Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: the Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 – 1925. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937.
Reason read: The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Additionally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of historical event.
Confessional: this took me a long time to finish.
The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war “smashed her youth” and “interrupted her personal plans” you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancé serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancé, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to “do something more” led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war’s terrible price. There is a growing sense of dread when Brittain describes reading the list of casualties and not having a single word from loved ones. The war matures Brittain. At the start of the conflict she naively hoped Roland would suffer a war wound so they could see each other. After some time changing the dressings of the amputees Brittain realizes she couldn’t wish that kind of horror on anyone.
Brittain’s autobiography continues after the war has ended and the struggle to return to civilian life becomes a reality. She has lost everyone she loved, friends and family alike.
As an aside, it is unclear if Vera was agnostic before the war or if the tragedies in France solidified an already growing idea idea.
Quotes to quote, “Someone is getting hell, but it isn’t you – yet,” (p 150), “Truly war had made masochists of us all” (p 154), “Too angry and miserable to be shy any more, we clung together and kissed in forlorn desperation” (p 189), “The world was mad and we were all victims, that was the only way to look at it” (p 376) and “I was not the culprit, for I was still too deeply and romantically in love with a memory to have any appetite for sexual unorthodoxies, but I am not sure that I should have owned up if I had been” (p 328).
Here is the sentence that had the most profound effect on me, “I entirely failed to notice the assassination on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard” (p 85).
Author fact: Even though Brittain is best known for her autobiographies she was also an accomplished poet.
Book trivia: Brittain includes a great deal of poetry from several different poets. Testament of Youth was a Masterpiece Theater dramatic series present on PBS by WGBH in Boston.
Playlist: “Elizabeth’s Prayer,” “Jewel Song,” “Clair de Lune,” “Te Deum Patreum Colimus,” “L’Envoi,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “We are Soldiers of the Queen, Me Lads,” “Good-bye Dolly, I Must Leave You,” “When the Heart is Young,” “Whisper and I Shall Hear,” “Distant Shore,” “Robert the Devil,” “Dreaming,” “The Vision of Salome,” “Elgar’s Lament for the Fallen,” Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, Verdi’s Requiem, Bram’s Requiem, “Sweet Early Violets,” “Down in the Forest,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “O Hel-, O Hel-“
Nancy said: Pearl called Testament of Youth “moving.” She also called it “One of the finest accounts ever written of World War I” (More Book Lust p 155).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).
Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.
Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.
Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.
Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).
Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.
Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.
Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!
Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.
To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.
Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?
As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.
Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.
Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.
Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.
I thought May was going to be a disaster. The first two and a half weeks were nothing but rain and way cooler temps. I worried about my garden. I didn’t feel like running. It felt like a downward spiral. I ended up running only 28 miles and running away to Monhegan for a week so it ended better than it began. But…it’s still raining.
“…when May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour” ~ Natalie Merchant, These are Days.
“I wanted to be there by May, at the latest. April is over. Can you tell me how long before I can be there?” ~ Natalie Merchant, Painted Desert.
Here are the books:
- H by Elizabeth Shepard (read in one day)
- Nerve by Dick Francis (read in two days)
- A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller
- Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves
- Age of Gold by HW Brands
- Lusitania: an epic tragedy by Diana Preston
- “Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (finished the series)
- As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (okay, so I didn’t know this was part of a trilogy).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- At the Broken Places by Mary and Donald Collins
Graves, Robert. Good-Bye to All That: an autobiography. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1929.
Reason read: Memorial Day is May 29th this year. Read in honor of remembering World War I veterans. Robert Graves is one to remember.
Robert Graves decided to tell his autobiography when he was a mere 34 years old. After experiencing the horrors of World War I he must have felt he had lived a lifetime by the time he was in his 30s. His descriptions of early trench-warfare and as one example, the crude, ineffective gas masks are haunting. Despite it all, Graves was able to keep some decency about him. This is evident when he was unable to shoot a German soldier who was bathing. There was something about the man’s nakedness that unnerved Graves. And yet, he had a job to do…
Authors usually don’t take the time to describe their picture in a book. Robert Graves explains why his nose is large and crooked (broken twice & operated on once) and why one shoulder dips lower (courtesy of a lung wound). He makes modest statements about how the world sees him (like how he broke two front teeth when he was thirteen) as if to offer apologies for his face. Despite these descriptions the most obvious is that World War I was not easy on Robert Graves. One look at his 1929 photograph on the frontispiece of Good-Bye to All That and one can tell he was a broken man by the time the picture was taken. His haunted staring eyes speak volumes.
