Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

More a 'novella' than a novel. The subject of the story is the Queen, and she is portrayed here as being intelligent, witty and an avid reader after she chances on a mobile library at Windsor. She gradually becomes convinced of the transforming power of reading - and how it could transform her own life. The reader can almost imagine that this story could be very close to the bone of truth.

The Uncommon Reader is a wonderfully entertaining comic narrative, but it is also much more: a serious manifesto for the potential of reading to change lives, for its ability to broaden horizons, to imagine oneself in others' shoes, and to enable one to break out from the constraints of upbringing, class and education and lead the life you've always wanted. And, Bennett wonders, who might need that more than the Queen?

This is a book to curl up with on a winter's day in front of the fire with a cuppa. Read it in one sitting and enjoy!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake

Moving on from camels, but not from the surreal...

I recently finished reading the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. No mean feat I can tell you! This is a whacking great read of over a thousand pages in the volume I picked.

The first book is entitled "Titus Groan" and was first published in 1946. What a ground breaker that must have been! That was followed by "Gormenghast" in 1950 and finally by the heavily edited "Titus Alone" in 1959.

Mervyn Laurence Peake (July 9th 1911 – November 17th 1968) was both a writer and an illustrator. Sadly he suffered in his later years from a debilitating illness which left him unable to complete the series of Gormenghast books. This does impact upon the trilogy with the first two volumes being eminently more readable & enjoyable than the final book. The characters throughout are intricately described in the most evocative of expressions - my ultimate favourite being the description of the twin sisters Clarice & Cora "So limp of brain that for them to conceive an idea is to risk a haemorrhage." Genius!

The 3 books could equally have been entitled "A Life of Titus Groan" since that is more accurately what they are. The first two are set in the confines and suburbs of the castle of Gormenghast but the final book follows Titus away on his travels as he escapes the limitations of the Castle. I felt reading this as if Titus could be living out the dreams of any of the younger members of our current royal family (in the UK)!

The books are dark, bizarre and nightmarish in places but at the same time they manage to be like fairy tales full of light and magic. These tales should be compulsory reading for anyone with an appreciation of the English Language.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

Since I was a tiny camel calf I have been devouring books by their dozens. Today I decided it would be a great idea to start cataloguing them for posterity and so here we are. How better to start than to draw your attention to my favourite of all books - The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton. The lady deserves an award! A book about both camels and books! How could she fail?!

In all seriousness though, it is the most wonderful fictional account of an American volunteer who moves to Africa to work for a relief organization that sends books on camelback to isolated villages. Her intentions are sincere but, when the bookmobile causes a feud among the nomadic tribes it aims to help, she realizes her good deeds may come with a high price.

The book is based on a real venture running in Kenya. The laden camels trek through the desert of northern Kenya to bring a books to settlements so remote that they even lack roads, clean water, and often food. The people living in these villages have often never been to school or even held a book in their hands. The books that come to them via the camels are special gifts, allowing them to escape the hardships of their lives (however briefly).

Apart from (obviously!) appealing to camels, this book will especially appeal to readers who love book such as The Bookseller of Kabul. The author Masha Hamilton has her own website which you can find by clicking here . You can read more about the real Camel Book Drive by clicking here .