An August Attempt

So. I’ve done a few short runs here and there. Nothing crazy, but at least I’m back in it somewhat. Spent more time with the books. Speaking of which, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (EB/print)
  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (AB)
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli (EB)
  • Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (EB)
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print)
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)

Nonfiction:

  • A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird
  • Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff

Series continuation:

  • Arctic Chill by Arnuldur Indridason (EB/print) – which I forgot to mention when I was plotting the month. It’s the last book of the series -that I’m reading. (There are others.)
  • Big Bad City by Ed McBain

LibraryThing Early Review:

  • Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – which came after I plotted the month of reading so it wasn’t mentioned before.

 


Battle Cry of Freedom

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. Read by Jonathan Davis. New York: Recorded Books, 2007.

Reason read: I am cheating a little with the reading of this book. It’s in two volumes and over 900 pages long. There is no way I can finish a 900 book in 30 days so I’m stretching it a little: in May I’m reading it in honor of May 26th, 1865 being the day conditions of surrender were offered to E. Kirby Smith. In June I am reading it in honor of June 2nd, 1865, the day Smith officially accepted those conditions. Another reason for May: the first officer was killed on May 24th 1861. Another reason for the May-June reading: the battle of the Pines took place from May 31 to June 1st, 1862.

Every single time I start to write a review for Battle Cry for Freedom I come up with the same damned word – “comprehensive”. It seems as if everyone and their brother uses this same word when writing a review. I guess it’s an appropriate word because it definitely fits. Said another way: if the era, the climate of the times before, during and after the Civil War was an inanimate object it’s as if McPherson studied it from every possible angle; getting on his knees, using a ladder to stand over it, circling around and around it to describe every little thing he sees, careful to leave not a single observation out. The end result is a comprehensive (there’s that word again) view of what our fledgling country looked like. You’ll meet Fire Eaters, Know Nothings, Butternuts, Copperheads, Knights of the Golden Circle, Whigs and the Free Soil Party in addition to the usual suspects like Robert E. Lee, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and John Brown, just to name a few. You’ll see the country from an early economic and sociological standpoint. Industry and religion find their way into patriotism and what it meant to be independent.

Best parts: learning that some military maneuvers were so successful they are still taught in military schools to this day. I also enjoyed reading about how women went from being wives who were just supposed to comfort their returned from battle husbands to respected nurses on the battlefield (thanks to Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, to name two).

Book trivia: Battle Cry won a Pulitzer.

Lines I liked, “The United States has usually prepared for its wars after getting into them” (p 312). Yup. This quote gave me a chuckle since I just finished walking 60 miles for Just ‘Cause, “Few of these southern soldiers had made a one-day march of twenty miles…(p 406).

Author fact: McPherson is an professor emeritus of U.S. History at Princeton. As an aside, my grandfather graduated from Princeton and gave me a stuffed leopard he insist I name after his alma mater. I wonder if I still have “Princeton” somewhere?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the super straightforward chapter called “Civil War Nonfiction” (p 58). Duh.


Light Infantry Ball

Basso, Hamilton. The Light Infantry Ball. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1959.

Basso takes an entire South Carolina community and brings it to life during the Civil War era though the story revolves around John Bottomley. He has been educated in the North (New Jersey) and had plans of becoming a writer when family duty obligates him to return to his family’s rice plantation. His life during this time is one of isolation because he is in love with a married woman and no one can understand his “pro-North” views. It doesn’t help that he is confused about his feelings concerning slavery. He grows more and more aware of his surrounding society as time goes on especially when it comes to the married woman. Later, after a stint in government, Bottomley finally joins the military to aid in the war. Guilt had finally gotten to him. Parallel to these life changes is the story of Bottomley’s brother and his mysterious disappearance after a murder.

Lines I liked, “He worked long, read much, and spoke little” (p 22), “…he had the sense of a door being thrown wide open and of looking into a stale, closed-off room strewn with the debris of a hundred bitter quarrels dragged across the years” (p 252-253) and finally my favorite, “War was war, yes, but even in war there were civilized standards to maintain” (p 324).

Reason read: Basso was born in September.

Author trivia: Basso wrote 15 books before his death. I am only reading a handful of them.

Book fact: The Light Infantry Ball is a prequel to The View From Pompey’s Head.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Hamilton Basso: Too Good To Miss” (p 32).


Cold Mountain

Frazier, Charles. Cold Mountain. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1998.

I started the year reading a lot about World War II (Flags of Our Fathers and Band of Brothers) and decided to move onto the Civil War. It was perfect timing for such a move because the start of the Civil War was in April.

Right away I need to make a bold statement. I have mixed feelings about this book. While the writing was amazing I couldn’t reconcile all the sadness. Hopelessness and starvation follow every character and violence is nearly in every chapter that involves main man Inman. As a deserter in the Confederate army I realize his journey back to North Carolina will be fraught with dangers of all kinds, both from nature (animals and the elements) and mankind (by leaving the ear he is officially an enemy of both sides now). The Home Guard is determined to bring every deserter to justice. It’s a harsh book so don’t expect any happy endings (although the epilogue tries an attempt at some semblance of peace if not cheer). I am embarrassed to say I am like every other romantic out there that wished the book ended on page 406.

