It just occurred to me that I never got around to displaying the photos that kind of show what I got up to in March. Thoroughly a matter of forgetfulness on my part. Middle-age brain must be a thing, because my memory, never a powerful arrow in my quiver, is becoming even more slapdash. I can remember what day a certain case settled at one of my first law firms, but I can’t remember what I did two days ago. Thank goodness for social media and for diaries. At least I can look back and remind myself of the fun I had.
In any event, here are some photos depicting the shenanigans I got into in the month that recently went out like a lamb.
The month started with me finally getting sick of things falling off of my dresser, and clearing it of debris. In the course of doing the task, I found jewelry that I’d forgotten receiving, souvenirs from trips I’d taken two years ago, and more dust than an asthmatic should ever breathe. The end result (which, as of this writing – six weeks later – still looks nice) was very much worth it. This was well in advance of me hearing about Marie Kondo and truly getting into disposing of large numbers of possessions.
Early in the month, we were able to visit the Imperial War Museum to see an exhibition celebrating Lee Miller’s work during WWII. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know anything about her, though some of the photographs were ones that made me say “well, I’ve seen *that* one!” Very interesting collection, and beautifully presented.
We revisited a venue for afternoon tea, and found the experience to be much nicer the second time around.
The rest feature Attie –
sorry not sorry; he’s damn cute. We played footsie; he played paw-peekaboo from one of his sleeping spots; he watched over my shoulder; and, finally, he enjoyed watching the doggie dancing at Crufts. I may not be his favorite person, but he tolerates me enough that I think I’ll keep him.
April is already full of fun adventures, with more in store, I’m sure. Let’s hope I have some sort of ability to take a picture or two.
I spent a good chunk of February sick with a bad cold, and the most I could find energy to do was to tap my tablet screen in Simpsons Tapped Out and Township. Since March rolled in, I’m still hooked on the games and reading is taking a hit (as is a lot of other stuff). Oh well, I’m having fun and that’s all that matters to me at the moment.
When I started to feel more human, David and I went to a wonderful book sale at the Epsom Methodist Church, and came home with lots of excellent reads. I’ll get to them … eventually.
In the meantime, on to the reviews:
50 Books: (6)
15,000 Pages: (1,045)
Historical fiction: (3)
Author: Barbara Allan
Genre: Hollywood Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
This is the kind of book that demands a suspension of disbelief. I had to check my cynicism and just roll with it. Then the fun begins.
The foundation of the story is Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to the United States, and his meeting with Marilyn Monroe (which really happened). Throw in some political intrigue, a few fun chases and Khrushchev’s famous shoe, and you’ve got yourself a cracking little page-turner.
There were two things Khrushchev wanted to do on his visit. He wanted to meet Marilyn (which he did) and he wanted to visit Disneyland (which he didn’t). The authors had so much fun expanding on this and imagining how to have their very real historical figures behave in fictional (yet fairly plausible) ways.
I’m being deliberately vague as to the entire plot because part of the fun for me was in discovering the story as it progressed, and I’d rather not be the one to ruin that experience for you. I can tell you that I like wit, a bit of thrill, and real-life figures in fictional situations, and I liked this a lot. I want to see what else has been written by these folks, because I found this to be a treat.
6. Swastika Over Paris
Author: Jeremy Josephs
Rating: **** (out of 5)
How I came to read this was rather a circuitous tale. I got a recommendation for a novel based during this period, and in reading reviews of that, I saw repeated references to “the much better telling of the story” in Swastika Over Paris. I’m glad that I opted to read this instead of the novel.
What Jeremy Josephs brings to light is how, when the Nazis came to France, and then occupied Paris, some French citizens were not only willing, but eager to send in their Jewish neighbors. All one had to do was send in a letter saying “so and so is a Jew and she isn’t wearing her star,” and you could make someone you didn’t like disappear.
Also present in Swastika Over Paris is perhaps the most chilling example of the frog in the saucepan that I’ve ever read. Armand Kohn was a French Jew with impeccable claim to his citizenship and high standing in the community. He complied with all the regulations. He even tried to eliminate “escapes” from the hospital where he was administrator. He declined suggestion, insistence and begging with regard to packing up his family and move to a safer country. He had the means, and his friends and family members were able to warn him well in advance as to what was coming. His response was universally “as long as we are together, we will be fine.” Even when he and his family are in a boxcar being deported, he is holding fast to this fantasy. In this case, the fate that he and his family suffered was entirely and easily avoidable, and I spent most of the pages devoted to his story saying “get out of there!” out loud.
