Category Archives: reading

The Monday Book – Americans in Paris

Jack gets to do the Monday book review this week –

paris

Americans in Paris – Charles Glass

Some years ago I met up with a fellow Scot and close friend who was in the middle of a French adventure. We met in Vichy on Bastille Day and helped the locals celebrate into the wee small hours. The following day we took a train down through the Massif Central to Bordeaux, sharing our compartment with an elderly couple. As we passed through various small towns they pointed out walls where ‘resistantes’ had been shot, but also where immediately after the war ‘collaborateures’ had also been shot. Vichy, of course, was the Capital of the collaborating French government under Marshal Petain.

So Glass’s book which chronicles the experiences of a wide range of US citizens in the lead up to, and during world war two and who lived in Paris during that time was a fascinating read.

There are a number of intertwining stories throughout – The American Hospital, Shakespeare and Company bookstore and the political machinations of the Vichy government are the main ones. The hospital and the bookstore somehow managed to continue, even after the US declared war on Germany. They become important waystations for escaping British and American soldiers and airmen, and their directors took enormous risks.

The writing is engaging and based on well documented research.

I knew very little of the tensions within the Vichy regime or between it and the German government, far less the attitude of the US towards Petain and Laval and their rivalries. Glass’s book, therefor, filled in many gaps in my knowledge.

Although I found the many personal stories of individuals intriguing, I think it was reading them within the broader political and wartime context that really caught my attention.

I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in France, Paris or the politics of the period.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Book to get you through COVID 19 quarantine: Parker Bauman’s TINY RIGHTEOUS ACTS

My friend Parker is an immigration rights attorney who recently wrote a fictionalized account of her experiences. This is her blurb and information. If you’re looking for something to do inside over the next week, you can download her book easily from the usual suspects.

CORRECTED full cover traAfter years of witnessing horrors inflicted upon women fleeing abuse in their home countries, human rights attorney Charlotte “Lottie” Fornea is approaching burnout at warp speed. Sure, she could do therapy, but the need to do something more burns like acid in her soul.

 

Her self-prescribed remedy is as dangerous as it is simple. Form a low-profile little nonprofit, and use its financial support to wreak high-profile humiliation upon those who shield themselves behind five thousand years of male-dominated baloney.

 

On the strength of her convictions and her faith, Lottie quietly slips in and out of her targets’ countries, each success filling her with fierce enjoyment…until a slight mishap in Afghanistan brings her in close contact with co-conspirator Ishmael Mahmud, a man as unforgettable as he is mysterious.

 

Escaping unscathed is no reason to draw a sigh of relief. She’s getting anonymous threats…and no good tidings of justice served will protect her when the stalker chooses to strike.

A link to GOOGLE BOOKS for Bauman’s: https://books.google.com/books/about/Tiny_Righteous_Acts.html?id=V5ChzAEACAAJ

 

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The Monday Book: THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

This week’s Monday Book comes courtesy of Martha Wiley.

MoyesI received a copy of The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes for Christmas. I’m an Atlanta transplant, first having moved to Appalachia when I married – I’ve lived in southeast Kentucky and southwest Virginia, and it wasn’t hard to recognize both of these areas in the book.

Set in the 1930s in Lee County, Kentucky , in an area about equidistant from the two towns that I have called home for the past 22 years, The Giver of Stars tells the fictional story of members of a pack horse library. I’m very fond of fiction set in historical settings, especially when the history is well-researched, and Moyes has done an admirable job of grounding her story in a factual past.

The action centers around two women who make unlikely friends, Alice Wright Van Cleve and Margery O’Hare. Alice moved to Lee County from England after meeting and marrying Bennett Van Cleve, son of a prominent coal mining company owner. After finding out that marriage to Bennett isn’t all she had dreamed of, Alice joins up with Margery, one of the movers and shakers behind the Baileyville WPA Packhorse Library, and a loner who prefers the company of her horse and dog to that of people. As to be expected, both bring fears and preconceptions to the relationship, but manage a way to meet in the middle to form a strong friendship.

That sounds a little hokey, and at times the dialogue and human interactions in the book are a bit strained, but overall I enjoyed the book and learned some history in the bargain. The  pack horse librarians of Kentucky have been getting more attention in the past few years, due in part to articles in Smithsonian Magazine and National Public Radio, as well as a few non-fiction books written about them.

The precursor to today’s bookmobiles in Kentucky, the pack horse librarians fulfilled one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s priorities through the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, providing paid jobs to women and furthering literacy in the poverty-stricken mountains of southern Appalachia. Moyes weaves the facts of this history with the stories of Alice and Margery and other community members of the fictional town of Baileyville, capturing all the nuances of public and private feelings of both the supporters and detractors of the program.

I lived in Southeast Kentucky for more than 15 years, and was involved with the Reading Camp program there, a mission of the Episcopal Church, for many years. I can attest to the need for, and the success of, the promotion of literacy and the joys of reading to people living in the rural hollers of the region, as well as to the occasional resistance to, and fear of, outsiders seen to be interfering with an established way of life. Although the story takes place more than 60 years before my time there, The Giver of Stars reminded me of the joys and heartaches of such work, and the timelessness of both the beauty and harshness of Appalachia.

