If you crossed a historian, standup comedian and a blogger, you'd get Sarah Vowell.
This book on Lafayette is ostensibly built around his triumphant to If you crossed a historian, standup comedian and a blogger, you'd get Sarah Vowell.
This book on Lafayette is ostensibly built around his triumphant tour of the United States in the 1820s, when he was nearly the last of the Revolutionary luminaries still living, and where he was received rapturously at almost every stop.
But in fact, that's just an excuse for Vowell to give us her version of the history of the Revolutionary War, with a fairly thin background bio of Lafayette thrown in.
Not that it's not informative and entertaining. What struck me most was just how long the war lasted, and how it slogged along in its latter years until the unexpected and remarkable siege and surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
The book also serves as a reminder of how absolutely essential the French were to the success of the revolution. In fact, the single most important engagement of the war was probably not Bunker Hill or Saratoga or Trenton, but the naval battle in the Atlantic between French and British warships. The French won the day and then blockaded Chesapeake Bay, stranding Cornwallis between the water and surrounding colonial and French soldiers and leading to his surrender.
The story also includes not just Lafayette's desire for military glory and his hero worship of Washington, but the way in which he left his wife and child behind in order to pursue that fame.
I chuckled several times at Vowell's prose, but some of her asides, including the way in which she inserted friends who had visited some of the war sites with her and even a digression on Bruce Springsteen. whose ancestor was a colonial solider, were intrusive and unnecessary, and more than a few times, her attempts at humor were forced and grating.
Here style is breezy, informal, gossipy and full of self references. Easy to digest, but not necessarily the best way to tell a historical tale....more
I read this primarily because former Washington Post book editor Jonathan Yardley once said that J.P. Marquand's neglect by literary critics in recentI read this primarily because former Washington Post book editor Jonathan Yardley once said that J.P. Marquand's neglect by literary critics in recent decades was the most outrageous omission of the century.
Based on this subtle, sad book, I can very well see his point. Henry Pulham grew up in the old Boston society where everything you were and did and became followed a template laid down by an old boys' club. After going to St. Swithin's and then Harvard, Harry enlists in World War I, where -- unlike most of his contemporaries, including the fatuous former Harvard quarterback, Bo-Jo Brown -- he actually saw combat duty and went through a horrific experience being trapped with his troops in no man's land.
When Harry comes back from the war, he is restless, and suddenly his staid and settled world, the Boston winter home, the Maine summer home, the Harvard reunions, the tennis and squash and comfortable sinecures in conservative banking companies, is something he doesn't want to face.
With the help of sardonic Harvard classmate Bill King, who did not grow up in the monied families of Boston, Harry works for awhile in a New York advertising agency (think just pre-Mad Men), and there he meets the first woman he falls in love with, Marvin Myles, who is sophisticated, hard working, ambitious and much too flashy for his Boston crowd.
When his father suddenly becomes ill, Harry must return to Boston, and that leads to a break with Marvin, who has no intention of competing in his insular society, and it throws him into a found-each-other relationship with old acquaintance Kay Motford, who has recently broken off her engagement with his former college roommate.
At this point I'll let you see how the story develops, but even though the plot kept me engaged, the really masterful work Marquand does is to show how Harry is always unsettled by the world he inhabits, knowing somehow that he was made for better things, and yet another part of his personality just as strongly feels he could not live anywhere else, and he judges people by their class and backgrounds even though he is a decent and open hearted man.
What this will lead to, you will have to discover. It was enough to convince me that Yardley is right: Marquand should not be so neglected, and I will re-enter his kingdom again in the future....more
This homely (or should I say modest) little classic tells a late in life love story, of people and of books. For years, Helen McGill has kept her brotThis homely (or should I say modest) little classic tells a late in life love story, of people and of books. For years, Helen McGill has kept her brother's farm humming while he has gone off to become a homespun sage and author. As Andrew McGill gains a name for himself, Helen labors on, baking and baking, tending the chickens, keeping the house clean.
And then Roger Mifflin, the Professor, shows up with Parnassus, his traveling bookstore on wheels, pulled along by his gentle horse Peg. He is fond of Andrew's books and thinks it's time to sell his ingeniously designed vehicle and all its stock. But Helen, irritated at Andrew's absentee ways, impulsively buys Parnassus for herself and rides off with Mr. Mifflin, his stout horse and his pet. Mifflin intends to go home to Brooklyn to write a book about his years of efforts to bring literature and learning to the country's rural byways.
Of course, we all know where this is heading, even if it takes Helen quite a while to figure it out and a series of adventures with hobos, an angry brother, bankers, a train wreck and jail.
There is nothing pretentious about this book, and perhaps that is best expressed by Mifflin himself, when he proclaims his life's philosophy:
"There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning. A man should be learning as he goes; and he should be earning bread for himself and others; and he should be yearning, too; yearning to know the unknowable."
I read this because the author was coming to speak to a local university but then I never made it to the talk.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on, and I woulI read this because the author was coming to speak to a local university but then I never made it to the talk.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on, and I would have to say that this second mystery novel featuring Tel Aviv detective Avraham Avraham showed mixed results for me. This is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, and even that was not completely satisfying.
There are two interwoven plots. Someone leaves a fake bomb outside a daycare center, and the head of the center is evasive about any problems her operation is experiencing. Then, later, she is brutally attacked and briefly put into a coma. In the second plot, Avraham pursues one of the original suspects for information on why his wife is missing, even though his boss is not thrilled with that investigation.
Avraham has come off a missing child case that was the subject of the first novel and that shook his career. He also had begun an intense relationship with a Belgian detective, but now she doesn't apparently want to talk to him. These personal threads are meant to give extra weight and tension to Avraham's struggle with his two cases, but in the end, I didn't feel that either subplot added that much.
There is some good writing here, and I was particularly affected by the suspect who obviously desperately loved the two children he had with his Filipino immigrant wife, but in the end, the whole was not greater than the su of the parts. ...more
This is a one-sitting kind of book -- a graphic memoir with honesty, humor and some larger than life characters, chiefly Sandell's father, who somehow This is a one-sitting kind of book -- a graphic memoir with honesty, humor and some larger than life characters, chiefly Sandell's father, who somehow managed to lie about his past and credentials and defraud numerous people through the years without ever spending any time in jail.
The memoir begins with Sandell's childhood, where she was the favorite of her outrageously colorful father, who started as a college professor and later moved on (after his supervisors discovered his fake credentials) to pursue "personal ventures," none of which seemed to involve anything more than fleecing others. He had grown up in Argentina and was estranged from his family there, and his wife then became his unquestioning backer, without ever delving too deeply into his activities or claims.
The family goes through a crisis -- not because of the father's dishonesty, as it should have, but because Sandell decides to write a memoir about her father's impostor life, first in an anonymous magazine article, then as a full-fledged graphic memoir.
In the meantime, Sandell is dealing with her own growing addiction to Ambien and an on-again-off-again relationship with a Hollywood director, interspersed with the celebrity interviews she was assigned as a staff writer at Glamour magazine.
While I never truly understood the roots of her father's charlatanism, I appreciated Sandell's openness and ability to make her quest understandable even when she had to display many of her own weaknesses and flaws.
This was a complete serendipity pickup off a library shelf. Well worth the time....more