In the very beginning of Cold Mountain there is a line that sums up the epitome of any war, “Every vile deed he had witnessed lately had been at the hand of a human agent so he had about forgot that there was a whole other order of misfortune” (p 9). Cold Mountain is a war book but it is also a relationship book and a romance. Inman is a confederate soldier recuperating from a serious neck wound. When he is well enough to move he decides to become a deserter and make his way back to North Carolina where there is the memory of a girl he fell in love with. During his long journey home his love, Ada, is struggling to run her deceased father’s farm. Helping her is Ruby, a strong mountain woman running from her father and the memory of a neglectful childhood.
Towards the end of the book not one but two wounded men make their way back to Ada and Ruby. Ruby’s father has murdered his relationship with his daughter but when he is shot and left for dead it is up to her to put aside their differences and nurse him back to health. Inman makes his way back to Ada with more than a broken body. His spirit has been tested. I spotted a lot of symbolism (intentional or not). The reoccurring mention of crows was ominous while the fixation of food represented an emptiness of more than just bellies. There was an absence of comfort and of hope.

Only favorite line (besides the one I previously quoted), “Even my best intentions come to naught and hope itself is but an obstacle” (p 353). See what I mean about hope?

Probably my biggest connection in the book was with the music. If it weren’t for Natalie Merchant I wouldn’t have recognized the lyrics to Wayfaring Stranger or Mary Don’t You Weep and now that I know the movie has a soundtrack I might have to go out and get it.

Author fact: Frazier is from North Carolina and a distant relative was the inspiration for Cold Mountain, Frazier’s first novel.

Book Trivia: Cold Mountain won a National Book Award and was made into a movie.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Civil War Fiction” (p 57).


December Was…

img_0030December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
  • A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
  • A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
  • Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
  • ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
  • Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).

For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).

Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.

So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.

Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!


Diary From Dixie

Diary from DixieChestnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary from Dixie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

From the moment I started reading Mrs. Chestnut’s diary I felt I was in for gossip, gossip, gossip. While this is a great first hand account of life during the Civil War, I couldn’t get over how much of a name-dropping, political hob-nobbing, party-going Southerner she was! Another thing I noticed  was how humorous Mrs. Chestnut was! Here are a few of her more comical entries:

“There Mrs. Hunter told us a joke that made me sorry I had come” (p 8). But, she never does explain the joke was! Too bad!
“At camp meeting he got religion, handed round the hat, took the offering to the Lord down into the swamp to pray over it, untied his horse and fled with it, hat, contribution and all” (p 13).
“I think this journal will be disadvantageous for me, for I spend my time now like a spider, spinning my own entrails, instead of reading as my habit in all my spare moments” (p 22). See, gossip, gossip!
“Every woman in the house is ready to rush into the Florence Nightingale business” (p 70). Good ole fashion jealousy, perhaps?

I think the only quote to get to me showed the attitudes of the time, “Women need maternity to bring out their best and true loveliness” (p 86). We’ve been here before.

All in all, Mary Chestnut’s diary was a delight to read. I fell in love with some of the language: flinders, rataplan, brickbat, and best of all, envenom. Love that word! Witty and humorous, it didn’t read like a history textbook. Instead, it gave texture to the sounds and sights and warmth to the personalities from the Civil War. More importantly, it gave a sense of what it was like to be a woman during that time.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter called “Civil War Nonfiction” (p 58).


The Blue and the Gray

CommagerCommager, Henry Steele, ed. The Blue and the Gray: From the Battle of Gettysburg to Appomattox.2nd ed. New York: Merridian, 1994.

I’ve never been overly excited by historical novels, especially ones that spit out fact upon arid fact. To say that I was not looking forward to reading Commanger’s Civil War book was an understatement. To my surprise, I am delighted with the reading. It is a delicious combination of letters, journals, diaries, newspaper reports and so forth. With all the first-hand accounting, it lends itself to a very voyeuristic snapshot of one of the most widely studied wars of our time. Rereading the Gettysburg Address didn’t make me feel like I was back in high school. I enjoyed discovering the origin of the speech. “David Wills asked Lincoln to make “a few appropriate remarks” and the result was the most memorable of all American addresses” (p.59). Wish I knew that in 7th grade.

Some of the more pondersome passages: “I could stand by and and see a man’s head taken off I believe – you get so used to it here” (Cornelia Hancock, nurse in Gettysburg p.187). Makes you think. “We called all hands and gave three cheers and a tiger!” (Captain George Hamilton Perkins, p. 212). What exactly is a tiger? All I could think was, “They’re Grrrreat”, the Tony-The-Tiger exclamation. Something to look up later.
PS~ In addition to being a fascinating read, Commager includes maps of significant battles, although they are hard to follow. Maybe because I have the paperback version? (Not the edition pictured here.) The images are cramped and  blurry.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust (p. 58) under the category of “Civil War Nonfiction.”