Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. New York: Dial Press, 2008.
Reason read: Poland usually celebrates a music festival in August. Probably not this year. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society does not take place in Poland, nor has anything to do with Poland.
Epistolary novels are always fun to read. The trick for the author is to make each letter-writer’s voice different. I would like to imagine Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows writing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by writing back and forth to each other because the exchanges are very well done. However, I know that Shaffer asked Barrows to assist in finishing the book when she became ill.
So, for the plot: Imagine it is January 1946. The Second Great War has come to a close and everyone is dealing with the aftermath, especially England. London writer and biographer Juliet Ashton receives a letter out of the blue from a man in the Channel Islands. He is a complete stranger but has read Ashton’s article on Charles Lamb. Of course Ashton writes back as soon as she hears the gentleman is a member of the curious society called the Guernsey and Potato Peel on the island of Guernsey. Soon Ashton gets the idea to write a piece about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It all started with an illegal roast pig supper…What follows is not your typical romance or even your typical historical novel about the German occupation during World War II, but a strange and wonderful combination of the two.
Best quote to quote, “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books” (p 53).
Author(s) facts: Mary Ann Shaffer was a librarian and an editor who died in 2008. Annie Barrows is Shaffer’s niece.
Book trivia: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a New York Times Bestseller.
Nancy said: In the chapter “Guernsey: History in Fiction” Pearl called Shaffer’s book “excellent” (p 90), but in “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181), Pearl compared another book to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
BookLust Twist: a double mention in Book Lust To Go. First, in the chapter called simply “Guernsey: History in Fiction” (p 90), and then in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181). Disclaimer: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has nothing to do with Poland and should not be mentioned in “Polish Your Polish.” It’s another one of those “if you like this book, then you will love this book” mentions.
Terkel, Studs. “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War Two. New York: Partheon Books, 1984
Reason read: I am taking a full two months to the “The Good War.” Victory Day is May 9th and D-Day is June 6th.
The best way to read “The Good War” is to sit down with a cup of coffee and envision a WWII vet sitting across from you. He has a faraway look in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands as he remembers best a single event that most likely changed his life forever. But, don’t stop there. Now sitting across from you could be a businessman, a nurse, a dress maker, a dancer, a man who was just a child during the war and thought the battlefield was place of adventure. you might imagine someone who survived a prison camp, or a conscientious objector, or a young boy who thought enlisting would be a chance to prove himself…Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life. Each story is unique and yet, yet hauntingly similar. You hear of young men losing their sense of humanity in the face of unimaginable cruelty: a man remembers watching his comrade in arms throw pebbles into the open skull of a dead Japanese soldier; the smell of cooking cats. Other young men speak of hiding their sexual orientation while trying to appear manly enough for battle (Ted Allenby’s story reminded me of Ryan O’Callaghan a great deal). But, you also hear from the women: wives and girlfriends left behind, Red Cross nurses on the front lines, even singers sent to entertain the troops. It is easy to see why this stunning nonfiction won a Pulitzer.
Quotes to quote, “No matter what the official edict, for millions of American women home would never be again a Doll’s House” (p 10), and “I got on the stick and wrote the President again” (p 21), and “Must a society experience horror in order to understand horror?” (p 14).
Author fact: Studs’s real name was Louis.
Book trivia: “The Good War” won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1985.
Nancy said: Pearl said you could never do better than Terkel’s “The Good War” for an oral history. Agreed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War Two Nonfiction” (p 254).
When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:
- African Queen by C.S. Forester
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
- American Chica by Marie Arana
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
- Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
- Die Trying by Lee Child
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Early Review cleanup:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
- Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Sturm, Izaak. Filling in the Pieces: a Survival Story of the Holocaust. New York: Gefen Publishing, 2019.
Reason read: an Early Review book from LibraryThing.
The expectations put forth to the reader in Rabbi Hier’s introductions are many. There is the promise we won’t be immune to heartbreak and triumph. We will be powerfully reminded of the atrocities of World War II. We will be provided with a clear-eyed view of human behavior throughout this disturbing time. We will have insight into both the world of the perpetrator and survivor alike. We will be reminded that the Holocaust must be remembered and not denied, forgotten, or repeated. We will learn from the author’s persistence to survive. Above all else, we will be touched. All of that is true. Expectations such as these and then-some are met in Sturm’s courageous words.
