I had such hopes of this when I started. "If the reader be not pleased with the following sketch of early American customs, he should blame a certain...moreI had such hopes of this when I started. "If the reader be not pleased with the following sketch of early American customs, he should blame a certain ancient sofa, and not the author! For it was the said sofa that caused these lines to be written, and it came about in this way: Among some old furniture handed down in our family is an unusually long mahogany sofa, upon which, says tradition, General Lafayette frequently sat when he came to take tea. Tradition further alleged that in the memoirs of some Frenchman (name not given( this fact was set forth at length. Curiosity to read what this unknown had to say upon the subject led through such pleasant literary country that soon the original purpose of the quest gave way to a constantly growing interest in these memoirs and records of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, from the battle of Lexington till the transfer of the Federal Government to the city of Washington."
He wrote a survey of memoirs because of a sofa! I felt as if I'd found a kindred spirit. (Maybe it was actually a recamier, who knows.)
Unfortunately, the book is not a reproduction of full memoirs, to even substantial extracts, but rather just snippets, interspersed with the author's rather jingoistic commentary. (This was first published in 1915.) Serious students of history are best using this as a guide to some of the available material, or as a fallback source if they are unable to access the originals.
The first chapter becomes rather wearing; it is an introduction and can probably be safely skipped. The most valuable information, a list of the diarists, can be found as a concise list at the back of the book.
List of chapters: (view spoiler)[Our French Visitors; Dancing, visits, music, cards, conversation, etiquette; Dress and French fashions. Courtship and marriage; What our ancestors ate and drank; American physical traits and temperament, and the effect of our climate; City life, and especially in Philadelphia, Charleston, and Boston; City Life (continued). Newport, Providence, Hartford, New Haven, Albany, Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, and Washington; Country life; Travels - ites conveniences and inconveniences; Education, colleges newspapers, interest in public affairs; Religious observances; The learned progressions: Law, medicine, architecture, etc.; Labor, Manufacture, Merchant Marine, and foreign trade; The allied armies; Bibliography. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This caught my eye while I was at the library looking for something completely unrelated. I like airshows and cool old planes, so I figured why not. I...moreThis caught my eye while I was at the library looking for something completely unrelated. I like airshows and cool old planes, so I figured why not. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn't this, exactly. There's a lot of inside baseball here concerning airshows, how to run them, and the internal politics of the warbird movement. (If you're like me, you read "warbird" and think "Star Trek?", but no. That's apparently the term for vintage military aircraft.)
For me, this has some utterly skippable parts as well as some very awesome parts. If you're interested in how mechanical things work, the sections on restoring and repairing old planes will hold some appeal. If you generally like to geek over old planes, the section about flying three B-17s across the Atlantic and the retired military pilot talking about carrier landings and how they apply to learning to fly a particular plane (and the general difference between civilian and military aviation training) will likely be of interest.
Several sections are apparently unedited letters or recorded statements. Those, plus the rather, um, antiquated tone and style and viewpoint, were a little off-putting. But overall, I don't feel like I wasted my time.(less)
3.5. Really close to a 4 at some points, but not quite. Sometimes it reminded me of the prose of Kage Baker. I think it would have made me think of th...more3.5. Really close to a 4 at some points, but not quite. Sometimes it reminded me of the prose of Kage Baker. I think it would have made me think of that even without the Spanish setting, but it's impossible to say.
It's about cheese, yeah, but it's not only about cheese. And there's the betrayal and revenge stuff, sure, but what the author is really doing here, and why this book took over ten years to produce, is because he's dealing with stories and why they're important. And also national-cultural identity as reflected in our personal lives, and how we can want to change that but can't always do so. Does that sound boring? Nonsense. Check out this excerpt:
(view spoiler)[My kids were back at home, and my wife, and there were bills to pay, and I owed England a bunch of money and then I had another thought: I'm not really Castilian, am I? Sara had said as much, but I hadn't believed her—hadn't wanted to—for in that moment, I'd felt myself so close to a breakthrough. I'd desperately needed a breakthough. Why couldn't I be the guy in the poncho, herding my family to a slower way of living? Why couldn't I settle in here and embrace the simple life, its quietude and old-wrld charms? What was so wrong about wanting to sit by the fire with your family, telling stories?
But no. It was like the boy raised by wolves, who realizes he likes raw rabbit innards less than pepperoni pizza, and begins to ask some hard questions. I heard a voice in my head singing my lonely hallelujah—and it now seemed as plain as deep-fried sheep ears when it spoke: You're an American, dude. I had long ago pledged my allegiance to Starbucks and microbrews, to stupid TV shows and those fluorescent Slurpees. I liked to order food without always hearing, "Como?" I couldn't invent attachment-apparatuses for a tractor, let alone drive one. When I was away from home, I missed vegetables and the phone ringing with some new assignment to somewhere i'd never heard of. Or a friend around the corner who wanted to grab a beer. I pledged allegiance to the ideals of our oft-flawed political system, for, at our best, we seemed less haunted than other countries, more protean, less grudge-holding, even if the world seemed more so toward us (and sometimes for good reason). As much as I loved that version of Guzmán on its hill, I don't think my heart had ever soared higher than the first time I drove cross-country and, in an adrenalized rush, saw the Rockies, carved in indigo, before my eyes—nor was I ever more taken aback by pure, random friendliness than, when first walking into a Waffle House after hours of driving, I was greeted by the woman behind the counter with, "Hey, shug-ah, anything I can get you?"
