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Yasmina Reza   Yasmina Reza, the award-winning playwright who brought us Art, turns her focus to a man looking back on his life as it draws nearer to a close. At just 136 pages Desolation is more of a monologue than a novel, but the frustration, wry observations and anger of the narrator build to a crescendo that possesses all of the power of a novel can deliver.
 
alan bennett   With a media-spanning career that produced Beyond the Fringe, Talking Heads, and Kafka's Dick, Alan Bennett has been long beloved by the British for his wryly gentle satire. Until recently, he was best known in America for his play The Madness of King George (re-titled from The Madness of George III, lest any Yanks thought they had missed the first two George films), brought to the screen in 1995 by director Nicholas Hytner. Last month, Bennett's name recognition here received a kick when Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding picked him for The Today Show's book club. Described by no less than the redoubtable Michiko Kakutani as a "small gem," The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van pairs two of Bennett's most charming and subversive pieces in a single volume. The short story, The Clothes They Stood Up In, follows the Ransomes, whose flat is mysteriously robbed of every last possession, an event that opens up a liberating, frightening world of possibility. The Lady in the Van, which Bennett turned into a play starring Maggie Smith, recounts the true story of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric who lived in Bennett's driveway with her van and a motley collection of belongings for fifteen years. Hilarious and pointed, Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van is, as the Washington Post said, a "near perfect book."
 
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