The Guardian compiled 1000 books that its panel of experts believe everyone must read. I tend toward funny books, but was shocked at how many books I’ve never read, so I decided to brush up on my “great literature” readership. I also picked up some books not listed by the Guardian.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – I have to admit, it’s been years since I read Heller’s book (it was for an English class in junior high). I’m reading it again, as I don’t remember much of it. To be honest, it’s well-written and I get some of the satire, but I’m not finding this a laugh out-loud read like a lot of folks have. The anti-war sentiment is great, and I do like Heller’s take on the absurdity of war as well as the ridiculousness of a war machine, but the episodic nature of the book makes it drag just a bit – though the dialogue is pretty funny.
A Fairly Honorable Defeat by Iris Murdoch – I don’t think of Murdoch as a comedic writer, but she’s listed under “comedy” books, so I picked up a couple. A good friend of mine loves this book and swears by it, so I picked up, along with Murdoch’s debut novel Under the Net.
An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton – this book wasn’t on the list – I heard of it from Inside the Actor’s Studio. Yes, the author is that James Lipton. This was an older episode – about 10 years ago, when he was interviewing Sharon Stone, who talked about the book. It’s a weird book that talks about idioms and turns of phrase.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet – another book from the list. I’m a fan of Bennett’s – his Talking Heads series was very interesting – funny, tragic. This is a strange little book about the Queen of England who discovers the joys of reading when stumbling upon a library mobile. I read the reviews and they were pretty much universally positive.
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch – I was able to finish this book before writing this post. It’s a pretty short book, and very easy to read. It’s the story of this guy who gets himself into scrapes, and manages to pull himself out, but always lands in some other kind of mess. It’s touted as a “hilarious” romp, but to be quite honest, I didn’t think it was all that funny. It’s a very well-written book – Murdoch’s got a great ear for dialogue, but the situations that the main character keeps getting into feels a bit goofy and absurd – a bit like the Keystone Cops.
The Complete Talking Heads by Alan Bennett – This is a collection of monologues. I watched Patricia Routledge doing “A Woman of No Importance.” It’s a fantastic book with some excellent pieces. The monologues all have barbed, sarcastic humor, though they are all pretty sad – some even tragic. There are some photographs of the actors who performed these monologues including Routledge, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole and Julie Walters.
Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis – I tried loving this, and there were some bright moments – it’s a satire set in a British university – like Oxford or Cambridge. The main character is a middle-of-the-road instructor who finds himself in predicaments as he relates to the allegorical supporting characters in the book. The humor is good, but it’s a bit stuffy and old fashioned for my taste.
Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 by Stella Rimington – Judi Dench’s M from the Bond series is reportedly based on Rimington, the first woman to hold this position. I haven’t read it yet, but am interested because of the Bond connection.