Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Book Review

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

I've had a couple of weeks recently where I've struggled to find something I'm interested in for reading on the treadmill. This is where I really prefer to have a large print book. The reading is much easier as I jog and I don't feel any straining of my eyes with large print.

But many, many of the things I really want to read are not available in large print. If I had my way, everything would be available in large print. For those books that are not available in large print, I read them while sitting down or get them in audio.

I've thought about trying a Kindle/Nook/iPad, with the ability to change the size of the print, but I haven't done it yet. There is still something very tangible about turning the pages and advancing the bookmark each day. Maybe one day the electronics will win, but not yet.

In the mean time, I'm continually on the hunt for interesting books in large print. After being unsatisfied with my large print selections for several weeks, I finally got into the library catalog and just searched for everything they have in large print. It automatically sorted by something called "popularity." I have no idea what this means. Number of times it's been checked out? Number of times it has been requested? Number of reviews? Number of positive reviews? Number of stars? Number of comments? Sales numbers? Weeks on the best seller lists?

I have no idea.

But, I've already learned, all too well, that a "popular" label can lead to some books that I very much dislike.

Oh well. I quit wondering what "popularity" meant and started browsing the list.

I noticed as I browsed, title recognition became my de facto decider for clicking on a title to investigate further. Maybe this is what "popular" means. I just don't know.

If the full description of the book seemed interesting, I added it to a list. That's it. I didn't look for reviews or stars or quotes or comments. I just added it to the list.

I must be getting desperate.

Don't think that I don't have options. I do. I just find it more enjoyable to mix the classics with modern books. One or two old, then one or two contemporary. Not too many of one or the other all together.

Luckily for me, now there are lots of classics available in large print. That wasn't true a year or two ago, when I finally asked the librarian about it. Why couldn't I find Austen or Dickens or Steinbeck in large print? Like magic, classics started appearing in the large print section. Hmmm... I wonder if my question had something to do with it....

My list has quite a number of classics on it. But it needed more modern books on it. Now I was getting some, but my level of interest is somewhat less in books found by searching this way.

In spite of this, I'm hoping that this will lead me to something unexpectedly different. For now, it has led me to my current list choice, Major Pettigrew.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Right from the beginning, Major Pettigrew was easy to read and a pleasure to read. It quickly fell into my loose category of "fluff reading," although it turned out to be a bit more than just "fluff."  True "fluff" is Bridget Jones. Fun. Silly. Funny. Fluffy.

Major Pettigrew surprised me and eventually drew itself out of the "fluff" category. The plot had more complications and twists than I expected, but it was still what I consider "light reading." And that's good, since that is what I had wanted.

Immediately the characters felt too typical, too expected, too made out of cardboard. Then we get to meet Mrs. Ali. She bucks all the trends, but ultimately does so in such a way that she is so opposite of what we expect, that she's not even believable. But I liked her anyways. Well, I did say this was "light reading."

We are given a very sparse treatment of the setting, except for the names of locations. We are given lots and lots of names of places, all in England. None of these help me. None of these give me a sense of the setting. None of these help me place the characters. None of these are familiar to me. I've never been to England, never studied it, hardly ever looked at a map. A more detailed description of the landscape would have helped my imagination along in the direction of placing the characters.

The plot felt a bit vague at first, but then I found myself guessing as to the direction it was going to go. I started making up crazy, wild, convoluted and devious connections between secondary characters. I started imagining how they were colluding and plotting against each other.

Clearly, the plot being presented to me wasn't pushing the bounds of my imagination. Not that it should have, but my mind was messing with me. I wasn't just relaxing and letting the story unfold the way the author intended. That makes me a bad reader in this case.

But I did call this "light reading." And it is.

In spite of all of that, I liked the book well enough. There were enough twists and turns in ways that I didn't dream up that it kept me coming back wanting more. This was an enjoyable, light read, and the twists kept it moving. That is good.

Given some of the other reading I do, some light reading is called for periodically. This fit the bill and it delivered. And it was enjoyable along the way.

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