the-uncommon-reader-by-alan-bennettI have read more than usual of late, and managed to get through two books in as many weeks. This is largely due to the brevity of the first, and the sheer engaging joy of the other. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a slender little number and I could have read it in a sitting if I had the time for such a thing, but I did manage it in just a few days.

Alan Bennett is one of my most loved heroes, up there with Betjeman and Vaughan Williams and Coco Chanel. He is a national treasure yes, but something about his writing seems to speak to my old fashioned soul which is rather odd really as Bennett is, despite all his idioms, a very modern, contemporary writer in that his subject matter is universal and timeless even if it is set in a 1950s provincial town. On the surface we have little in common – our Alan is northern, and very northern with it, whereas I am southern and very southern with it. Alan was educated at the revered and elite Oxford University whereas I was educated at the reviled and shabby Swansea University. Alan is accomplished with words whereas I am not. Alan and I do have two things in common – we have had the same hairstyle since we were wee and we both love to gobble up a book! For whatever reason, Alan Bennett speaks to my soul, and for that I adore him. He’s so gorgeous one of my cats is even named Alan, though my husband would argue that’s after Partridge, not Bennett.

alan_bennettReading is the subject matter of the book and more specifically the Queen’s reading habits as a reflection of our own. I think because I read and always have I imagine that most other people read too. This is not, apparently the case. This saddened me throughout the book, as did the revelation and subsequent realisation that reading is an exclusive activity in that it excludes other people and is therefore unsociable and somehow unacceptable. Whilst the book is very funny and has more than it’s fair share of humour, the message is deadly serious and provides a warning as to what happens to people, to society as a whole when reading is frowned upon or deemed to be an unsociable, nerdy thing to do. Talking about books is something booky people do when they have found other booky people to talk to them about. But I have noticed that unless you’re talking about the book of a film (which is somehow acceptable) then to talk books is considered in some circles too high minded and lofty or to be bringing the tone of the conversation to a serious unwelcome junction. Interesting. I won’t say anything about the plot, its a thin volume and I wouldn’t wish to spoil a page of it as every page sparkles with wit and insight, as one would expect from the thoroughly lovely Alan.

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Now for a slice of cake. Parsnip Cake for instance. My latest Brocket Bake from Vintage Cakes is my most favourite yet! It is very similar to carrot cake, only better… so moist, so sweet yet so perfectly offset by the cream cheese frosting. Wow, it was a pure dream. Making it was fun. I had never heard of parsnip cake before I read Vintage Cakes and was intrigued from the off. I thought straight away that it would make a good alternative to carrot cake which has long since been a fave cake of mine, and as the parsnip was being grated into the mix and the sweet smell of that most delicious of root vegetables wafted about me, I could feel my cakey senses tingling away. The cake mixture itself was incredibly tasty and I could easily have devoured the lot before it even made it into the oven! Luckily I avoided the tragedy of not having a scrumptious parsnip cake (as well as a bad stomach) by getting it into the oven at warp speed and making do with licking the wooden spoon instead. I’m so glad I didn’t devour the cake mix as the cake rose beautifully and was just heavenly with the frosting in the middle and some icing sugar dusted on the top. Wow. I think it’s a contender for my Best Brocket Bake so far! I urge you to make one as soon as is humanly possible – get down to your nearest 24hr supermarket buy the ingredients and make it before morning so you can enjoy it by teatime – you shan’t regret it!

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Lastly, The Silver Linings Playbook – yes – the book of the film! I saw this film because I needed cheering up and my mum thought it would do just that, and it did. I really enjoyed it and promptly ordered the book from the library.

I was instantly drawn into Pat’s world, as he narrates the story and everything is seen through Pat’s eyes. Pat has bipolar affective disorder and has just come out of the bad place. He’s practising being kind rather than right and he’s not watching any more movies, only the movie of his life, which has a silver lining and will end well when he manages to end apart time with his wife Nikki. Pat doesn’t remember why he went into the bad place in the first place and when you find out you realise why his relationship with Nikki could never have the silver lining Pat hopes it will because there is no relationship. There are no surprises in this book, with or without seeing the film first, but it is nevertheless charmingly well written and observed, as are the symptoms and experiences of a man with a chronic mental illness.

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I think the film did quite well in capturing the essence of the book, but inevitably there are chunks missed out, nuances missed, and in this case, whole characters omitted or changed, but I will forgive. I wouldn’t say that The Silver Linings Playbook is the best book I’ve ever read with blisteringly good writing and characterisation and imagery. But it is a well written, clever and sweet story that will captivate you and take you away on a cumulo-nimbus cloud with a lining of silver and make you feel good for a little while. And why not?

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