December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child


Before the Deluge

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1029’s. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Reason read: Berlin has a tattoo festival every year in Berlin.

There is a small possibility I will visit Berlin in the next year or so. It is hard to imagine the contrary Berlin of the 1920’s. Beautiful girls dressed in flapper style, kicking it up in glitzy cabarets (a la Louise Brooks, also known as Lulu) against a backdrop of war, and poverty, and influenza ravaged misery. One war was over while another bubbled just below the surface, waiting to burst forth.
The 1920’s was also a great period of scientific inquiry and wonderment. Britain and Germany had been on opposite sides of World War I, but astronomers were not concerned with that detail. Scientists on both sides were single-minded in their desire to study the eclipse. At the same time, the German government saw the benefit of using the new technology of moving pictures to show their propaganda films. Albert Einstein was in his prime.
The most fascinating thing about Before the Deluge is Friedrich’s interviews with people who could remember the height of the 20’s in Berlin. People who were aware events like if the Communists had voted in force, Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg would have never been elected to rule the German Republic. If the weather had been slightly better Hindenburg never would have appointed a young man named Adolf Hitler as Chancellor….

Quote that gave me pause: “Berlin in the winter is never a very cheerful place” (p 36). Even at Christmastime? I have to wonder.

Author fact: Friedrich went to Harvard (born in Boston).

Book trivia: There is a very cool fold out map several pages into Before the Deluge. Much better than inside the front cover of the book.

Nancy said: Pearl says, “you can’t get a better sense of Berlin between the wars than by reading Otto Friedrich’s Before the Deluge.” She then goes on to say it would be interesting to use Before the Deluge as a guidebook to present day Berlin. I don’t think so. Before the Deluge was first published in the early 1970’s. A lot has changed since then…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the crazy simple chapter called “Berlin” (p 36). Imagine that.


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

Berlin Stories

Isherwood, Christopher. The Berlin Stories. New York: New Directions, 2008.

If we want to be technical about it, The Berlin Stories is actually two novels in one. The first, Mr. Norris Changes Trains (American title: The Last of Mr. Norris) is just under 200 pages while Goodbye to Berlin is just over (207). The Last of Mr. Norris contains the famous line, “I am a Camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking” (p 1). Even though both stories are connected, I will review each story on its own.

The Last of Mr. Norris – Mr. Norris is a mysterious man. Wealthy one minute, impoverished the next. A sexual deviant with prim and proper manners. Shady friends. He is the focal point and the most developed character of The Last of Mr. Norris. Indeed, Isherwood wanted his readers to focus solely on the character of Mr. Norris throughout the entire novel. The subtleties of this complex character needed to be teased out somehow. Isherwood found that vehicle through the first person narrative of Norris’s English friend, William Bradshaw. From Bradshaw you learn there is something sinister and cunning yet beguiling about Norris. The only other “character” is Berlin in the 1930s. Hitler is beginning to gain power. Communism. Spies. Alliances. Blackmail. How Norris moves through this world is what makes the story interesting.

Goodbye to Berlin – Isherwood explained that in order to have the reader truly focus on Norris every other character needed to be culled from The Last of Mr. Norris. In Goodbye to Berlin those orphaned characters have found a home. Characters like Sally Bowels, Frl. Schoeder, Otto Nowak, and Peter —-. As an aside, the composition of Goodbye to Berlin is a little different from The Last of Mr. Norris. This time the chapters are titled: A Berlin Diary (1930), Sally Bowles, On Ruegen Island (Summer 1931), The Nowaks, The Landauers, and A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932 -3). Favorite lins, “With a mere gesture of wealth he could alter the whole course of our lives” (p 48) and “The political moral is certainly depressing: these people could be made to believe in anybody or anything” (p 90).

Author fact: Isherwood confessed The Berlin Stories was based heavily on the diary he kept during his four years in Berlin.

Book trivia: Armistead Maupin wrote the introduction to Berlin Stories.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1940s” (p 177). Also from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called simply, “Berlin” (p 36). I should note that I feel slightly tricked. Pearl mentioned The Berlin Stories was comprised of The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin but I thought she meant they were short stories. Oops! The good news is a result of this error I was actually able to cross three titles off my list because they were all listed in the index.


Guns of August

Tuchman, Barbara. The Guns of August. New York: Dell, 1971.

My copy of The Guns of August is a squat, 576 page, dirty, and torn paperback. It has been taped several times over and written in much, much more. Nothing drives me more nuts than a library book with someone’s scrawl all over it. Donated or not, it never should have gotten into the collection that way. But, back to the actual book.

The Guns of August is nothing short of impressive. It should have won a Pulitzer for history but because Pulitzers for history can only be handed out for U.S. history, it got one for nonfiction. Same diff in my book. It was a national best seller, John F. Kennedy referred to it on more than one occasion as the end all-be all for political strategy and it was made into a movie. In other words, the critics have weighed in – it’s a good book.

Lines that (oddly) made me laugh: “Systematic attention to detail was not a notable characteristic of the Russian Army” (p 78).
“Messimy telephoned to Premier Viviani who, though exhausted by the night’s events, had not yer gone to bed. “Good God!” he exploded, “these Russians are worse insomniacs than they are drinkers”…” (p 109).

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 225). Indeed.
Confession: because of the length of The Guns of August I read it for the entire month of January.