Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bill of Fayres at Windsor

When The Uncommon Reader opens, the Queen is at a state dinner with the president of France at Windsor Castle, one of the royal residences. While Bennett doesn’t mention what the menu might have been, the castle has an archive of every meal served a monarch since the 16th century. Five years ago, the castle’s royal kitchens were opened to the public, revealing this rich glimpse into the eating habits of kings and queens and the collection of the daily “bill of fayres.”

Ed Boyle, a CBS correspondent reported on his findings in "Monarch, Butter, Fries," posted in October 2003. According to Boyle, Henry VIII’s diet was 75 percent meat downed with quantities of beer and ale. Charles II ate lightly, but this could be because the public was invited to enter the castle and watch the monarch eat.

A company offering private tours of Windsor Castle offers this special menu. The six-course meal starts out with Scotch quails’ eggs and devils on horseback (prunes or dates stuffed with mango chutney and wrapped in bacon), continues with rabbit and bacon terrine with cucumber pickles, whole sea bream with fennel, red cabbage, British oat cakes, cheese and apple chutney, finishes off with poached pear in red wine and spices and coffee.

No wonder the once slim Henry VIII gained a bit of girth in his later years!

Had any meals meant for kings, lately?

Keep In Touch . . .
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer is a Great Time to

Join a book discussion group! If you’re playing your cards right, you have found more time – and more places – to read: by the pool, at the beach on the deck. Book discussion groups are held at library branches throughout the county. Find one that works for you. There’s something for everyone, including mystery buffs, history buffs, teens, etc. If you’ve been meaning to catch up on the classics, you may be interested in “Reading Across the Centuries” facilitated by writer and university instructor Wendi Kaufman at Pohick Regional Library. Richard Byrd Library offers a different take on the traditional book club. On the second Monday of each month, at 4 p.m. you can stop in to share your current favorites or hear what other people are reading.

To learn more about book discussions, visit Book Discussions. If you would like to start your own book discussion group, Book Discussion Kits for a list of book discussion kits.

Are you currently a member of a book discussion group? If so, tell us what you enjoy about it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Red Boxes and Other Affairs of State

While Alan Bennett, never officially names the fictional queen in The Uncommon Reader, most readers presume it is the House of Windsor’s current ruling monarch.

In life, as in Bennett’s novella, the queen’s day is filled with official duties and functions. The British royal family Web site has even created a fact sheet on "The Queen's Working Day."

According to the site, she begins her day at 8 a.m. with breakfast and then reads the newspapers. The Queen’s Royal Piper plays outside her window. After that, she spends the morning, receiving ambassadors, high commissioners, government ministers, as well as military and church leaders. She might also be involved in award or honors ceremonies known as investitures, as well as knighting some people.

In the afternoon, she begins looking at her “red boxes.” These are red briefcases that contain papers that the Queen must either look at, sign or answer. Every law passed by the British Parliament must be signed by the Queen in what is called “Royal Assent.” She also reviews many of the letters sent to her before forwarding them to her staff.

Other official duties include the more than 450 engagements she carries out each year, some in her role as the patron or president of 600 charities. She also travels abroad several times a year.

Given this schedule, one can understand why Bennett wrote in “The Uncommon Reader”:

“To someone with the background of the Queen, pleasure had always taken second place to duty. If she could feel she had a duty to read, then she could set about it with a clear conscience. But why did it take possession of her now?”

Less than a page later, she puts her doubts aside and embraces reading with no qualms.

Is reading a guilty pleasure for you? Or do you embrace it as time well spent?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Future of Biography

In a June article in London’s Guardian newspaper, a biographer bemoans the state of the modern biography ("The Death of Life Writing," June 28, 2008). “And, what is the future for a genre in which the best subjects have already been written about, time and again?” Kathyrn Hughes asks?

Celebrity memoirs and “saucy biographies of saucy 18th-century ladies” are among the culprits in the decline of the genre, Hughes believes.

Is Hughes right? Read any good biographies, recently? Let us know.

Here’s a few good biographies recommended by Hughes, BookBrowse and other sources:

Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Mao by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday

Shakespeare by Peter Ackroyd

Ring Out Freedom by Fredrik Sunnemark

Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson

Matisse: the Master by Hilary Spurling

Don’t Miss . . .

