Our Man in Havana, The Uncommon Reader

I’ve decided to read as many of the 1000 Books Everyone Must Read I can find in audiobook form. I’ve read (with my eyes or ears) 77 of them so far.. that’s not bad, right? The Love section was most heavily read, quickly followed by State of the Nation since nearly every Victorian novel is either about love, or Society (bold type that capital S) or both.

Not only do I love lists, but I take a particular pleasure in going methodically down the list until all are checked off. For this reason, I have started with Comedy. I have quickly found out the problem of trusting a British newpaper to pick your reading list: when they say comedy they mean British Comedy. Ohhh, British Comedy.

I’m not a big fan of Monty Python and while I like Oscar Wilde, his flippant voice sometimes gets to me. Flippancy, levity, contrary: some very British words to describe the type of humor found in the British books that I have started to read.

Our Man in Havana
Graham Greene
1958
Read by Jeremy Northam

Our Man is very British. Prodigiously so. Its a kind of dunce-as-007 story. A vacuum cleaner salesman living in Havana is coerced into becoming a spy. With no desire to spy and nothing going on, he starts making up stories: fake agents, fake problems, a made-up weapon blueprint inspired by drawings of vacuum cleaner parts. The bosses in The Old Country think he’s doing so well that they give him real agents… including a cute pert little secretary. Oh no! Now he has to hide his lies and pretend that the people he made up actually exist. Things get out of hand when his fake agents start dying in real life… poor schmucks with similar names. There is a spoiled daughter that is a kind of evil catholic, and a marriage at the end. Guess whose???

Our Man is mildly funny. Kind of wanted to give a low chuckle behind my sleeve at times, but nothing more than that. Everything is subdued in that upper class British way. I was under the impression that the comedy section of the list would have me rolling on the floor crying, or at least laughing out loud, and it has not been the case. Its a pretty cute story, easy and breezy to get through, like a gust of wind on linen trousers. That’s about it.

Favorite thing: hearing Jeremy Northam say “vacuum cleaner” in a bunch of different accents.

Oh yeah, that reminds me. Does anyone remember the website where hot British guys read from Romance Classics? Is that still up somewhere? That was awesome. I would add it to my personal collection… uh, I mean post it here for Humanity.

The Uncommon Reader
Alan Bennett
2007
Read by Alan Bennett

It is a charming little fanficlet of the current Queen of England and her awakening to world through reading literature. Move over, Catherine of Northanger Abbey, the Queen’s awakening begins at 70, surrounded by simpering underlings and Prime Ministers. She discovers her love of reading by following her corgi into a traveling library van. She decides that so much of her life has been wasted not meeting all these famous people that she could have met, that she should at least try reading what they wrote.

The palace is all up in arms about her sudden avid reading. She apparently forgets to change her cardigan sometimes. She is also fraternizing with a servant who is showing her the classical literature ropes: leading her through Forster, Woolf, James, Trollope, etc etc. This will not do. Eventually she also comes to the conclusion that she should start writing, perhaps adding in all the funny little quirks of the gentry that she has noticed all these years.

I twitter into my napkin while I sip tea with my pinkie up at this book. I like it because they mention and joke about a lot of authors that I know. Lit Nerds unite! My favorite part is when she’s reading Henry James and she says out loud, “oh do get on!” Also there is a great part at the end where summarizes her life by adding up how many wars, prime ministers and “17 corgies” she has gone through in her lifetime.

My main concern with this book is that I WANT TO BE IN THE QUEEN’S BOOK CLUB! Wouldn’t that be awesome???? Imagine yourself sitting at a round table in the local library, you say something and turn to see this:

And she says, “yes, one does believe that Virginia Woolf was a ninny.”
I know, right?????

I want this to happen so bad!! And maybe I could be friend her and we could go out to drinks afterwards and we could talk shit about the other members like that girl who always answers questions with another question, or the guy who joined only because he likes Hemingway and gets angry at women authors and thinks everything is a metaphor for sex. And isn’t it so cliche and outdated that he is so Freudian in thinking without realizing it since Freud has been largely discredited over the years and now we are more interested in cognitive-behavioral psychology. And then I would ask her if she met Freud and she would say “One wasn’t alive, dear.” And I would feel like a douche and say “oh,” but be silently pleased in being called “dear” by the frickin Queen of England. And then I would get her a little more drunk and have her say things like “yo dawg” and “vacuum cleaner.”

Why isn’t this happening.

(Confession: I don’t have internet. I have been working from the Blogger app on my cell phone. Its an alright app but limiting: no spell check, I can’t change to html code, and I have NO IDEA where the pictures I uploaded will show up, if at all. If you are staring at a giant picture of the queen so large you can see her pores, I am sorry. Also, I’m not sure how to spell Freud. How I miss you, squiggly line from Microsoft Word.)

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