Introduction by Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Preface by Moish (Mark) Sturm, Izaak’s son.
Favorite element of the book: There is an attention to detail as if history depends on Sturm getting it exact (like the precise year of his birth). Footnotes are plentiful.
Book trivia: the photographs are generous, both in color and black and white.
Confessional: for years and years my senses would avoid anything involving Hitler and the atrocities of World War II. I didn’t want to see, smell, taste, feel, or hear anything about that horrific time. Stories of lamps made from human skin would keep my young imagination reeling as my heart beat out of my chest in pure terror. I have reoccurring dreams of bombs being unceremoniously and carelessly dropped over Monhegan. I still wake in the middle of the night listening to the drone of engines in the sky. Nightmares still creep across my eyelids and I often wake up in a cold sweat thoroughly convinced someone could be coming to take my teeth with pliers at any minute.
Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:
- African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
- Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
- American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
- If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
- Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
- Open Water by Mikael Sturm.
Burgess, Anthony. Any Old Iron. New York: Washington Square Press, 1989.
Reason read: the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December. We remember the event every December 7th.
If you are familiar with A Clockwork Orange please put that out of your head when you read Any Old Iron. This is a completely different style of book (and somewhat easier to read; less cringe-worthy). Having said all that, you will need to hang onto your seats because in Any Old Iron Burgess will take you on a fifty year journey through history at breakneck speed. Along this journey you will travel with two families, one Welsh-Russian (told in third person), the other Jewish (told in vague and ghostly first person). You will careen through World War I, the founding of Israel, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War II, just to name a few historic events. All the while you are submersed in the Welsh, Russian, and Jewish cultures of these two larger than life families.
The title comes from word play as King Arthur’s sword also factors into the plot (as an aside, there is an old British music hall song of the same name of which I admit, I was less familiar).
Maybe I am making a generalization, but the thing about multi-generational sagas than span fifty years is that you tend to get attached to certain characters as you watch them age. I know I did.
Confessional: I had a “Natalie” moment when the aunt says of some illustrations they were “pornography in the manner of Alma-Tadema” (p 96). Thanks to the poem “If No One Ever Marries Me” I knew exactly what family the aunt (and Burgess) was referencing. Although Burgess could have meant Pre-Raphaelite Lawrence or his second daughter, Anna, who was also an artist.
Lines I liked, “I am no metallurgist, merely a retired terrorist and teacher of philosophy” (p 3), “Perhaps everybody was mad and war was the great sanitizer” (p 96), and “None had been taught to look at a map as a picture of human pain” (p 188).
Author fact: Burgess is probably most famous for A Clockwork Orange. As an aside, I had to watch ACO for a film class. It haunted me for
weeks months. I couldn’t get the fear of not being able to close my eyes out of my psyche.
Book trivia: Any Old Iron has been categorized as historical fantasy.
Nancy said: Pearl said “there are some moving sections about World War II” in Any Old Iron (Book Lust p 253).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Fiction” (p 253).
Shute, Nevil. Landfall: a Channel Story. London: Heron, 1969.
Reason read: the movie version of Landfall was released in May of 1949.
Roderick “Jerry” Chambers is a young and ambitious officer in the Royal Air Force. The story opens with Jerry meeting sweet Mona Stevens at a dance. This chance encounter proves to be a blessing in disguise for Jerry later in the story.
The early stages of World War II serves as the backdrop for Landfall. Jerry has been conducting air patrols off the southern coast of England. He’s a good pilot and on one mission he skillfully sinks what he thinks to be a German submarine, only to find all evidence points to it actually being British. While Chambers ultimately escapes disciplinary action, he shamefully retreats to a post as far away as possible from the disaster in northern England. Meanwhile, Mona has been eavesdropping on officers in the snack bar where she works. Despite the black mark on Jerry’s career Mona has stuck by him. Pretty soon she is able to discern what really happened with Jerry regarding the British submarine business. Only, it might be too late to clear his name. Jerry has been seriously wounded in an bombing experiment and rumor has it he may not make it through the night.
As an aside, all of Shute’s women (So far On the Beach and Landfall) are easy going and thoughtful with a keen sense of humor.