But, probably the biggest surprise about Graves’s autobiography was the humor. I don’t know if he meant to be funny but if not, he succeeded without trying.
Two lines that left me dumbstruck, “My dedication is an epilogue” (dedication page) and “The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of thirty-three, are simple enough: an opportunity for a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that…” (p 1).
The definition of courage: “I had a bad head for heights and trained myself deliberately and painfully to overcome it…I have worked hard on myself in defining and dispersing terrors” (p 48).
As an aside, I am currently reading another book that takes place during World War I simply called Lusitania. Graves mentions the tragic events surrounding the torpedoing of the ocean liner in Good-Bye to All That but admits, “As for the Lusitania, the Germans gave her full warning, and if it brings the States into the war, it’s all to the good” (p 247).
Author fact: I don’t know when I first read anything by Robert Graves, but I do know when I really heard him and absorbed his words for the very first time. I heard him with ears wide open when Natalie Merchant decided to put his poem “Vain and Careless” to music. Incidentally, this was the first time I heard of the game Bob Cherry, too.
Book trivia: Good-Bye to All That has trench maps which put Robert’s ordeal into perspective for me.
Nancy said: Nancy said Graves wrote about his “disillusioning experiences” (p 154).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).
Faulks, Sebastian. Birdsong. Read by Peter Firth. New Hampshire: Chivers North America Audio Books, 2000.
Birdsong is broken into seven different sections covering three different periods of main character Stephen Wraysford’s life, 1910, 1916 – 1918, and 1978 – 1979 (the last being through the eyes of his granddaughter, Elizabeth). When we first meet Stephen in 1910 he is a young Englishman sent to France to observe operations at a textile mill in Amiens. It is there that he meets the beautiful and lonely Mrs. Isabelle Azaire. From the moment they meet, their attraction to one another is instantaneous and unavoidable. Even an innocent activity like pruning in the garden speaks volumes of what is to come. It isn’t long before the two give in to their carnal desires and commit adultery. If you are shy about sex scenes, there are a few you may want to skip. The second encounter in the library is pretty racy! The attraction between the lovers is so strong that Isabelle runs away with Stephen, only to be wracked by guilt causing her to leave him a short time later. We don’t know what happens to this couple after Isabelle’s leaving. This is a mystery that hangs over the next section of Stephen’s life.
When we meet up again with Stephen it is six years later and he is a soldier, sent to work in the tunnels below enemy lines. This section of the book, covering World War I, is incredibly graphic and haunting. Faulk’s portrayals of battle are as realistic as they are heartbreaking, especially in the claustrophobic tunnels. Interspersed between Stephen’s World War I experiences is the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth. When she becomes curious about his life she sets out to learn all that she can. She ends up learning more about herself in the process. History repeats itself and comes full circle for Wraysford’s legacy.
PS ~ I like the way Peter Firth reads. His voice is really pleasant. But, unlike Kirsten Potter, who read The Locust Eaters, Firth doesn’t even attempt a French accent! He does an Australian one pretty well, though.
Reason read: Austria started World War I on June 28, 1914.
Author fact: Faulks is also a journalist.
Book trivia: Birdsong is actually the second book in a trilogy. I didn’t find that out until I entered it into LibraryThing. Bad news and good news. The bad news is that the first book is not on my list. However, the good news is that the third book, Charlotte Gray, is…so I’ll read two-thirds of the trilogy. Pearl makes no mention of these two books being connected.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I (fiction)” (p 250).
As an aside, I always think of the Grateful Dead when I hear the word “birdsong” and I am filled with nostalgia. When my husband and I were first dating I took him home to Monhegan. He brought along a video camera and made a music video of the island with Birdsong playing in the background. The video starts with me sitting on the floor in the old apartment trying to pack. So long ago!
Itani, Frances. Deafening. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.
