I wrote a few days ago about my unplanned reading emphasis for 2014 on books about World War I and II, generally with a European setting, and both fiction and nonfiction.
I enjoy looking back over the list of books I read during the year and see another unplanned emphasis: the 1960’s. It is not surprising that there have been many books published about that decade as we “celebrate” the 50th anniversary of the mid-point of that decade AND a formative time for me.
I read and would recommend
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Streets” Became the Anthem for a Changing America by Mark Kurlansky
The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America by James T. Patterson
Tomorrow-land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America by Joseph Tirella
1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan
You don’t have to have grown up in the 60’s to appreciate these titles, but it helps! I’m betting we’ll see more titles about this decade published in 2015.
This story touches my heart. I picked it up to read because I met Pat Mora one Fall when she made an author visit to Kalamazoo. I always enjoy her work, so it was natural for me to read this book.
The story is about Libby’s great aunt (Lobo) who is eighty years old. She has been studying very hard, learning all about America so that she can take her citizenship test. Libby and her Mom will go with Lobo to the ceremony when she becomes a citizen of the United States.
Libby’s class practices the Pledge of Allegiance just as her great aunt does. Libby’s teacher explains the meaning of it as they recite it. Libby and Lobo practice saying the Pledge of Allegiance every night so that on Friday, the big day, they will both be ready. While they wait for Friday to come, Libby’s great aunt tells her about her country and coming to the United States. They came here to protect the family.
At the ceremony, the Judge tells everyone what a happy day it is. She has all the new citizens stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
When my mother-in-law was eighty years old, she too became a citizen of the United States. We were lucky enough to be able to have the Judge come to her home and perform the ceremony. My daughter was in kindergarten at the time and we talked about how Grandma had to learn the history of our country and how important it was to her. It was a touching ceremony and we all recited the Pledge of Allegiance with her, there was not a dry eye among us. We were every bit as proud of her as Libby was of Lobo. It is something our family will never forget.
I always look forward to the New York Times Book Review that reveals their editors’ picks for the top 10 books of the year. I have rarely read any of them, because I have spent that year trying to catch up on the best books from previous years. So I add some more to my list.
For 2014, I had read one of them – On Immunity by Eula Biss. That one caught my eye early because I loved her book Notes From No Man’s Land about race in America.
One of them, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, was considered as a possible Reading Together selection for 2015.
Here’s the list:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Euphoria by Lily King
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Penelope Fitzgerald: a Life by Hermione Lee
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright
May your reading lists prove fruitful in 2015.
Happy New Year!
Some time ago I wrote about a history of Britain as derived
from its postage stamps. Recently, while browsing in the new non-fiction area
on the first floor, I thought I was looking at that same book. But wait! No,
it’s by the same author, but this time it’s the history of the United States in
thirty-six commemorative postage stamps. Since I liked the British volume, I
just had to pick it up. I was not disappointed, since the images of the vintage
stamps are so well done and the text, which includes events such as the Iwo
Jima battle, the 1969 moon landing, and the tenth anniversary of NATO in 1959
is informative. Toward the end is a chapter about the celebrities who appear on
later stamps, such as Elvis. This book is based on a clever idea and one can
read as much or as little of it as one wants and still gain something.
As I look back over the list of books I read in 2014, I am surprised how many of them have a European, World War I or II setting both fiction and nonfiction. That was not intentional. Many of the books I read are relatively new so I can only assume there has been many books with this setting and time published in the last year or so.
Fiction favorites include:
The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton
Lovers at the Chameleon Club 1932 by Francine Prose
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My nonfiction favorites of this setting and time include:
The Hotel on Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown
The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit and An Epic Quest to Arm an American at War by Albert J. Baime (Not a European setting but WW II)
Do you have any of this time and setting to recommend to me? Contact me.
The New York Times Book Review started a feature called “By the Book” a year or two ago. Someone, usually an author, is interviewed about their reading habits. Several of the questions are repeated almost every week like; What is currently on your nightstand?, What book are you embarrassed that you have not read yet?, or What book was a great disappointment to you?