Best quote, “So let them pass, small people of no great significance, caught up and swept together like dead leaves in the great whirlwind of the war” (p 499).
Author fact: Shute had a stammer that hindered him from joining the Royal Flying Corps.
Book trivia: My borrowed copy had illustrations by Charles Keeping. They were cool.
Nancy said: nothing.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called, “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 199).
Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years 1942 – 1945. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1995.
Reason read: Victor Klemperer was born on October 9th. This is the second volume of his journal.
In the first installment of I Will Bear Witness Klemperer spent a great deal of time worrying about his health and borrowing money from one of his siblings. He stressed constantly about being in debt and dying of a heart attack. He didn’t know which was worse. In the second installment, as the Gestapo power grows crueler and crueler, Klemperer’s worries shift from paying the bills to getting enough food to eat and being “arrested” or called to the concentration camps. He is helpless with despair as he hears of dogcatching soldiers who are actually hunting Jews. Terror reins when friends are arrested and then shot “trying to escape”, and worse. Those unwilling to meet an unpredictable fate take matters into their own hands by committing suicide. In the face of all this uncertainty, little by little Klemperer and his wife lose simple creature comforts. When they move into their third and smallest apartment Victor is shocked by the lack of privacy; the promiscuity of everyone living so close to one another. Then the bombs fall. This is probably the most revealing of Klemperer’s diaries. How he and his wife escape is nothing short of miraculous. I held my breath through every page.
As an aside, I wish Klemperer would have shared his thoughts on I,Claudius by Robert Graves. It’s on my Challenge list.
Author fact: Using the confusion following the Allied bombing of Dresden, Klemperer and his wife escaped.
Quotes to mention (and there were a few since Klemperer was so profound). First, early on: “The feeling that it is my duty to write, that it is my life’s task, my calling” (p 12). Then later, “Religion or trust in God is a dirty business” (p 110), “But the inheritor of today is the evacuee or murder victim of tomorrow” (p 167), and “” ().
Book trivia: I Will Bear Witness is also known as To the Bitter End and is actually the second volume in a three-volume set. I am not reading the third installment, The Lesser Evil (1945 – 1959). In fact, it was never mentioned in Book Lust at all.
Nancy said: Nancy said Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130). Note: There is a typo in the index for both volumes of I Will Bear Witness. Both are indexed as I Will Beat Witness.
What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
- The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
- Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Beaufort by Ron Leshem
- Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
- No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
- Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
- I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer
Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.
Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.
Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.
No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.
From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.
Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.
Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).
Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.
Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.
Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).
I have been in physical therapy for my hip for more than a month now and here’s the sad, sad thing. I don’t feel much different. I still have trouble sleeping a night (last night I woke up every two hours) and runs haven’t been that much easier. I managed over sixty miles for the month and finally finished the dreaded half (the one I have been babbling about for months now. Yeah, that one). I definitely made more time for the books. Here is the ginormous list:
- Aristotle Detective by Margaret Anne Doody (finished in a week).
- All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams.
- Discarded Duke by Nancy Butler (finished in a week).
- Beautiful Children by Charles Bock (AB / print). Word to the wise, don’t do it!
- Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison (AB / print; finished in less than a week).
- Sense of the World by Jason Roberts (AB / print).
- I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years (1933-1941) by Victor Klemperer ~ in honor of Mr. Klemperer’s birth month.
- In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy
- We are Betrayed by Vardis Fisher.
- Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman ( finished in four days).
- Henry James: the Treacherous Years by Leon Edel (Can you believe I actually finished this within the same month?).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina (read in four days).
The month had finally arrived for the half marathon, my first and only of 2017. Enough said about that.
Here are the books I have planned:
- The Aristotle Detective by Margaret Anne Doody ~ in honor of Greece’s Ochi Day
- All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams ~ in honor of what else? Halloween.
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison ~ in honor of the first safari leader’s birth month (Major Sir William Wallace Cornwallis Harris born October 1848. How’s that for a name?) (AB / print)
- Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts ~ in honor of James Holman’s birth month (AB)
- The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman ~ to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents Day.
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel ~ to continue (and finish) the series started in April in honor of James’s birth month
- We are Betrayed by Vardis Fisher ~ to continue the series started in August
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina ~ and we are back to nonfiction.