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The Monday Book: The Dylanologists by David Kinney

Jack gets to write the Monday book post because Wendy is deadlining-

dylan

Wendy had some meetings a few day ago in Johnson City TN, so I tagged along. We had an excellent buffet lunch at Sahib Indian Restaurant in honor of my birthday, and then I hit some thrift stores after dropping her at the first appointment.

For our Scottish friends that’s charity shops. You never know what you’ll find, although the book sections tend to be predictable and not particularly exciting.

But in one of them I found a happy surprise! Regular readers will know I am an avid Bob Dylan fan, and here was a book I had not read.

The Dylanologists is a delightful examination of a slew of ardent fans of Bobby Zimmerman, and although I am a big fan myself, I’m not in their league. These are folk with extensive archives of memorabilia and bootleg recordings, some of whom run blogs and websites. They trek to Hibbing (Dylan’s hometown) to New York City and to anywhere else that has any connection to their hero.

Given the number of books about Dylan, including his own ‘Chronicles’, I wasn’t sure what to expect but Kinney has produced a fascinating and well researched book. He manages to negotiate a trail between the fans, their obsessions, and the known history of the man himself.

Of course Bob is notoriously reclusive and is well known to protect his privacy while continuing to re-invent his public persona, so these obsessive fans can never hope to end their various quests. Some are trying to find the ‘real’ Dylan, while others seem to use him to find their ‘real’ selves!

If you’re a fan, like me, and have read all the other books, like me, then this could maybe broaden your understanding of Bob Dylan and possibly yourself too.

 

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The Monday Blog Overhaul: Wendy finally moves on!

kira

This cat is judging me

We moved about a year ago from our beloved Little Bookstore to our now-beloved Wytheville. The house is great, the town is friendly, the region is beautiful, the neighbors are fun and the musicians are rabble-rousers. All is as it should be. :]

Including, at last, with my blog! Updated in domain and appearance, it may take a few days to stabilize (wordpress tells me) but those of you who have been using the old domain name should be redirected. Thank you for being loyal readers these last eight years. And welcome aboard to the new ones! We’re a fun bunch.

If you have suggestions as the blog continues to upgrade during February, please let me know. I’m thinking a new banner photo, a connection to the Monday Book bibliography, and maybe some as-yet-undefined widgets? Let me know what you think.

 

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The Monday Book: WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

breathA surgeon used to the negotiation between buying people time and curing them suddenly finds himself in the same position. And sums up the advice he’s been giving, the thoughts he had on this moments, from both sides.

One of the central themes of the book is “when you know you’re going to die, what do you spend your last year or two doing?” In that framework, Kalanithi’s writing moves between poetic and lyrical, and surgically precise.

He struggles with returning to work, and someone says this to him:

“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

That one’s lyrical. Then he and his wife (who were having marital problems coping with their dual schedules as medical residents, drifting apart in exhausted frustration) have this exchange, after they decide to go ahead with trying for a baby once they know he’s sick:

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

Surgically precise.

The book was Kalanithi’s dying wish, and that is actually recorded in the book when his wife Lucy takes over, and recorded in the afterword as well. The afterword makes clear that, had there been more time, more editing might have occurred, and that the book as it reads is a singular walk less than a full narrative. Paul was concentrating on Paul, which makes sense.

Even then, there are several magic helpers in the book, although they appear but briefly. Most notable are Lucy and their oncologist (and the subtle between-the-lines understanding of what the couple are dealing with when colleague and friend becomes doctor).

Although this book is about dying, the “both sides of the desk” nature of it, reminiscent of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, is a rare peep into a world none of us are too keen to explore: what happens when death happens to you? When you know the diagnosis but not the timeline, and when you have advised hundreds of people in the same position? What do words mean, actions mean, family mean, when you are the one making the singular journey?

Highly recommended.

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The Monday Book: THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS by Linda Grant

grant bookThis book was interesting to me less because of its characters than the conundrum it presented, a morality tale of “who’s the good guy and who do you as reader get to judge?”

Remember when Breaking Bad set everyone to talking about when people go bad versus when they’re just trying to survive? Grant’s novel supposes two brothers from Hungary, one who left before things got bad for Jewish people, one who got caught–in Hungary, and again in England. But caught for what – being Jewish, or being a criminal? It all starts going sideways once one asks that question. So Vivien (the daughter of the older brother) sets out to learn what secrets her parents have hidden under platitudes, and what truths her uncle has hidden under crimes.

Clothing becomes almost its own character in this story, as people struggle between what they were, what they are, and what they want to become, showing their riches and their hopes by what they wear. I’ve never seen such use of fabrics and design, even in some of the trendy movies lately. Fascinating.

And Grant has this interesting writing style – plodding along, telling the story, then flaming into poetry, and back to prosaic, practical writing. Here’s one example, when the uncle is in Harrod’s department store:

Sometimes he would spend a whole day just looking at all the beautiful things he had once owned before he went to prison, and had treated far too lightly, feeling that they were like water that fell through his fingers.

This is a slow, savoring read. Make yourself some tea and settle in.

 

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