Monday, January 04, 2010

What I read over my Christmas vacation

The Whistling Season A boy's life in early 1900s Montana with a twist! I really liked this one ins pite of one very small "dream" sequence I could have lived without--it's very short though.

Clara Callan I stuck with this one and was glad I did. Two sisters--one "home" in a rural Canadian town, while the other hits the big time in radio in New York in the mid-to-late 1930s. Chick lit that seems a little higher-brow. This one won some big awards in Canada. The writing is nicely paced and evocative. I was a little surprised that the author was a man--I suppose because most of the story was about the two sisters.

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross. Most of the reviews focused on one very brief interlude in this life over 101+ years: the "Diana Years." Well, really, how much does your grandson's ex-wife rate in YOUR life?? No we learn nothing new OVERTLY about Dear Sainted Di, but we do learn much covertly. For example, a long paragraph tells us how the Queen Mum [as Duchess of York] realized her appeal in public, especially compared to her poor stuttering hubby, but took great pains to never upstage him or steal his thunder [round one, Queen Mum]. Many of Di's early thank you letters are quoted. There are great superficial similarities between QM and Di--both from old aristocratic families, Di's family were courtiers over the generations of Windsors, buy one profound difference [aside from generational experience] separates them: The Queen Mother's family was HAPPY and LOVING. Di's was child-destroying nightmare of selfishness on the part of her parents. The tragedy is that no one saw this BEFORE the wedding.

Were was I? Oh the Queen Mum book, another much remarked upon incident in the reviews was that Princess Margaret, bless her, burned a lot of her Mum's papers--including Dear Di's letters. Tragedy! [I really doubt it.] As one commentor to an online review said [paraphrasing him] "Maybe Margaret was PROTECTING Diana when she burned them!!" [Likely, in my opinion.] [Anyone else agree with the line in Helen Mirren's "The Queen" in which Margot supposedly says Diana managed to be "more annoying dead than alive?"]

I was VERY impressed with the carefully chosen private letters--especially those from Prince Philip that showed his love and respect for his wife, got a chuckle out of some comments Charles made about his infamously awful boarding school and a few others along the way. Memorable too is the one written by Princess Margaret to her sister the Queen following the tragic death of Di. She praised the Queen for keeping EVERYONE in the family going--and especially for protecting the poor boys regardless of the "mood" of the politicians of ridiculously over-emotional public. [Sorry that's MY opinion of the public--not Margot's. I found it VERY odd that people left flowers and cards and letters adressed to a DEAD person. Folks--not only did she die, she's still dead, let's get over her already!~!!]

This book was a good read for the most part until the poor King died. Then it was a prolonged list of charities, tours and guests. In a word: B.O.R.I.N.G. It's tough to fill 60 or so years when you can't date, can't remarry, have tons of money, have a daughter who's queen, etc, etc. So while the Queen Mum probably kept from killing herself in boredome for the last 60 years of her life by drinking enough gin to float several battleships, I think she wasn't any bitchier or more saintly than any other upper class woman of her day. She had the same lack of formal education, shared the same class and prejudices [although officially she did do a lot of good on the racial front in my neck of the African woods] and enjoyed the same vapid coctail parties, house parties and shoots that the rest of her class liked. I was pleasantly surpirsed at her long support of poetry. I knew she supported ballet and arts in general, but had missed poetry. She seems to have been a more "hands-on" mother than most of her day and certainly earned the love and respect of her family.

I listened to half [still going] of 44 Scotland Street --I love Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but hadn't gotten into any of his other series. I find reading his books a bore--but I LOVE listening to them on cd. This one has been "ok" but seems, now at disc 5, to be picking up so I will certainly finish it.

I'm about 100 pages into the Hoosier classic Alice of Old Vincennes. I've never read it before and, in fact, haven't even been to Vincennes. It's set in the Revolutionary War era--a time frame I've not really read much about. So far it's been a good read!


Susan said...

LOVED the review of the Queen Mum book ... I confess, I totally loved Diana. I think much of it began with me being in high school when she got married and getting caught up in all that. But, as I got older I realized that while I still was in the habit of loving her, if I met her I probably wouldn't "like" her all that much. Oh well.
I am interested in the entire royal family and would really enjoy reading that book, I think.

Hopewell said...

I'm a collector on the royal family--just not Diana. On the blog [lower left] is a link to my "Diana-Free Royal Books list" if you are interested! I need to update it a little again.