Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A MOST Uncommon Book

I just finished  The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.  I can't remember now where I read about it, but I'm glad my interest was piqued. It is quite an appropriate little read considering recent and soon to be current events in London.

This is the story of Queen Elizabeth II and books.  Not accustomed to reading for pleasure, as One simply does not have time in One's schedule, the Queen is led by her wayward and noisy corgis to the traveling library parked outside Buckingham Palace's kitchens. Not wanting to offend the elderly driver, she checks out a book, and a whole world she had never before known opens up for her.  Unfortunately, her new hobby soon becomes something of an addiction, her royal duties suffer, and her equerries are alarmed.

I think this book was first published in England in 2006, but it was re-released for the Queen's 60th Jubilee. (I found it on Amazon.) It is filled with very English and royal minutiae, and the literary references are a tad high brow,  but I really enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek fantasy.  If the thought of putting down your current book to do almost anything else distresses you, you must try The Uncommon Reader.  And let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hobbit

My kids and I went to see Brave, (LOVED IT!!  Go see it NOW!!!), and I thought my 23 year old son was going to have a seizure when the preview for The Hobbit appeared on the screen.  This was a matter of extreme excitement, as he loves ALL things J. R. R. Tolkien.  He has nagged me for many years to read The Lord of the Rings, which I have to admit I'm not all that keen on, but I DID read The Hobbit many, many years ago.  So, in preparation for the upcoming film I thought myself duty-bound to read it again. This was an interesting experience.

I was probably 12 or 13 when I first read The Hobbit.  I remember it being exotic and challenging, and I'd probably never read anything remotely like it before.  Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie aren't in the same league. Naturally, I was looking forward to once again venturing forward into the edge of the Wild with Mr. Bilbo Baggins, Gandolf and friends.  I DID enjoy it, but I was surprised to find that it was not as sophisticated as I remembered, and maybe I SHOULD read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Anyway, if you haven't read The Hobbit, you must.  If you have an 11+ year old in the house, they should!  The only thing that I found a little freaky was the spiders, but that may have been because I just found an infestation of Black and Brown Widows under my outdoor patio furniture.  But that's another story all together.

"Far over the misty mountains cold
 To dungeons deep and caverns old
 We must away to break of day
 To seek the pale enchanted gold."

I'm off to the ever changing adventure of figuring out what to make for dinner...wish me luck!

The Book Chick

The Book of Stillmeadow

This is the story of Stillmeadow, a farmhouse and the 40 acres it stands on, give or take a few acres.  It was built in 1690 in Southbury, Connecticut, and when Gladys Taber bought it in 1933 it was almost 250 years old.  Gladys Taber was a writer, not a farmer.  She graduated from Wellesley in 1920, and then received her masters at Lawrence College.  She went on to write over 50 books and was a long time contributor to The Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle magazines.  She also taught creative writing at Columbia University. She was quite an accomplished woman. But as a resident of New York City she dreamed of weekends in the country with her husband and daughter, lounging about on the sun soaked grass. The Book of Stillmeadow is filled with Gladys' musings of her time in the country and the bigger picture of life before and after WWII.  It is funny how little things really change...

"I know of nothing to compare with the welcome a dog gives you when you come home.  If I go to the village for half an hour, I am welcomed with a regular silver jubilee on my return. And there's never any reproach for my having gone.  None of the 'Well, I thought you never would get back; you certainly were gone a long time--we nearly gave you up.' Only joyful excitement as the spaniels say, 'How marvelous you are! Look, she's back again! Let's celebrate!'" (Sounds like my dogs!)

"I sometimes wonder what women do who never can work at a simple, humble physical task when they are sad.  What do they do in the Waldorf-Astoria when life hurts them?" (Self-medicate?)

"There are two distinct schools of thought about Christmas gifts. One school believes gifts must be luxuries, never anything you need.  The other believe people should get what they actually and badly need.  I veer wildly between the two schools. I indulge in a useless gadget like a box of sachet, and proceed to stockings and underwear.  Books go to my head like strong drink, because books belong in both categories.  Who could live without them?" (SO TRUE!!)

"We don't have much to say about what the new year will bring.  We have learned to go on the best we can, and be thankful for whatever we have.  Nothing, I thought, looking around the fire lit circle, can take away from anyone on earth the love of his or her dear ones.  You can't blow up love with a bomb, or shoot it down with a machine gun.  Courage remains stronger than fire or sword.  Loyalty lies too deep for depth charges to shatter it...The real things go on." (Appropriate for the 4th of July!)

The Book of Stillmeadow is filled with timeless observations about life, whether you find yourself in the country or in the city.  It is currently out of print, but I found mine on for about $9.00. (It was an old library book!)  I hope you can find it without too much trouble, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Thanks for the recommendation, Rosemary!

Wicked Business

After a visit to Hitler's Germany a little frivolity is called for!  Janet Evanovich's Wicked Business is just the ticket.  I am not ashamed to admit that I'm a HUGE Stephanie Plum fan, and I even went to see One for the Money in the theatre. Lucky for me Evanovich is a prolific writer with several different series to choose from.

Wicked Business is the third book in the Lizzy and Diesel Novels.  Lizzy is a pastry chef in Salem, Massachusetts.  Diesel is....well, how to describe, mysterious, scruffy and gifted in a paranormal sort of way.  Like it or not, Lizzy also has certain abilities that Diesel is bound by certain powers-that-be to protect, so she's kind of stuck with him and all the mayhem that follows in his wake. Throw in Diesel's dark and devilish cousin and you have a threesome worth reading about.

So, my advice to you is eat dessert first!  Read Wicked Business, and have some FUN!

In the Garden of Beasts

Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is NOT a novel.  It is the true story of the American Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. But truth can be stranger than fiction, and perhaps nothing was stranger than Germany in the 1930's.

William Dodd was the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, but his true love was writing.  He had political connections and believed that a diplomatic post in some quiet little country would allow him to write to his heart's content. But Germany was the post that none of the usual candidates wanted, so it was offered to Dodd. Hesitant but honored, Dodd agreed, soon realizing that he would have little time to call his own.

When Dodd, his wife and grown son and daughter arrived in Germany on July 13, 1933, they had every intention of remaining carefully neutral. In fact, Berlin at this time was beautiful and exciting, effectively lulling visitors into convenient denials and rationalizations of the horror hidden behind the rising prosperity. Dodd and his family found the reports of violence and persecution of Jews and many others hard to believe, but their first hand experiences would soon convince them.  The problem would now be to convince the isolation-loving American politicians that Germany was going to be a BIG problem for all.

Stepping off the boat in Hamburg at the start of Dodd's four year post could be compared to Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  Hitler was twisting logic and reason to fit his own sick agenda, in the process convincing millions of otherwise rational Germans that HE was the answer to all of their problems. Common sense had taken an extended vacation, and people all over the world were hiding their heads in the sand. Reading this book 80 years after the events is like watching a train wreck. You know how it is going to end, you know you can't stop it, but you can't turn away.  Through William Dodd, Erik Larson has given us the engineer's view of the tragedy.