Yes, American life was messy and maddening, overwhelming and aggressive, supersaturated and plaque plagued, but it was deeply comforting, too. In the blur of our digital times, we may not have been as in touch with out inner Daniel Boones as Ambroisio was in touch with his El Cid, but this America was who I was.
... I realized that whatever legacy I gave my kids, I wanted them to know what it meant to be close to the land, close to history, close to the song of stars at night. I wanted them to feel close to me, too, and to Sara, by finding unfettered time that was so hard to find unless you flew far away from the madness. But it hadn't occurred to me to try to tame that madness rather than escape it, to bring the lessons of Castile back to my American life. (hide spoiler)]
This book made me want to read Poema de Mio Cid and more about Goya, and the stuff that Paterniti quotes from Walter Benjamin. It has some very long footnote-digressions, so if you are not into that sort of thing, well, don't say I didn't try to make sure you went into it with your eyes open!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Very worth reading if you are at all into geeking out over the history of space exploration. Made me think of the Firestar series in so many ways. (Wh...moreVery worth reading if you are at all into geeking out over the history of space exploration. Made me think of the Firestar series in so many ways. (Which, again, if you are at all into space exploration SF, you ought to read.) The author spent his early career at the facility that became LARC. That added an extra element of interest for me, because I've been there. (Periodically they hold an open house — every few years — and if you are at all into what I've already mentioned twice, you should try to go.)(less)
Written in very simple language ... probably suitable for children, as long as they can cope with a somewhat disorganized narrative. (i.e., if a child...moreWritten in very simple language ... probably suitable for children, as long as they can cope with a somewhat disorganized narrative. (i.e., if a child is old enough to know what war is and think about the ethical problems, then reading this book should be all right.) The author became a born again Christian later in his life and this periodically surfaces in the narrative.(less)
I got as far as the trip to Beirut as part of the then-Secretary of State's press train and then kind of stalled out. While the author's feelings abou...moreI got as far as the trip to Beirut as part of the then-Secretary of State's press train and then kind of stalled out. While the author's feelings about her war-torn homeland were kind of interesting, they also felt like a not-very-compelling distraction.(less)
Complaints that this was shallow are ... not unjustified. There's a lot of focus on appearances and clothes and shopping. But while it's fluffy, it's...moreComplaints that this was shallow are ... not unjustified. There's a lot of focus on appearances and clothes and shopping. But while it's fluffy, it's not all affluent first world white woman problems. The core of this book is Facebook posts and tweets which the author has in some cases expanded into mini-essays. I enjoyed the anecdotes about adapting to Paris, and the sensory pleasures thereof. I liked how she talked in the introduction about waiting to experience the epiphanies that she read about in other cancer survivors' memoirs about the preciousness of life and living in the moment, and how it never happened, but that was okay. "I never did learn how to live in the moment, but I did learn that moments could be wasted and the world would continue to spin on its axis."(less)
Not the best memoir ever, but an interesting one, especially if you are interested in East Asia and have a little bit of background. I feel like this...moreNot the best memoir ever, but an interesting one, especially if you are interested in East Asia and have a little bit of background. I feel like this really needs some annotations. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any.
I'm disappointed that the followup was never written. Even though I think the story of her post-World War II experiences in China and Japan would have been more sad, it would have been worthwhile, I think. I wonder if this was the manuscript that she mentions working on at the home of Helen and Tom Lambert? (Helen Lambert was a war crimes prosecutor and her husband Tom was a war correspondent. They first came to my attention in The Women Who Wrote the War.)(less)
"I know longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself, or is still a book about small Japanese things."
It's always nice to come ac...more"I know longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself, or is still a book about small Japanese things."
It's always nice to come across an author who can admit that he's become confused. This book is part family or microhistory and part memoir. I think that is why there are a few negative reviews of this book on Goodreads. The jacket copy strongly suggests that this will be the story of how a maid daringly rescued a collection of objets d'art from under Nazi noses, and how the objects made their way back to the family who owned them before the chaos of World War II.
But it isn't really that — it is the story of one set of the author's ancestors, and their and the author's experience of art and collecting and travel and study. I enjoy reading this kind of book. But if you went in expecting a story with more action, you will almost certainly be disappointed. Very little is known about the maid who preserved the collection, and the scene where she explains how she preserved it (to the author's grandmother, who is now deceased) takes maybe a page.
I liked the author's rumination on art, especially pottery (something I've tried and wasn't very good at), and his description of japonisme as "the way in which the West has passionately and creatively misunderstood Japan for more than a hundred years." He made, so far as I can tell, a good use of surviving records, but he doesn't properly cite sources, and there is no index. It's an enjoyable read, but don't go in expecting it to be more than it is.(less)