Another one of the recurring questions is: “You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?” I’ve noticed that Mark Twain and Charles Dickens get invited a lot.
In Stanley Plumly’s, The Immortal Evening, we learn about an actual dinner party involving three literary giants: William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb. The dinner took place on December 28, 1817 at Benjamin Robert Haydon’s house who was working on a painting called Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Interestingly, in the crowd around Jesus in the painting, Haydon included the likenesses of Wordsworth, Keats, and Lamb.
If you enjoy poetry and art history, this might be the one for you.
By the way, my answer to the New York Times Book Review question would be: Wallace Stegner, Lorrie Moore, and George Saunders. Who would you invite?
How would you react in the face of a disaster that left thousands homeless and wiped out essential city services in Kalamazoo for weeks on end? Rebecca Solnit takes a look at some major disasters over the past century or so and reports on some of the grassroots communities that emerged to provide relief in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell.
Focusing on the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, a horrific explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Katrina she reports that government officials and wealthy power brokers have often turned resources towards protecting property and policing the disaster area because of fears that the public’s reaction will be to turn savage and live out some Mad Max survival of the fittest scenario.
Although there are some people who take advantage of the situation, she finds that there are more people who come together to form impromptu communities to provide relief and comfort for those in need. I enjoyed reading about these temporary utopias that emerge from these disasters and bring out our “better angels.”
Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic By Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Victor Juhasz.
When is it not hot dog season – they really aren’t just for summer picnics anymore, but that was a different case in 1939.
In June of 1939, the United States had 2 very special guests visit - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. It was the first visit of reigning British Royalty. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to take the opportunity to extend a warm welcome. She had the idea to celebrate the visit with an all American picnic complete with hot dogs. Mrs. Roosevelt loved hot dogs. She loved to eat them and to cook them on the grill. She was famous in her family for her hot dog roasts.
Usually entertaining in the White House meant fancy dinners – hot dogs were never served. Eleanor discovered that Queen Elizabeth was a distant cousin of George Washington. With this news, she decided an all American picnic was in order and really – what is a picnic without roasted hot dogs! Mrs. Roosevelt planned the picnic to take place at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, New York. President Roosevelt was just happy she wasn’t serving spinach. But not everyone agreed with Mrs. Roosevelt’s menu – lots of people didn’t think hot dogs were appropriate- however she stuck up for herself.
On June 11, 1939 the Roosevelt’s hosted the picnic. The hot dogs were served on fancy silver trays. The King ate seconds. The picnic was a success. On June 11, 1989, the 50th anniversary picnic was held. The Queen sent a special message. And what do you think was on the picnic menu…
HOT DIGGITY DOGS!
What a fun book to share with just enough history mixed with the humor of serving hot dogs. Don’t wait until summer to read it.
Natchez Burning is not my usual kind of book, but once I started reading, I couldn’t put down.
The story is centered in Natchez, Mississippi, and shifts between the 1960’s and the present. The respected town doctor is accused of murdering his former nurse, an African-American woman who returned to Natchez after many years of living up north.
As one reviewer has written, there are racial politics, family secrets, corruption, racism, almost unbelievable brutality, and fear, much centering on a fringe KKK sect.
In spite of its length, it is a real page-turner. I have seen it listed on several “best of the year” lists. Although it won’t make my best-of list, it is good read, a book in which a reader can get totally lost.
Jane Smiley’s new novel, Some Luck, follows the Langdon family of Denby, Iowa, for thirty years. Each year is a chapter: 1920 – 1953. The family endures the depression, trading the horses for a tractor, a son in World War II, the cold war, births and deaths.
Much of the focus is on first born, Frank, who was “born with an eye for opportunity,” but all family members are developed. Luck is never to be relied on, but it plays a role.
Smiley plans a trilogy that will follow the Langdon family well into the 21st century. Their story is off to a strong start.
This is likely to be one of my favorite books of the year, although there are still two months of good reading left.