’s a lot of gentle fun following the adventures of Pupkin and his romance with Zena Pepperleigh. But the tone changes to a barely restrained contempt when dealing with her father Judge Pepperleigh and his horrible son the lazy, drunken, violent bully, Neil.

The judge himself apparently abuses his wife and violates his office when his son is tried for an egregious assault:

“My boy, you are innocent. You smashed in Peter McGinnis’s face, but you did it without criminal intent. You put a face on him, by Jehoshaphat! that he won’t lose for six months, but you did it without evil purpose or malign design. My boy, look up! Give me your hand! You leave this court without a stain upon your name.”

Apparently the judge is blind to all of his son’s faults. Despite all this the narrator does soften things just a bit at Neil’s fate:

“But the judge never knew, and now he never will. For if you could find it in the meanness of your soul to tell him, it would serve no purpose now except to break his heart, and there would rise up to rebuke you the pictured vision of an untended grave somewhere in the great silences of South Africa.“

There is a more gentle if not quite sympathetic approach to the failings of Dean Drone and Jefferson Thorpe.

I think it is this mix of feeling that makes the book so appealing—it is no nostalgic trip up memory lane. One is perhaps reminded of Mark Twain in spots though that author is frequently more acerbic than gentle.

I wouldn’t mind browsing through this little book again from time to time.

Thanks for nominating it Victoria.
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Old 08-16-2020, 10:18 AM   #13
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Great point, gmw! Several times I felt like even though it was written over a hundred years ago some of the issues and community interactions felt modern and relatable. Sometimes I thought to myself I’m surprised this was an issue then and other times I thought to myself some things don’t change.
Yes, I had the same thoughts too. For instance, the modernity of Mr. Smith’s ‘bait and switch’ plan in the first chapter took me by surprise. It brought to mind the hearings today about the power and monopolistic practices of some if the big tech companies.

My parents used to observe quite often when I was young that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. I think that’s one of the benefits of reading older material. It can put current events into perspective.
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Old 08-16-2020, 12:13 PM   #14
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You know, like “tasty morsels - short and sweet.”
Perfect!

Yes, little nuggets of small town. Sketches, not a full on triptych. And I think it definitely benefited from being read that way, rather than a straight push through.

Quote:
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For instance, the modernity of Mr. Smith’s ‘bait and switch’ plan in the first chapter took me by surprise. It brought to mind the hearings today about the power and monopolistic practices of some if the big tech companies.
Exactly so, and just as in the modern era, even those who would prefer to bait and switch, or fail to do the right thing, sometimes have to bow to public opinion. The difference today is that the small town's gossip network has been replaced by social media. In a very real sense, social media has turned the world into a small town. And I think this last is perhaps the most important lesson from this book. The world is now a small town, with all the good, and bad, that can come with that.
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Old 08-16-2020, 12:15 PM   #15
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I did not find this to be modern. I found it to be old fashioned. I found some of the characters to be silly and were made out to be stupid. The book started off with a similar feel to Lake Wobegon stories until it stopped doing so in the first story.

I didn't find it amusing. I didn't find the characters interesting. I fount it dull and lifeless with characters I could case less about. I found I didn't care for the people, what happened to them, or the place. To me the stories feel like a caricature of real life.

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