The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

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“I think of literature, she wrote, as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.”

The Uncommon Reader tells the story of the Queen who stumbled upon a mobile library one day. Kind of obliged to borrow something from it, she ended up going from one book to another, until it attracted the attention of the people around her, who were not quite happy about the fact that she loved reading. They think it somewhat distracts her from her duties.

This is a delightful tiny novella. I enjoyed reading it. I’d say the most interesting about the story is the setting, with the Queen as the character. It’s nice for a change to enjoy a story with royalty setting that is not that serious. Humorous even. I like all the references to various books that she read as well, though I’ve only heard of a fraction of them.

I read many blog reviews that said the book took only about an hour to finish. That’s quick! I took about a few days to finish (didn’t sit for more than half an hour at a time though).

I can’t remember where I first heard about the book, but it could very well be from Dewey’s blog. There’s a challenge going on in the remembrance of Dewey, which I have not joined, but found myself have already read 2 books that I knew from Dewey for this year. Might as well join the fun, yeah? I guess I can join unofficially… (I just avoid challenges these days to take the pressures off my reading list.)

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Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 124
Publication year: 2007

First line
At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.

Last line
‘But… why do you think you’re all here?’

Quotes

“Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.” ~p22

Also reviewed by

Dewey | Nymeth | Chris | Rebecca | Eva | J.C. | S. Krishna | Kailana | Maree | M | Bluestocking | Julie P. | 3M | Melody | Matt | Tricia | Tammy

ps: Somehow I found tons of blog reviews! Is this a popular book or what?

The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot

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The Tale of One Bad Rat tells a story about Helen, a shy young girl who runs away from home under the shadow of childhood sexual abuse. Following Beatrix Potter, Helen goes through her own journey from the city to countryside, with rat as her friend.

I haven’t read any of Beatrix Potter books, only watched the movie with Renee Zellweger titled Miss Potter. To be honest, I’ve never heard of Peter Rabbit before until that movie. It wasn’t just in my childhood zone somehow. I like the illustrations from what I saw in the movie.

On the other hand, this is probably the first serious Western graphic novel that I read. Reading around fellow bloggers, I knew that a lot of people just started reading manga. For me, I grew up with manga. I read manga constantly since primary school up to high school. I didn’t read any Western graphic novels. I did read some comics, like Asterix, Lucky Luke, Smurf, Tintin, etc. Anyway, comparing the style between Western and Japanese comic, I’d say the biggest difference is the sense of motion. In manga, there are always excessive lines showing the movement of the characters, while here the pictures are… static. Not that it’s a bad thing, it feels very clean.

I applause Bryan Talbot for bringing such a difficult issue into a graphic novel. It works very well too in my opinion. The expressions of the characters are very real down to the pain. I like how the main character could face up her abuser in the end and had a closure. I was kinda worried for a while that she was just gonna drift along and suffer forever.

I read that the book is used as a resource in schools and child abuse centres in several countries. So Talbot is definitely successful in creating this graphic novel. He said,

“This has been the most worthwhile book that I have been involved with and the best- not to mention the hardest- comics work that I’ve ever done.”

“The more child abuse is discussed in society or fiction in whatever medium, the more likely it is that the victims will realise that it is something that happens all the time, that they can speak out, be believed, and get it stopped.”

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 136
Publication year: 1995

Awards:
1996 Eisner Award for best Graphic Album Reprint
1999 Haxtur Award for Best Long Comic Strip

Also reviewed by
Dewey | Nymeth | Valentina | Comics’ by Products | Related Reading | nothing of importance | Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

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Escape by Carolyn Jessop

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Escape is a haunting biography of Carolyn Jessop, a woman who was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community, a religious group in United States around Utah and Arizona. A religious group who believes in polygamy, woman degradation, absolute obedience, children brainwashing, apocalypse with resurrected Indian heroes and evil black people, and a bunch of other crap. Everything in the name of God. Seriously, like it’s mentioned in the book, how can things that are so harmful be works of God?

Carolyn was forced into marriage when she was 18 to a man of 50 years old. She was his 4th wife. She had 8 children in 15 years. The man married more women after Carolyn, last count up to 14. One would wonder, how anyone could be “trapped” into believing all those things and live faithfully for years (for lots of them, forever). This book explains how having been born in so tight community and programmed into following the rules, make people subservient. When you see only one way of living, it’s probably hard to imagine living any other way.

Escape covers Carolyn’s life from she was little, all throughout her marriage and struggles with Merril Jessop, until the end of her escape, closed by the winning of her custody battle for her children. She became the first woman who ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. All 8 of them.

A blurb from Jon Krakauer sums it well:

“The story Carolyn Jessop tells is so weird and shocking that one hesitates to believe a sect like this with 10,000 polygamous followers, could really exist in twenty-first-century America. But Jessop’s courageous, heart-wrenching account is absolutely factual. This riveting book reminds us that truth can indeed be much, much stranger than fiction.”

The last leader of FLDS, Warren Jeffs, was caught in 2007. In 2006 he was in FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. He was indicted with numerous counts including sexual conduct with minor, incest, and rape as an accomplice. From what Carolyn tells in her book, the leaders before Jeffs were sort of still okay. Sure, they practiced polygamy and they preached random forecasts of the state of the world. But they were still sympathetic. This Jeffs guy though, sounds like a total nutcase. He’s just out of his mind. Hungry for power, he just kept making things up to make people suffer. He’s crazy. Period. It’s tough to have a crazy man to be your leader who you believe is a prophet of God. Really.

