The Uncommon Reader

Review The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

A Novella

After reading a few delightful posts recommending this and seeing it on the list as a possibility for the Novella Challenge, I ordered this from the library.

At only 120 pages, and with above average size font, I was easily able to devour this in a few hours.

The story is how the Queen of England accidently discovers a traveling library van on the grounds of the palace and so she decides on a whim to check out a book.   This activity, her new hobby, snowballs and takes over her life as anyone who loves to read can appreciate.   Once engrossed in a book, she finds every interruption, every duty,  any time not spent reading to be quite annoying!

Her staff becomes concerned and attempts to thwart her new ‘preoccupation.’  Her family is actually glad because they find she no longer pays much nitpicky attention to them.   And eventually, alas, she realizes that she is a ‘doer’ and reading is not doing.    I won’t spoil the ending…

I enjoyed the premise, the lightness, the absurdity.     I chuckled frequently and sympathised (sympathy may not be the right word…   anyone?, anyone?)  with the position of the Queen and how she is supposed to act.

However, I am not familiar  enough of some things the author referred to, I don’t have any understanding of French words (my biggest issue with ‘heavy’ literature), and I don’t get many terms I assume are everyday stuff of British culture.   So, I stumbled a lot and often skipped over these or became disillusioned with my own world knowledge.

Otherwise, despite or because of my lowbrow and American perspective, it was a cute story.



Trish at Hey Lady! has a challenge starting soon (or in my case, already begun) that inspires us to read novellas.   You can read her explanation and challenge description by clicking here.

A novella is defined as a piece of literature that is longer than a short story and not long enough to be considered a novel.

Uh huh.  THAT cleared it all up for you, didn’t it.    My favorite definition is here:   A short novel.  

Now, I am excited about this.    For one reason, short books are faster to get through and gets me closer to my goal of reading (and maybe exceeding) 33 books in 2008.   So, when I failed to remember the title of the book I told PlanetBooks I want to read and knowing that my library didn’t have it even if I did know author/title – I had looked it up earlier and it’s not even available to request – I embarked on a different tactic.

I wandered up and down the fiction section LOOKING FOR SHORT BOOKS.   And checking number of pages.   It was REALLY fun to book-search in this manner!   Who’d a-thunk it!?  I now present to you the books I came home with, in no particular order:

Everyman by Philip Roth (182 pages and my first Roth book, I think…)

I Sent A Letter To My Love by Bernice Rubens (197 pages)

House of Meetings by Martin Amis  (242 pages)

Garden State by Rick Moody (212 pages)

Battle of Cowpens by Kenneth Roberts (104 pages)

Yep, found quite a few in the “R” section.   Truth be told, I ordered the Amis book online.   I had narrowed a search to ‘novella’ and this was the ONLY title to present that was in stock at my library…  

A few fun excerpts from the back of House of Meetings says that it is ‘… more than a love story’ and ‘an impressively full and frightening look into Stalin’s slave labour camps…’   Gulp.   What am I getting myself into?!   Maybe some Russia-reading with get me back to Anna Karenina.

I pulled the Roth book because of the power of his name.    I selected the Rubens book because the inside cover remarks start off eerily similar to the new movie out with Christine Ricci and her pig nose (Penelope?)   Garden State might be the source for the movie of same title but I’m not sure.   And the Cowpens is historical fiction.    I like historical fiction.

I just finished the Roth book and think I will jump into the Roberts one right now!  due to page count…    

Another Challenge – Who Will Join Me?

Trish has challenged all to read NOVELLAS!    you can find her own PR about it here which will direct you to the actual challenge…

Since the last book I read was under 250 pages, can I count it!??!

                 Wind, Sand & Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I don’t yet know which books I will commit to and I am thrilled to know that I’ve read quite a few from her suggested list (but that could only be a clue that I like to read short books!??!?!   nah, couldn’t be)

I think, but may be mistaken on only a couple, that I’ve read these:

I loved Mrs. Dalloway!!!   and Shopgirl.   Both of these I’ve read fairly recently.   House on Mango Street is good, too.       

These I think I might WANT to read…

            The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1962) Muriel Spark

AND!   Trish?  I want to offer to create a possible graphic for it but I’m not sure I can find the time this week.   Vacation starts next week and I will be taking a big blogging break – but hope to do some excellent reading, of course.   POOLSIDE!

Now Reading…

Happy February First!    