If there is time:
- Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe (fiction)
- The Discarded Duke by Nancy Butler (fiction)
- In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy (nonfiction)
- I Will Bear Witness (vol.1) by Victor Klemperer (nonfiction)
Murphy, Devin. The Boat Runner. New York: Harper Perennial, 2017.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this is the September book awarded to me.
Told from the first person perspective of fourteen year old Jacob Koopman. He lives in a Dutch town during the early stages of World War II with his artistic older brother, Edwin, light bulb manufacturer father and musician mother, Drika. His father, in an attempt to build better relations with the Germans for their Volkswagon business, sends Jacob and Edwin to an SS training camp where they learn different aspects of warfare through fun and games. It seemed innocent enough until all hell breaks loose. It starts with a forbidding crack. Suddenly their quiet town is overrun with soldiers imposing curfews and taking over Father Koopman’s factory, then Edwin goes missing and Uncle Martin starts running ammunition and supplies for the Germans. When the Allied bombs begin to fall Jacob’s life changes forever. This is a tragic story of loyalty and survival; of doing whatever it takes to take your next breath.
I thoroughly enjoyed Murphy’s style of writing. There were certain angular sentences that really stuck out to me. You couldn’t help but catch your breath on their sharp corners. I still have scars…
Word of warning: do not read this right before bed. I had vivid dreams of war and some reason World War III was being fought against Darth Vadar. I was on a small pleasure boat somewhere off the Caribbean with his son…
As an aside, this is the first fiction I have received from the Early Review program in a really long time. I’m glad that I received it even though it is a truly tragic book.
What can I tell you about August? I still have moments of wanting to hurl myself off a cliff. But, but. But! The good news is, by default, that recklessness has made me shed my fear of flying, ants, and flying ants. I went zip lining in Alaska and found myself the first to volunteer; literally throwing myself off every platform.
I was forced to dedicate more time to the run while I punished myself with late-read books from July. As a result of all that, August’s mileage was decent considering 10 days were spent traveling (25 – the most since April) while the reading list was a little lackluster:
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (AB left over from July)
- In Tragic Life by Vardis Fisher – such a sad book!
- Hawthorne: a Life by Brenda Wineapple (left over from July)
- Miami by Joan Didion
- The Eagle Has Flown by Jack Higgins
- Henry James: the Middle Years by Leon Edel (left over from JUNE)
- Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock – I know, I know. I shouldn’t be reading anything for fun while I had so many July books still on my plate. This took me all over an hour to read and besides, Bantock is one of my favorites. How could I not?
Higgins, Jack. The Eagle Has Flown. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1991.
Reason read: Jack Higgins was born in July. This finishes the series started in honor of his birth month.
At the end of The Eagle Has Landed a German plot to kidnap Prime Minister Winston Churchill had failed horribly and a massacre ensued. Left in suspense, readers didn’t know if antagonists Liam Devlin and Kurt Steiner survived. Now, in the much-anticipated sequel we learn Steiner did survive. He is being held prisoner in the Tower of London. And who better to rescue Steiner than Liam Devlin who also survived the botched kidnapping? Yes, he survived. Of course he did, he’s the center character. Devlin is the bad guy we all love to hate: poet, daredevil, ruggedly handsome gunslinger, a scholar and, as a member of the IRA, a man who stands by his convictions. He claims to be neutral but wants a united Ireland; he couldn’t care a lick about Nazi Germany but will chose the side with the biggest payout. General Walter Schellenberg is sent to recruit Devlin to the task, but standing in his way is Brigadier Dougal Munro of British Intelligence. He has a few tricks up his sleeve as well and what ensues is a fast paced chase across Europe. True to form, behind every Higgins plot there is an astonishingly resourceful and brilliant woman. This time there are a few. True to Higgins form, expect a twist at the end.
As an aside, I see my reading friend has taken to writing in books again. Shame on you, W.P.!
Author fact: in the blog before I mentioned Higgins wrote this book and Eye of the Needle. This time the author fact is simple. At the time of the publication of The Eagle Has Flown Higgins was living in the Channel Islands off the coast of California. Not be confused with the ones in the English Channel.
Book trivia: Eagle Has Flown is short and fast paced. One could read in a weekend.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter “World War II Fiction” (p 253).