This story is filled with such tragedy. In Part I Grania O’Neill is just five years old when she loses her hearing after a bout with scarlet fever. Her family is desperate to make her normal, to help her fit in the the hearing world. Her grandmother and sister devote themselves to helping her cope. When it is obvious she can’t, Grania, at nine years old, is sent away to a boarding school for the deaf. Part II covers one year. The year is 1915 and Grania is now 19 and working at Gibson Hospital. She meets and marries a hearing man, Jim Lloyd. In Part III Jim has gone to help in the war effort as a medic. The violence he encounters at this time assaults his senses to the core, but it is the thought of Grania and their love that sustains him. Part IIII (that is deliberate) covers 1917 – 1918. Jim has been gone for two years and Grania remains vigilant for his letters and watchful of the changing war efforts. The book ends with Part V, 1919 and the end of the war. So much has changed during this time. So many people have died and relationships are forever changed. I won’t spoil the end except to say it was beautifully written. A book I couldn’t put down.
Telling lines, “What she can’t see she can’t be expected to understand” (p 14), “Words fly through the air and fall, static and dead” (p 43), “He had never known a language that so thoroughly encompassed love” (p 132), and “War ground on like the headless, thoughtless monster that could not be stopped” (p 237).
Reason read: October is National Protect Your Hearing Month.
Book trivia: Deafening was written as a tribute to Itani’s grandmother who was became deaf at 18 months.
Author fact: Deafening is Frances Itani’s first book.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Other Peoples Shoes” (p 182).
August was a little of this and a little of that. Some people will notice I have made some changes to the book challenge – some changes more noticeable than others. For starters, how I review. I now add a section of why I’m reading the book. For some reason I think it’s important to include that in the review. Next, how I read. I am now adding audio books into the mix. I am allowing myself to add an audio book in “trapped” situations when holding a book and keeping my eyes on the page might be an inconvenience (like flying) or endanger someone (like driving). I’m also making a effort to avoid wasting time on books I don’t care for (like Honore de Balzac). One last change: I am not as stringent about reading something within the month. If I want to start something a little early because it’s right in front of my face then so be it.
What else was August about? August was also the month I lost my dear Cassidy for a week. I spent many a night either in an insomniac state or sitting on the back porch, reading out loud in hopes the sound of my voice would draw my calico to me. The only thing it yielded was more books finished in the month of August. She finally came home one week later.
Anyway, enough of all that. I’ll cry if I continue. Onto the books:
I started the month by reading and rereading Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls by Robert Westphal. This was the first time I read and reviewed a book after meeting the author. I wanted to get it right. I also wanted to make sure I was an honest as possible about the situation. Everything about this review was unusual. For the challenge:
- After You’ve Gone by Alice Adams ~ I read this in three days and learned a valuable lesson about Adams’s work: read it slowly and parse it out. Otherwise it becomes redundant.
- Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin ~ I read this in ten days, tucking myself in a study carrell and reading for an hour everyday.
- Fahrenheit 541 by Ray Bradbury ~ an audio book that only took me nine days to listen to.
- Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ~ read with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I took both of these to Maine and had oodles of car-time to finish both.
- We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich ~ this was probably my favorite nonfiction of the challenge. Rich’s Maine humor practically jumped off the page. I read this to Cassidy.
- The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder ~ I read this in three days, again hiding myself away in a study carrell.
- Ten Hours Until Dawn by Tougis ~ another audio book. I’m glad I listened to this one as opposed to reading it. Many reviewers called it “tedious” and I think by listening to it I avoided that perspective.
- The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson ~ I read this in two days (something I think I thought I was going to get to in June).
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque ~ I read this in honor of World War I ending. I also read it in one night while waiting for Cassidy to come home.
- The Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann ~ also read in one night. In honor of New Orleans and the month Hurricane Katrina rolled into town.
- Kristin Lavransdatter: the Cross by Sigrid Undset ~ finally put down the Norwegian trilogy!
For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing:
- The Most Memorable Games in New England Patriots History by Bernard Corbett and Jim Baker. This was supposed to be on my list a year ago. Better late than never.
