Who Is Tristram Shandy?

And why does he keep following me?

Tristram Shandy

I had never heard of Tristram Shandy until a few weeks ago. His name appeared in a book title on the candidate book list. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandey, Gentleman is a set of nine novels by eighteenth century author Laurence Sterne. According to the Wikipedia page for the series, the books recount the humorous memoirs of Mr. Shandy, memoirs that shed almost no light on the life of Shandy himself. Which I guess is fine since he didn’t actually exist.

Just days after seeing this book title, his name came up again on a podcast I was listening to about America’s founding. The host of the podcast said that Thomas Jefferson tended to act like Tristram Shandy, in that he went out of his way to make others feel important, even if they weren’t worth the bother. And then the very next day, I heard Tristram’s name again, this time on TV, although I don’t recall what program was bandying his name about.

My point is that these books are already starting to gang up on me. It used to be safe to watch TV, but now I have to be on my guard against “the list.” But I’m not going to let it bother me. As for Shandy, I won’t be including his memoirs in my reading because (1) I’ve excluded multi-volume works from the project, (2) Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey is considered the author’s magnum opus, and therefore takes precedence, and (3) his name kind of creeps me out. But even with Shandy’s sudden imposition into my life, I feel a little sad about excluding a book that is mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Jefferson. These nine volumes were influential enough to show up on great-book lists. As surprising as it is to hear is name so many times in one week, even more surprising is that I had never heard it before.


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