Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shakespeare's Pub, by Pete Brown

Shakespeare's Pub: A Barstool History of London As Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub - The George Inn, by Pete Brown

Pete Brown truly understands the appeal of a pub. Not just the camaraderie when sitting on a stool with a beer, but the security blanket aspect they can project in absentia as well. "We take pubs for granted. We think they'll always be there when we need them, unchanging, just how we left them. And if we don't visit them for weeks, months, or years, and we come back and find them changed, we're outraged. If we come back and find them closed, we berate all the other people who should have come here more often and kept them in business." This innate understanding of our relationship colors every word of Shakespeare's Pub for the better.

I enjoy hanging out at my local pub, but I certainly couldn't write over 300 pages about its history. Of course, B. B. Rover's hasn't been around for over six centuries, either. The George Inn at the foot of London Bridge is so old that the actual opening date is lost to the dusty past, but Brown does an entertaining job of sleuthing and maintains that it goes back to at least the 1380s. "If you are writing a history of anything, it makes sense to start that history with the date the damn thing was first built, invented, born or otherwise hurled into existence." He then proceeds to cover the entire history of the inn and southern London through the present day. This time period covers the rise of live theater (Shakespeare's Globe Theater was nearby), popular literature (Dickens used the George as a setting for Little Dorrit), and the entire stagecoach era (the George is the last remaining coaching inn in London). Pop culture references are used throughout (the TARDIS is used as a literary device to occasionally change the time period) and the footnotes often had me in stitches. This is the first of Pete Brown's books I've read but it certainly won't be the last.

First Sentence:
A century and a half, or thereabouts, after the last stagecoach thundered under the arch and out of its yard, the George Inn can be reached easily via the number 149 bus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde

Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde

My mother gave this book to my son as a gift and he liked it enough that he wanted me to read it as well. I'm glad he wanted to share it with me and can see what he liked about it, although it wasn't exactly to my liking. Set in a near future where immersive virtual reality games exist, a fourteen year old girl named Giannine gets trapped in an artificial fantasy world where she has to solve the game or die in the real world. When the heroine makes mistakes she can reset the game and start again; while it allows Giannine to learn and grow it makes for a very repetitive read. I enjoyed sharing this with my son, but it is way too simplistic for my tastes—even for a book aimed at kids.

First Sentence:
It was my fourteenth birthday, and I was arguing with a bus.

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