I just walked my 3 miles and finished up My War:  Killing Time in Iraq (woo hoo!  I’ve read 6 books so far this year!)   I am half way with the review and wanted to see what Karen at PlanetBooks has in mind for our Jan/Feb challenge and how we ‘chat it up’!   (I will say that I give it 3 – 4 stars… )

So next I will be reading Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito.              vitr.jpg    I was at the library and remembered (since I failed to bring along my tbr/address book <– see the post on that I wrote way back…)  that Tom Robbins was a recommended author from some blog or t’other.     The library only had this one and Still Life with Woodpecker.     The blog suggested Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, but alas, not on shelf.    Flipping open the Villa Incognito book, I saw that Tom Robbins wrote Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.   [in 1993, they made a movie… ]   AHA!  I’ve heard of that!    OK.   I’m just out of it, not knowing this author…

I now wish I had brought home Still Life with Woodpecker.   slww.jpgSomewhere in my blog reading, I saw a comment that Robbins’ latest book is not his best.   It wasn’t mentioned which book it was!  but I think it might be Villa Incognito.   Darn.    The reason I didn’t check out the Woodpecker one was because it looked like someone spilled a coke on it.  ew yuck!

Even though I prefer not to read reviews of a book I’m just starting – don’t want any fresh influences, I googled the following question:

Which Robbins’ book is best?

and the result lists Still Life with Woodpecker first.   It doesn’t even rank Villa Incognito.

Of course, I’ll start it anyway.   and, of course, I’ll let you know!

More in the BIO Category

I did something foolish yesterday.   Maybe foolish isn’t quite the correct word – you tell me.

As I’m attempting to slog through akt.jpgAnna Karenina (I’m enjoying it, really!  but I keep finding distractions, ie blogging? to keep me for sitting down and reading!) and I’m also committed to reading mwktii1.jpg Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell for the January PlanetBooks Challenge, AND, I want to finalize my bio/autobio/memoir list for the other Challenge I discussed in my post prior to this one.   Oh yea, AND…   I have signed up for dangerous1.jpgthe Year of Reading Dangerously and THAT challenge has us reading Great Expectations by Dickens.

Overambitious?   this is NOT a word I usually assign to me!  Just NOT THINKING.

So, what is it that I did yesterday?!?!

I stopped by the library.

To check out Great Expectations.   ged.jpg

And I came home with something else.    NOT Great Expectations.   They had every other Dickens book but not this one.  Go figure.

Nope, I checked out a BIO of P.G.Wodehouse and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.


Real People

A challenge has been presented and I want to formally accept for 2008.    A blogspotter for this “In Their Shoes” Reading Challenge has organized it all here.    

The rules ask to pick the number of books I intend to read and they must be biography, autobiography or memoir.    Quoting directly from the challenge blog:

“A memoir is a book dealing with a specific period in the author’s life. A biography deals with another person’s life from birth to death and an autobiography is written by someone that deals with their life from birth until near-death.”

 I have yet to classify and identify which specific books by title I will read but I will commit to numsix.jpg

         six            6

        and I hope to end up with 2 of each ‘style’

and off the top of my head, I want to read about the following people:    Einstein, Diana Vreeland, Lewis & Clark (count as one person), and possibly a dead author (Beatrix Potter?   Edith Wharton?  Thomas Hardy? – all had well-received bios published lately), and now I’m coming up short!  So what follows are ideas and suggestions for me, for you.

The 2007 Costa Book Award in the bio category was Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin.  

The January issue of Book Page offers an ad for Boone by Robert Morgan.   Articles within recommend memoirs Final Exam by Pauline W. Chen (this calls up memories of having seen her interviewe on TV….  Hmmmm.    I think I will commit to this!), The Middle Place by Katherine Wyrick, and Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine. 

AND!   I’m already committed to read THIS MONTH no less (eeeEEEKKkk!): mwktii.jpg
from Planet Books blog!    So, that would be for memoir.   The Vreeland would be bio (I have been unable to find a link – my internet just started to crawl).    AND, finally – at least for this post, I just purchased a book that is classified as Literature Adventure Autobiography:  Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand & Stars!   sigh…

To be continued….

Reading Dangerously

PS Still time to sign up for freebie from 12/30’s post.  hint hint

dangerous1.jpg  I will be participating in a challenge for A Year of Reading Dangerously – I’m committed! 

