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.