Friday, July 29, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A charming first novel about  a small English village trying to cope with the influx of foreign-born and, to the insular inhabitants of this village, sometimes outlandish, people.  The protagonist of this narrative is Major Ernest Pettigrew, a retired Army Major.  He is a very likeable hero from the start.....courtly, wry, dignified,  intelligent....the very epitome of the  best in the British character.  The village is populated with a mix of people who are somewhat reminiscent of the folks in the Lucia books, transplanted to today's world.  The story revolves around the friendship of Major Pettigrew with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani proprietor of a village shop. Small-town- type crises arise, petty rivalries abound, snobbery as only the British can do snobbery,  all leading to a happy ending for the Major and Mrs. Ali.  A gentle book, humorous without being comic,  principled without being preachy, a very pleasant summer read.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand     Helen Simonson     Random House

Monday, July 18, 2011

Odds and Ends

I feel like rambling.  Things pop into my head and I just like to put them down for fun.  So the usual product warning:  Quit reading  now if you don't want to be bored.  I am doing this for my own amusement.

There is a question that PAs, nurses, and other medical professionals often ask that I never know how to answer.  If you go in with a pain somewhere, they will ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you say it hurts?"   Well, now.   There are some factors involved here, right?   How much is 10?  Is it  agonizing, excruciating pain, or is it "It hurts like hell"?  If 10  is excruciating pain, I would say my knee is maybe a 4 or 5, or on some days, 6.   If  10 is "It hurts like hell", then it is right up there at the top.  I knew a woman who moaned about how painful her mammograms were. Obviously, she had never had a baby.   I knew a man who died in agony from cancer of the sinuses.  When I consider this last,  it puts my knee down to a 1 or 2.  So it is a relative thing and what good does my answer serve?

Another silly TV ad.  Cereal, this time.  A young woman sits in front of a box of nutritious, heart-healthy Choc-O-Puffies.    Flashing a toothy smile, she reaches toward the box and selects a Choc-O-Puffie  from the very top of the box.   Reality check!   Have you ever bought a box of cereal where the contents reached the top of the box?   No, you have not.  You much reach into the box to extract a tasty Choc-O-Puffie.

While I am knocking the TV commercials for the idiotic baloney (old-fashioned term)  that they are,  I will give a nod to some of the dementia treatment ads, which are quite sensitive and realistic.  I am not against advertising.  I am against phoniness.  Show us real people doing real things and maybe we (I) will be more receptive to  your pitches.

A small boy and girl cousin were put into the bath together at their grandmother's summer cottage.  The little girl had never seen a naked boy before and she got quite upset.  "How come", she demanded, "that he's  so fancy and I'm so plain?"

When I was young and for a good time after,  choices  at the markets and drugstores were limited to one or two of each product.  For instance,  I have always used Crest toothpaste.  In the past, if you went into the store to buy a tube of Crest, you picked it up, paid,  and took it home.  There may have been some choices as to tube size, etc. but the product was  the same in all.  Today, Crest toothpaste occupies three shelves at my local market.  Gel or paste?  Toothwhitener?  Plaque control?  Sensitive gums?   Once upon a time, Bayer aspirin was Bayer aspirin.  It eased all kinds of pain.  Nowadays, you can get Bayer aspirin specific for arthritis, heart problems, menstrual distress, "minor aches and pains" and lots of other special situations.  I always wonder.... if I have a headache, will the arthritis pain pill work?  Or if I have both arthritis pain and a headache, must I take a pill for each condition?  How does the pill know which pain it is targeting?   In those days, if aspirin was not your choice, you could get Anacin. That was about it.  We had Minute Maid frozen orange juice.  We had Kellog's Corn Flakes, and Rice Krispies.  We had white rice, and apple cider vinegar.  These days the cereal aisle is 50 feet long and the choices among exotic rice varieties, vinegars, grains of various sorts, and frozen products is staggering.  Of course, it is nice to have all these wonderful (although often unnecessary and redundant) choices, but shopping in the old days sure was a lot simpler.

Mondegreens!!!   Young scholars have expressed their rapture for the "Bronze Lullaby",  Beethoven's "Erotica Symphony", Gershwin's "Rap City in Blue", and my favorite, "Taco Bell's Canon".

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Good Books

A couple of books I can recommend:

The first one is called "The Forgotten Garden"  by Kate Morton. This is a big, romantic novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It concerns a 4-year-old girl, found abandoned on a dock in Australia, adopted by the port master and his wife, and her subsequent efforts to trace her  background and origins.  It spans three generations and two continents and ends with her granddaughter's unraveling the secret of her family and her grandmother's past. Lots of mysterious leads and side stories and a little mild love interest. 

The author jumps from one character and one time period  to another throughout the book, which can be a little disorienting at first.   But once I got acquainted with the people involved and the mysteries surrounding their stories, it did not present a problem for me.  A nice pleasant read, I thought.

And just the sort of escapist literature that I have been indulging in lately.   I find that the older I get, the less inclined I am to tackle books that require much involvement, either mental or emotional.  I have become very cynical about government and the people who "run" it,  and I have witnessed so much violence, hatred and evilness during my lifetime, that I sometimes feel I cannot take in any more.  From a young idealist, believing fervently in the eventual triumph of civilization,   I have evolved into a skeptical old lady who wonders if mankind is going to make it.  Except for the technological marvels, it seems we have not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages.  We still torture and murder and engage in brutal wars and sacrifice our young as though their lives hold no meaning at all.

Which brings me, sort of,  to this next book, which I am going to recommend without having read it.

It is called "Unbroken", by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote "Seabiscuit".  It is about  Louis Zamperini, an Army Air Forces bombardier and champion Olympic runner, and and his experiences in WWll.  I did, in fact, get quite far into the book and then reached a stage where I could not continue.  Louis' plane was shot down and he became a wartime prisoner and I simply could not read another account of the atrocities and sufferings of young men at the hand of brutal prison guards and the ordeals they underwent during those terrible years.

Louis survived and lived to a ripe old age.  The book is well-researched with many pages of notes and a large index, and quite a few photos.  My impression from the portion  that I read was that it was a very informative, interesting, scholarly book and well worth the time of anyone who is interested in this period  in history.  In fact, a very good book. Wish I could have read it all.

The Forgotten Garden    Kate Morton    Washington Square Press
 Unbroken      Laura Hillenbrand        Random House