I’m swapping out the list some and will have to catch up since I’ve just started Anna Karenina.

The Twelve “Official” Novels by month
January: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (since Estella is our namesake)
February: The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (African American)
March: Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood (Atwood for Atwood’s sake)
April: Transformations, by Anne Sexton (Poetry)
May: Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote (Southern)
June: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (Russian) Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
July: The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (adolescent)
August: Maus I and II, by Art Spiegelman (Graphic Novel, Pulitzer winner)
September: The Secret Lives of People in Love, by Simon Van Booy (Independent)
October: The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (Contemporary/Jewish)
November: A Month of Classic Short Stories, Various – watch for a list
December: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck (Dusty)

I think I may have read Great Expectations already so maybe I can do cliff notes!?  ha.   I was introduced to Atwood in 2006.  I don’t read poetry so April’s will be good for me.  I do enjoy Capote’s work.  October will bring us a Book2Movie opp.  I have attempted The Grapes of Wrath and have never been able to finish it.   I am so not a Steinbeck fan, but that’s the whole point of such a challenge, yes?

I’m also going to participate in the Memoirs & Biography Challenge.  More on that later.

So much to do!  I still need to review Mayflower and No Country for Old Men, and am excited about Anna Karenina!    Happy New Year Everyone!   

the sweetest dream, Part 2

Part 1 is here. 

(((feel free to skip to the last 2-3 paragraphs…))) 

I originally started this review with:

This epic and sweeping story of a family of diverse characters covers the communal feel and revolutionary politics of the 60s through the following 30 years and jumps the continents from England to Africa.   To say my preconceptions of Africa are incorrect might be an understatement or only another proof that stereotypes often have similarities to truth, but I digress…

I started the review of this novel after reading only 100+ pages into it and though I put the book down for an 11 day sabbatical, I was able to jump back in and relished the conclusion of the story.

 Then I got befuddled and more than a couple of weeks later, I’m here: 

Writing a Book Review 

I googled “How to Write a Book Review” and wasn’t really surprised at how many available suggestions popped into my view.    

But none  inspired me just to GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!

Nonetheless, I refer you, gentle reader, to the this website as THE guide  (yep, this was one of the shortest!) that I utilized the most in prompting what follows:  

My Review, Part 2, of the sweetest dream   by Doris Lessing.

                                                         for Part 1, see here.

 The three (3) step process…

1.   READ the book.   Good advice!   Not often followed by HS students, probably, but on this online book club blog, darn it!   I promise to always read the books I review!   I may not read the entire book and will say so if I had to bail on it.    (OOO, this guide IS actually pushing me to type some words and think some thoughts!   good.)

Now, I do not intend to imply that I did not enjoy the sweetest dream.   I read it to the end, didn’t I?  I would not say I squealed with its delights but I felt good about reading it.   If that makes any sense.    I learned something.   I was impressed with the ideas expressed and HOW those ideas were scripted.   I, however, can not find the words I seem to feel I should use in reviewing this work of fiction.    Like eeeks!  I’m not smart enough to review this book.   Yep, felt like one of THOSE kind of books.    Maybe some elitist snob would ‘get’ it, but maybe not me so much.

And yet, I don’t intend – OK, I don’t LIKE to put myself down here.    What I mean is I don’t have the words in my vocabulary to review this?   I am out of practice in reviewing this type of book!   Ii’s like, I want to or need to pretend to be ambivalent about it or I might give away that I’m not intellectual enough to say some impressive mumbo-jumbo.   yea, that’s it, I think! 

Of course, my real idea is to write so much crap b;lah-blah-blah here that no one will read it anyway.   And I can add more and more posts later which will effectively bury this post and all will be just fine, thank you very much.

THAT is what the book inspired in me.   The disdain of having to review it because I said I would and the real truth that I just don’t want to review it so there.   But that’s not it, I just can’t find the words.  sigh.

Have I lost you yet?  Gawd, I hope so.   Plus, I’m sure, my frequent use of the word ‘like’ has ingratiated  alienated everyone, anyway.   Especially, my Dad, like, for sure.

Very well, step 2, please: 

2. Questions to ask as you read.   The guide gives me some GREAT questions to address here!  (thank you Waterloo!)  and I will refer to just a few.

        Is the author’s prose readable?   YES.  Is the development orderly and logical?   Yes, for the most part.    How is the book structured?    The book’s locale is primary set in 2 very different environments on 2 different continents.    And the time covers decades, with the first half of the novel set mostly in the 1960s following a family and friends of students.     The second half follows primarily one character and interweaves a supporting cast of the prior family/friends.

