Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome
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What is a critical appreciation of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome?

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Published in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat is most often praised for its humor, which holds up to the present day. Although it began as a serious, if fictionalized, travelogue based on a real vacation trip Jerome took with two friends from Kingston to Oxford, the humorous aspects of the story soon took over the account. The book benefitted by being written in simple, commonplace language and became a bestseller.

Examples of humor include such hijinks as two drunken men getting into the same bed unbeknownst to each other, the humorous mess Uncle Podger makes of trying to hang a picture, and the men's dog companion trying to add a dead river rat to the men's leftover stew.

The book also includes detailed description of the travel route, which is so accurate that people today are able to recreate the journey. It also includes information about local history. All in all, it is a lighthearted caper that records a time when the Thames River moved from being primarily a route for commercial shipping to a route for leisure travel.

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A critical appreciation assesses the value of a book and upholds the work’s strengths and good qualities. While Three Men in a Boat is a humorous and fictional modern-day travelogue that follows a small group of friends along the River Thames for three days, it is otherwise and at its core – like Seinfeld on American TV – a show about nothing. No major mishaps or challenges occur. The characters don’t seem to change much from beginning to end. If it had been just the telling of the benign trip, it would have made for lackluster writing and boring reading. But not with Jerome K. Jerome at the helm. He, in the guise of narrator J., knows the landscape well enough to call up histories or past tales of the sites they pass. He is quick to step aside and onto seemingly relevant tangents of personal stories that range from the awkward to the absurd. Somehow his blend of past and present examples of very human behavior come together to make this book one of the most amusing adventures you are apt to pick up. Nearly every chapter has a laugh-out-loud moment, even more than a century after the manuscript was first written. Three Men in a Boat may be one of the best books you’ve never heard of.

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