As You Like It by William Shakespeare (1599)

Your favourite bit, aside from the boinging Cupid have mercy!, the clichéd all the world’s a stage, and that gloomy Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything?

Mine’s got to be the frisky rat-tat-tat of love-struck cross-dresser Rosalind’s quick-fire questions.

A little game I like to play in my Lilliputian upper storey is, if she was addressing me (Cupid have mercy!), what would be my one-word answer? If I was her bosom buddy (Cupid have mercy!) Celia, that is.

Let’s remind ourselves of that randy ramble.

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Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend (1999)

Jeepers, need nappies for this one.

With more great lines than the movie Scarface, this book is chronically funny. Do not eat peanuts while reading.

They say that great lines can make you fart with laughter.

Well.

Anyway, let’s focus on Ms Townsend’s particular talent in plying the three big no-gos of punctuation.

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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (1948)

Before settling down to read this white-knuckler, do the following.

Lock your doors and windows.

Turn on all the lights. Ready a candle in case of power cut. Remember matches.

Pour a brandy. Make it two.

Hell, three.

Oh, and have a wee.

What’s the big deal? Well, it kind of creeps up on you and lulls you into a false sense of security.

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The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1609)

Your favourite bit, aside from the clichéd I cried to dream again and brave new world that has such people in’t?

Mine’s got to be Caliban’s few words while basted on booze or, as he lovingly calls it, celestial liquor.

What tickles is the characteristic hallmarks of the drunk as he tries to give the also carted Stephano and Trinculo instructions on how to polish off Prospero [Caliban’s boss].

He’s truly bowsered. Or, as the irksome and obsequious Ariel puts the state, red-hot with drinking.

It’s all here. The frowning. The determined imperative. The repetition of idea. The aggression. You don’t have to see the play to see him swaying, lurching, finger-pointing.

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Lewis Carroll An Illustrated Biography by Derek Hudson (1954)

Loosen your clothing and keep the airways free for this one.

In October 1950, Reverend G Edward Charlesworth was having his Croft Rectory in Yorkshire renovated.

When they pulled up the floor in what used to be Charles Dodgson’s [Lewis Carroll’s] nursery on the second storey, they came across a child’s secret stash of little bits and pieces.

Here are three of the treasures they pulled out. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Brandy balloon in reach.

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Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)

A stupendous shit and an incorrigible cad.

Not the first sign of madness, but the protagonist Georges Duroy.

His blatantly ironic nickname, Bel-Ami, typifies the duplicity coursing through this deliciously unsettling book.

His secret to success in four words? Use your wily willy. Five? Erm. Get off to get on.

Well, well, old boy, I hope you realise you really do hit it off with the ladies? You must cultivate that. It could take you far… they’re still the quickest way to succeed.

And boy, does he slather on the ‘charm’. It’s a shame to see it abused so. And the trust that goes with it. Makes you shiver.

But before we look at some gems, let’s put down a marker and reflect on author Laurie Lee’s sense of pure charm (from his excellent 1975 collection of essays, I Can’t Stay Long).

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