Jumping to step 3:

3. Writing the review.   The guide suggests doing the following a series of drafts, but I’m going to wing it once, right here, right now…

  1. A brief description of the subject, aim, and scope of the book
  2. An outline of its thesis and its bias
  3. A detailed assessment of the author’s main contentions
  4. An evaluation of the book’s major strengths and weaknesses
  5. A survey of topics not yet covered (sources, illustrations, indexes, etc.)
  6. An assessment of the book’s place in the literature of its subject

Actually, I’m not.   I’m doing this for FUN, remember!?   Oh, I could clash how British revolutionaries were more revolutionary than America’s but I really have no basis in fact to cull a comparison.     But it seems like it would be so.    This book describes much more anarchy than I remember in the 60s (hey, I was not of an age to be aware of it.)   All I can think of  is the Beatles song about ‘Back in the USSR’:  why are the beatles singing a pro-Russia song?  Aren’t they the bad guys?)

This book talks about communists and revolutionaries and not in a pro or con sense, what so ever.      Maybe more negative, but more as an example of how people congregate in groups and take advantage of whatever they can take advantage of – be in the power circle or not at all.

The book talks about causes.    How impossible it is to save the world.    and how people keep trying anyway.    How blinded we can be to the truth and yet, aha!   whose TRUTH is it, really?    

The book is both bleak, doomed even.  and yet hopeful.   Maybe, that is why I find it so difficult to review.   For example, there are (I truly hate starting sentences like that, sorry) many instances and much talk about racial issues but it is NOT a book about race.   Or maybe it is.   It’s about politics, and people, and power.   About love, and family, and what defines family.

I will read more Doris Lessing.   I give the sweetest dream 2 1/2 stars.



On a side note, I must recommend Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.    I was reminded of this book by the makeshift hospital scenes in the remote resource-poor parts of Africa as described in the sweetest dream.    Same dedication and can do spirit to provide healthcare to the neediest on our planet.   Non-fiction.   Kidder is a BIG favorite of mine.

the sweetest dream

I am enjoying Doris Lessing’s the sweetest dream.   (2002)    Not knowing anything at all about this author except that she recently won the Nobel for Literature and then discovering that I actually must have heard something about her and only forgot – evidenced by her name being in my t-b-r book (see my post on my Dad’s great idea here), I was dismayed and intrigued by her Author’s Note:

I am not writing volume three of my autobiography…   [Uh, do I need to read her vol 1 & 2 of her autobiography!??!    skip it.]

…I hope I have managed to recapture the spirit of, particularly, the Sixties, that contradictory time which, looking back and comparing it with what came later, seems surprisingly innocent.

I have become involved and emotionally invested with most of the characters:   with a mother who allows her sons and friends to ‘take over’ the house living ‘freely’ – rent free, respect-free, in a house actually owned by the mother’s EX-mother-in-law who also has a fascinating past and upbringing which contrasts greatly with the culture of the Sixties.  With the ex who is somewhat one-dimensional, yet you know his unfolding of character will be slow.  He is frowned greatly upon by his mother and ex-wife and sons.  Deservedly so yet the reader may still be detached from KNOWING him.  He is ADORED by the sons’ friends.  

Lessing teases and allows obvious statements to hook me and to color my thinking;  she has a skillful use of sarcasm.   Yet something simmers…  wait and watch – big things are coming up soon!     It’s not like a plot twist, more a promise.   WHERE ARE WE GOING?

 A few characters are just so unlikable!   and confusing to understand why they are the way they are.   Lessing uses other characters to ask the very questions the reader is asking!   

Passages follow that for some reason stimulated me to turn down the page (which is a no-no since it is a library book….  oops!)

Rose had taken books off the shelves, but she did not enjoy them.  It was not that she read slowly, she did:  but she was nothing if not persevering, and she stuck at it.  A kind of rage filled her as she read, getting between her and the story or the facts she was trying to absorb.  It was because these people had all this as a kind of inheritance, and she, Rose . . .

So they seemed to each other and themselves, on their bad days, like shadows a bare branch lays on the earth, a thin and empty tracery, no warmth of flesh anywhere, and kisses and embraces are tentative, ghosts trying to meet.

I’m not quite half way through…