I find stories about twisted churches are always interesting. How they can stray so far from their root is beyond me. In fact, stories about religions often fascinate me. How the hands of men are always the ones that twist and turn everything, rather than works of God. What an irony.

My only complaint is that the book is quite repetitive in stating the points of how unvaluable and miserable the women are in the community. It slows down somewhere in the middle too. But all in all, it’s a great insightful book. Considering the thickness, I finished it in only a short time. It made me want to know more and more.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 413
Publication year: 2007

First line
Escape.

Last line
Freedom is extraordinary, and love a miracle.

Also reviewed by

Maw Books | Mindless Meandering

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Valentine’s Thingies and Mailbox Monday

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I’ve never participated in mailbox Monday, because, well, I’ve been trying to avoid more books coming into my house and constructing more unread piles. But this Monday, I received a card from Belezza in the mail for participating in her Japanese Literature Challenge 2. So I’d like to share it here :). Thank you Belezza for the lovely card and the crane earrings (hand-made by her student).

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all! My local library has something interesting going on. They wrapped a bunch of books with brown paper and ribbons, with short description of the book handwritten on the wrapping paper. The idea is then for people to have ‘blind dates’ with the mystery books.

Not that I needed any date, because I got married this Valentine’s day…

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But still, a mystery book sounded like a treat. So I picked up one that I knew was a graphic novel, so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on it if I don’t like it.

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The text read “A time travelling relatity(? relativity? reality?) hopping team of anarchists fight against the forces of evil in this smart graphic novel!”

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The book is Invisibles by Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, and Dennis Cramer. I’ve never heard of it and it looks political, not my cup of tea. But I’ll give it a shot.

Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi and the Movie

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*Possible spoilers below*

Intimacy has multiple variations of cover, though the difference is only the color. As far as I know there are red, yellow, orange, and green version. My copy is the red one. I got it for a buck at my fave 2ndhand bookstore in Singapore. I miss that shop badly :(

Intimacy raves about loneliness, dissatisfaction, and complaints. Main character is Jay, a middle-aged sad man, who has a wife and 2 children, but all the way is contemplating to leave them. The book is timed around 24 hours, and there are many flashbacks when he tries to analyze the agonies and joy of his relationship with his wife, his children, and his mistresses (note the plural form). He seems to have one woman at any one time, but has been with multiple women throughout his marriage. Always on guard and unhappy, he goes from one woman to another without feeling a tiny bit of remorse toward his wife.

Perhaps I can only see it from woman’s perspective, but I’d say the guy is just simply pathetic. I don’t think he’s a very reliable narrator as well. He keeps emphasizing how his wife is so cold toward him, but at few occasions, the wife initiates some effort with warmth and intimacy. Only he’s too blinded by his ego and selfishness to see everything else apart from his disdain unhappiness. His kids seem nice and bubbly too, far from being hellish creatures like some kids are.

It’s hard to justify the ending. I can’t believe he finally finds love and contentment. From who? The mistress? Perhaps he does, just for a fraction of time. With his attitude, I don’t think he’d ever be happy in life.

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I finished the book about a week ago, but delayed my review, because I’d like to watch the movie first, then review both at the same post. I did acquire the movie, which is loosely based on the book. Hanif Kureishi is also the scriptwriter. But I just watched about 2/3 of it (at 2 separate times) and got bored. In the movie, Nina the mistress becomes a strange woman who occasionally visits Jay’s office (he works alone) to have sex with him. They never talk and he performs quite pathetically. Until one day he decides he should really finds out who the woman is. Of course, talking would probably break the spell or some sort, so he starts following her around. There’s no spoiler for the movie because I don’t know how it ends too.

I got to like the guy even less by watching the movie. When I finished the book, I thought he was sad, but he was at least critical about his situations and could even be philosophical. But now he’s just pathetic. I have flashes of his cum face and his naked butt whenever I try to remember the movie. Not a pretty sight. O yeah, just a note, the movie has many explicit sex scenes. One of few movies which has non simulated sex scenes.

Don’t let me deter you from getting the book though. It was alright. I thought it was dead honest and true (albeit for only a portion of men). I’d give the movie a pass.

Intimacy is my first Hanif Kureishi’s book. I think I would read more of his works.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pages: 118
Publication year: 1998

First line
It is the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back.

Last line
It could only have been love.

Memorable Quotes

“But perhaps happiness- that condition in which there is completion, where one has everything, and music too- is an acquired taste.” ~p31

“… meaning is what you put in, not what you extract.” ~p32

“But why do people who are good at families have to be smug and assume it is the only way to live, as if everybody else is inadequate?” ~p32

“I understand the necessity of blame – the idea that someone could, had they the will, courage or sense of duty, have behaved otherwise.” ~p34

“Wealth wouldn’t be essential, but the intelligence to accumulate it where necessary might be.” ~p49

“You don’t stop loving someone just because you hate them” ~p82

Also reviewed by

Katrina | Andrew

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