Just a reminder:

Wednesday, July 23, 7 p.m.
Local mystery authors discuss their latest book in the award-winning series, Chesapeake Crimes 3. Martha Washington Library, 6614 Fort Hunt Road, Alexandria. Free; registration required, call 703-768-6700. This program is co-sponsored by the Friends of Martha Washington Library. Listen to Library Director Sam Clay’s podcast interview with two of the contributors.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Search of Satire

The Uncommon Reader by author Alan Bennett is a work of satire. As defined by Webster’s, satire is “a literary form holding up human vices and follies to ridicule and scorn.” Among the human vices and follies that Bennett attacks are the anti-reading opinions of the Queen’s entourage.

Other great novels that use this literary device include:

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley

Got any other suggestions for great satiric novels to read? Let us know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Museum of Bad Art

If you are traveling through New England this summer, you may want to take a side trip to Dedham, Mass. to visit the Museum of Bad Art. It is located in the Dedham Community Theater, “just outside the men’s room” and is open when movies are playing.

The MBA boasts that it is “the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms.” It solicits donations to “help us to bring the worst art to the widest possible audience.”

Since taste in art is so subjective, we wonder how the curators decide what to acquire. Are there art masterpieces that you don’t like? Let us know.

In the meantime, browse some of our books on critiques of art (the good kind).

The Private Life of a Masterpiece by Monica Bohm-Duchen

Becoming Mona Lisa: The Making of a Global Icon by Don Sassoon

Old Masters: Great Artists in Old Age by Thomas Dormandy

The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology by Donald Preziosi

Paper Museum: Writings About Paintings, Mostly by Andrew Graham-Dixon

Don’t Miss . . .
Wednesday, July 23, 7 p.m.
Local mystery authors discuss their latest book in the award-winning series, Chesapeake Crimes 3. Martha Washington Library, 6614 Fort Hunt Road, Alexandria. Free; registration required, call 703-768-6700. This program is co-sponsored by the Friends of Martha Washington Library. Listen to Library Director Sam Clay’s podcast interview with two of the contributors.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Classics We Love to Hate

While reading opens a new world to the Queen in The Uncommon Reader, the library’s 2008 All Fairfax Reads selection, there are certainly some authors that she doesn’t fancy. One such writer was Henry James:

“It was Henry James she was reading one tea time, when she said, ‘Oh, do get on.’” (page 49).

While we in library land would never disparage a writer or his or her work, there are some, such as James, that many find hard to digest. Some of the others that certain readers have found difficult to get through include:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Have you got a classic that wasn’t your cup of tea? Let us know.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Dames of Great Britain

In the early pages of The Uncommon Reader, the Queen selects a book off the shelves of a bookmobile visiting the palace grounds. She recognizes the author, Ivy Compton-Burnett, but is surprised to discover that the book has not been checked out since 1986. The librarian explains she is not a popular author “Why, I wonder?” the Queen muses. “I made her a dame.”

This got us wondering. How exactly does one become a dame in Great Britain?
Basically the title is the female equivalent of a knight. In the system of such honors in Great Britain, this can be the title of any women who has been awarded the Order of the Bath, the Order of St. Michael and St. George, Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the British Empire.

For example, authors Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie have all been named Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). The Order of the British Empire was established by King George V in 1917 to fill in a gap in the British honors system. The other three orders were restricted to senior military officers and civil servants for the Order of the Bath; diplomats for The Order of St. Michael and St. George; and those who had served the royal family for the Royal Victorian Order. The Order of the British Empire allowed knighthood and damehood to be bestowed on a wider range of honorees, including writers and other artists.

Other well-known authors with the DBE include Barbara Cartland, Rebecca West, Ngaio Marsh, Iris Murdoch, Catherine Cookson, Muriel Spark, A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble.

We Americans supposedly reject Britain’s royal class system. While we have our share of book-related awards, if we could give such titles to American’s literary class, who would you choose as American Dames? We might select Emily Dickinson and Pearl Buck to start. Anyone else?

Note: We’ll take a break on Friday, July 4 and return with a new posting on Tuesday, July 8.