- Sex So Great She Can’t Get Enough by Barbara Keesling. This took me an inordinate amount of time to read. Guess I didn’t want to be seen in public with it.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Translated by A.W. Wheen. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Do people consider this a classic? I think I have been aware of this book for the past 35 years but have never read it before now. If someone said “all quiet” I would finish with “on the western front.”
Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front there is the theme of a lost innocence. Soldiers as young as 18 or 19 reflect on a childhood lost. The main character of Paul Baumer is constantly thinking about how, if he were to survive the war, he could never relate to the peacetime world around him. He scoffs at the word “peace.” I saw All Quiet as a commentary on survival in its purest form. Doing anything and everything you can to live another day. When one soldier is obviously on death’s door another wants his boots and starts planning a strategy to get them…even before the dying man has drawn his last breath. This is not callousness personified. This is survival. He knows the boots are of no use to the dying soldier. They would be to him, if only he could get them before someone else does. Ironically, the boots are later passed along to Paul eventually.
Another aspect of Remarque’s work that bears mentioning is the detail he pays to describing death. While the images are unforgiving, violent and grotesque, it is war in its truest state and at its worst. Some of the images that stuck with me: a butterfly flitting around a field of dead men and finally settling to rest on the teeth of a corpse; a screaming horse that can’t be put out of his misery because he will reveal the hiding place of the soldiers.
Lines that moved me one way or another, “The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other. The mischief is merely that each one has too much power” (p 44) and “At the same time he ventilated his backside” (p 83).
Book Trivia: This was made into a movie twice – once in 1930 and again almost 50 years later in 1979. It won an Academy Award in 1930.
Author Fact: Remarque served as a soldier on the western front in World War I. I can’t help but think All Quiet on the Western Front is almost autobiographical.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two chapters “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1920s” (p 176) and “World War I Fiction” (p 250).
Tuchman, W. Barbara. The Zimmerman Telegram. New York: Viking Press, 1958.
I can only imagine how popular this book must have been in its day. The First Great War was not a distant memory at the time of its publication. In fact, the events of World War I were probably still fresh in everyone’s mind having just survived the Second World War. I know The Zimmerman Telegram was required reading for at least one political science course at my college.
Probably the most compelling thing about Tuchman’s writing is her ability to make even well-known history as compelling whodunnit mystery. Written as smoothly as a novel The Zimmerman Telegram recounts the events leading up to the United State’s involvement in World War I starting with a telegraph written by Arthur Zimmerman to Imperial German Minister in Mexico Von Eckhardt. This telegram was proposing a partnership between Germany, Mexico and Japan to form an allegiance against the U.S. Intercepted by the British, it is important to point out that the U.S. was reluctant to join the war until provoked by this telegram.
The line that summed it all up for me (and was ironically enough on the first page),”Mute and passive on the paper, they gave forth no hint that a key to the war’s deadlock lay concealed in their irregular jumble” (p 3).
Disclaimer: I wasn’t supposed to read this until 2013 but I felt so bad about abandoning A Distant Mirror that I wanted to read something else by Tuchman before the month was over.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 225).
O’Brien, Johnny. Day of the Assassins.Somerville: Templar, 2009.
Any action/adventure series geared toward teenage boys needs to be fast paced. It requires suspense, daring escapades, narrow escapes, and of course, a little violence. Day of the Assassins has all of that while cleverly inserting a history lesson along the way. In order for character development and foreshadowing, Day of the Assassins starts off slow. Jack Christie is a typical video-playing teenage boy who comes from a broken home. While he doesn’t really understand the nature of his parents divorce, he is smart enough to know when his questions are being evaded by mom. Interesting enough, all will be revealed when Jack and his best friend, Angus, are transported back in time to the year 1914, right before the start of World War I. Suddenly, they find themselves in Sarajevo with the bad guys one step behind. The only problem is Jack and Angus don’t know who to trust. Everyone who appears to be on the right side turns out to be a traitor of sorts. It’s a cat and mouse game played out through the days and events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Day of the Assassins is cleverly enhanced with photographs, maps, background information and an author explanation for the book.
I am assuming Angus was supposed to be named Albie in an early version – either that or there is a typo on the map on page 193.
Powers, Richard. Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1985.
Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance centers around a clever theme: a photograph. It begins with a contemporary first person account from a man traveling across the country. Seeking to occupy his time during a five hour layover in Detroit he visits an art museum and discovers a photograph that hijacks his imagination. It is a 1914-1915 photograph of three men identically dressed, identically posed, walking down a muddy road. The story then moves to third person as the narrative crawls inside the photograph and relives the three brothers’s perspective on the brink of war. The final aspect of The Farmers is another contemporary story of a Boston based computer writer who finds the same photograph in his family heirlooms. While the story centers on a photograph, the central theme is technology and it’s contribution to World War I. Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance intertwines fiction with nonfiction, mixing real people and events to a fictional landscape.
Favorite line: “You ride a bicycle instead of an auto, and you tel lies for a living. I cannot think of a worse combination” (p 26).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Richard Powers: Too Good to Miss” (p 192).
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.
January started off and ended with a head cold (damn you, kisa), a really nice dinner party, a re-commitment to the
houses HOUSE (glutton for punishment that I am), a re-commitment to charities with a big one – training for a 20 mile walk for Project Bread, a huge re-commitment to friendships and huge changes at the library. For books it was:
- Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather in honor of New Mexico becoming a state in January.
- Red Death by Walter Mosely in honor of Walter’s birthday being in January
- Biggest Elvis by P.F. Kluge in honor of both Elvis and P.F. celebrating their birthdays in January.
- Devices and Desires by P.D. James ~ in honor of mystery month.
- The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer by Carol Hill
- Edith Wharton: a Biography by R.W.B. Lewis ~ in honor of Edith’s birthday on January 24th.
- The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman ~ in honor of Barbara’s birthday.
- The Letters by Luanne Rice and Joseph Monninger ~ a story that partially takes place on Monhegan. How could I resist? This is the blog that was plagarized by some dumb-azz.
- 30 pages of Nutritional Wisdom ~ a Christmas gift from my sister.
So I didn’t get a LibraryThing Early Review book in January. That’s not a big deal. I have certainly gotten my fair share over the course of the program so I’m not complaining. I do have to admit, I feel a little guilty. For the first time ever, I am really late publishing the review for the last ER book. Maybe that had something to do with it…who knows?
ps~ I did get one for February, or so I am told! 🙂
MacKenzie, Jeanne. The Children of the Souls; a Tragedy of the First World War. London: Chatto & Windus, 1986.
When I first read about Children of the Souls; a Tragedy of the First World War in Book Lust I was excited to read it. Nancy Pearl described it as a book that “looks at the effects of World War I on a group of upper-class intellectuals” (p 251). Thanks to Tufts University I was able to borrow this book for a month and I needed a month just to even get into the story. Children of the Souls is sectioned into two parts. Part one sets up the lives of the intellectuals, The Souls. For the first 137 pages there is barely a mention of tragedy and even less of war (and the book is only 262 pages long). Like Pearl said these are the wealthy, the upper-class of England and author MacKenzie goes on and on about their schooling (all at Cambridge), their parties and socialite psychologies. I had a good laugh over the language when thinking of it in 21st century terms, “no one has molested me at all yet,” (p33) and, “I think there is something obscene about him, like the electric eel at the Zoo…” (p106).
It was hard to think of these people as tragic when one of their weddings was described as such, “With eight bridesmaids wearing dresses copied from Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ the splendour was almost regal and overwhelming” (p112) and the description of their social lives is as follows- “parties of all kinds were now the warp and woof of their lives.” (p132)
Parts I and II are separated by photographs of the Souls. I studied their faces, thought about their lives. I couldn’t relate. They lived in a time I’ll never see, in a country to which I haven’t been. Their pictures were as foreign to me as green skinned aliens. I couldn’t even imagine a conversation between us. I’m sure it was the wealth, the high society that built the barrier and limited my imagination.
Part II introduces the politics behind World War I. Let the seriousness begin! What surprised me the most was how quickly everyone died. The first half of the book doesn’t mention the war and the second half is spent killing everyone off, one by one. I was disappointed I didn’t have more about how they experienced the war. Did their intelligence help them? Their wealth couldn’t save them.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the straightforward chapter about, “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251).