The Uncommon Reader happens to be the Queen herself, Elizabeth II. The Queen has never cared much for reading, and didn’t even know that the local bookvan visited her palace grounds. But one day her Corgis take off on a run and lead the Queen straight to the bookvan’s doors. She collects her dogs, but she feels obligated to visit with the librarian and the sole patron in the bookvan. Appearances dictate that she should borrow a book, just to be polite.
“The Queen hesitated, because to tell the truth she wasn’t sure. She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t have hobbies. Jogging, growing roses, chess or rock climbing, cake decoration, model aeroplanes. No. Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself. And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer. So she gazed round the book-lined van and played for time. ‘Is one allowed to borrow a book? One doesn’t have a ticket?”
Once her eyes are opened to books, she attacks reading with the same determination she has shown in her queenly obligations. Soon her prime minister and even the Duke notice that Her Majesty’s nose is always in a book, even while performing the obligatory parade-waving, ship-christening and building-dedicating. Bennett makes some droll observations about politics and history through the Queen’s character. For those of us who always have our noses in a book, this is a fun read, with an unexpected ending.
Doug Fine has led an exciting life as a journalist, reporting from war zones in exotic countries. But that was excellent training for his adventures in living locally on the Funky Butte Ranch in New Mexico. Farewell, My Subaru: an epic adventure in local living is Fine’s account of his venture into carbon neutral living.
With the help of a local expert, Fine converts a ROAT (ridiculously oversized American truck) to run on veggie oil from greasy restaurants. The only drawback is the “powerful craving for Kung Pao chicken” he gets whenever he drives it. Next he has solar panels installed on his home to generate enough electricity to become independent of the power utility.
Fine wants to eat locally too, so he buys two young milk goats, (nicknamed Melissa and Natalie), who quickly acquire a taste for his rose garden. Meanwhile, a marauding coyote (nicknamed Dick Cheney) quickly acquires a taste for Fine’s nervous chicken flock. Fine also tries deer hunting to supplement his meat supply, but he doesn’t really fit in with the local hunters: “I might have been the only hunter in New Mexico history to have his laptop, complete with wireless internet, with him as he aimed for dinner…I had packed local bean burritos for the trip, so Sadie (the dog) and I ate quite splendidly as well. As we dined, we listened to NPR.”
Includes helpful websites and statistics, plus recipes for Kung Pao Chicken and Grilled Rattlesnake Dijon.
Slaughterhouse Five was a touchstone work for a generation scarred by the Vietnam conflict. Now that the U.S. is again embroiled in a long cultural war, it’s fitting to hear one last time from Kurt Vonnegut.
Armageddon In Retrospect, revisits the major themes of Vonnegut’s work–war and peace, good and evil. The short stories, speeches, and letters suit Vonnegut’s talents perfectly. As he aged, Vonnegut’s vision became at once more cynical and more compassionate.
In the introduction, Mark Vonnegut sums up his late father’s work with:
“If you can’t learn about reading and writing from Kurt, maybe you should be doing something else. His last words in the last speech he wrote are as good a way as any for him to say good-bye. ‘And I thank you for your attention, and I’m out of here.’”
Some of us are Anglophiles, but some of us are also Maineophiles (no, that’s not really a word). When I picked up The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline, and saw that the setting is Mt. Desert Island, Maine, I settled in for a fun read. And that’s exactly what this book is, fun and witty.
Angela Russo is a 33 year old New Yorker, drifting through her life as an event planner. After yet another dismal blind date, she finds herself tempted into an online romance with a Maine sailing instructor. Anglela gets so distracted by her fantasy romance that her career literally “goes up in flames” when she forgets to take out fire insurance at a fancy event. With no job, no boyfriend and no regrets, Angela packs up and moves to Maine to live with her online boyfriend. You can probably guess that her life in Maine doesn’t quite work out as planned, but her adventures are very entertaining.
As a little bonus, Angela’s recipes from her Italian grandmother are included.
The most interesting character in Stranger In Paradise is not the “hero” of the series, Jesse Stone. Instead, it’s Stone’s counterpart on the other side of the law, hitman Wilson “Crow” Cromartie. “Crow” appeared as a hired gun in an earlier Jesse Stone novel, then vanished with the stolen loot at the end of the novel. Presumably never to be heard from again. But Crow and Stone cross paths again in Paradise, when Crow accepts a job to kidnap a drug dealer’s daughter from her mother. Of course, there’s a hitch–the daughter has good reasons to resist returning to dad’s care.
The dialogue is classic Robert Parker–terse and funny. Although Stone’s character needs some deeper development, there’s plenty of action. Stone’s fellow cops are stronger players in this plot, with some interesting subplots of their own. The local women find Crow irresistible, despite knowing he is a cold-blooded killer.
This isn’t so much a funny book, as a book about the art and science of being funny. Steve Martin developed a style of stand-up that was radical at the time. Blending magic, banjo, visual gags, and philosophical comments, it was sometimes closer to performance art than stand-up. Martin writes about his early influences, catching the political winds of the seventies, and honing his act through thousands of performances. He revolutionized stand-up comedy, went on to write for the Smothers Brothers then SNL, then quit at the height of his stand-up career.
Martin is acutely intelligent, self-aware, and objective about his fame. He once ended as gig with : “Well, we’ve had a good time tonight, considering we’re all going to die someday.” Maybe that’s as good as it gets for a performer.
“Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.”
And so, Evelyn, heroine of the story, dies peacefully in the first sentence of Pontoon
. But death doesn’t keep her from turning life in Lake Wobegon upside down. Evelyn may have appeared to be an 82 year old who went to quilt circle and church. But once her husband died, Evelyn really came into her own. She traveled with her secret lover Raoul, questioned her beliefs, and cultivated her independence. Evelyn’s unconventional last wishes (no burial, no hymns, no service) set the whole town on its ear.
It’s trademark Lake Wobegon humor–absurd, a little dark, but deeply compassionate toward human nature.
Yakuza Moon: memoirs of a gangster’s daughter by Shoko Tendo is an autobiography of a Japanese teen’s journey into the yanki world of youth gangs. It’s a violent culture of flashy cars, drugs and crime. Kids from mainstream and yakusa (organized crime) family backgrounds join together as yanki–dropping out of school, doing drugs and partying as a way of life. Their only loyalties are to each other, though there are constant violent power struggles between gangs.
Tendo is oddly detached as she describes frequent beatings from her father and her many lovers, her meth addiction and recovery. Sometimes I wondered how such a slight girl survived so much violence. Tendo’s full body tattoos of the famous courtesan Jigoku Dayu are symbolic of her own fierceness.
An interesting glimpse of an underground culture, but not for the squeamish.