Infuriatingly, the ever-eager monster (who was deporting even more Jews, even faster than Eichmann was asking – he was so keen) not only survived the War, but lived a peaceful and protected life in Egypt and died the natural death that was denied to his many victims. Despite the efforts of the Klarsfelds (who are my heroes, and who I was thrilled to see discussed in this book) and many others, he was only able to be convicted in absentia, and he was completely unrepentant of his actions. His only regret was that he wasn’t able to eliminate all of Paris’s Jewry. They even knew the address where he was living – why he wasn’t brought to justice is a mystery that nobody would be able to adequately solve for me.
There’s much more to the story, despite the shortness of the book. I haven’t even mentioned the brave, young woman who fought in the Resistance, or the various ugliness that the innocents encountered when they were warehoused in Drancy and later at Auschwitz and other death camps.
This information is timely and important. We are losing the last of the survivors of the Holocaust at a ever-increasing rate. The last survivor of Treblinka passed away in early 2016. It is up to us, who were born after this happened, to pick up the banner and make sure the horror is never forgotten.
I’m running a little late with my photos post this month, mostly because I’ve been having fun with the beginning of March. If you are a Facebook friend, you already know that I spent most of February feeling unwell, and my photos could be distilled down to one of a bottle of cold medicine and a box of anti-bacterial tissues. However, some nice things happened, and I took a photo or two.
January started off with a lot of activity, and ended fairly quietly, with me doing a lot of things that would not be interesting to photo (starting reorganization of my dresser, for instance). I’ve been busy during the whole month, but not with exciting projects, I’m afraid. Here, however, are some highlights.
I’ve already had some lovely experiences in February, and I look forward to sharing those next month.
I’m a little late out of the gate with my January reviews, but for good reasons. The Mister and I have been out and about and I’ve not been near my PC for much of the last week, I’m happy to say. We’re just now getting our first dose of winter, which means bundling up a bit, but there’s a Preston Sturges Season at the BFI right now, so we’ve been seeing as many of those movies as we could.
50 Books: (4)
15,000 Pages: (637)
Historical fiction: (2)
1. Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants
Author: Alison Maloney
Genre: Social History
Rating: *** (out of 5)
This is a very basic overview of what life was like for those “in service” in the manor houses during the Edwardian period. Accent on the word “overview.” There is nothing in-depth here. It’s perfect for those who loved Downton Abbey (and, before that, Upstairs, Downstairs) and would like to know how the shows and real life differ. It also helps if you haven’t read any other, more encyclopedic, references.
Life Below Stairs is very short, so if one is in a hurry to learn these things, it’s good for that. There is precious little in the way of getting to know any one specific job, however, so if you’re looking for something meaty, this is not the book for you.
I was slightly disappointed as I was looking for slightly more than was on offer here. If I weren’t already familiar, based on other reading and documentaries, with life in service, I might have found this quite helpful. For me, however, it only skimmed the surface with information I already knew.
2. Strictly GI: The WWII Letters of Corporal Wanda Renn
Author: Patricia Arnold
Rating: **** (out of 5)
This collection of letters saved through several generations gives the experiences of a young WAC during WWII. Since we don’t have the replies, there are a few mysteries here, but that’s part of the fun.
The biggest mystery, to me, is why the editor’s mother (daughter of the letter writer) forbade her from reading the letters, even after Wanda Renn had died, and even when she (the editor was well into her adulthood). Now that I’ve read them, I don’t understand this – I would be proud to share this young woman’s thoughts, enthusiasm, humor and sheer pride at doing her little bit to make a positive difference in the world.
Wanda writes about the difficulties in getting various luxuries, and about the friends she meets during the course of her work. There are things that made me say “I wonder what the story was there?” but at the end, Patricia Arnold does her best to fill in those gaps. I’d love to know what the “old trouble” was that put Wanda in the infirmary, though.
If the responsive letters had been around, providing more of a conversation than a monologue, I think this would have been a five-star read. Even so, it’s enjoyable, breezy and uplifting reading from a time when a whole generation pulled together for a common cause.
3. We Sink or Swim Together
Author: Gill Paul
Genre: Historical Fiction/Long Short Story/Short Novella
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
I like Gill Paul a lot – probably because the first book I read by her, Women and Children First, was about the Titanic, so I was predisposed to be interested. The setting for this little story is the Lusitania, in May of 1915. I started it expecting a love story, and We Sink or Swim Together delivered beautifully.
Gerda Nielson was returning to her family after working in the States for five years. On the ship, she meets Jack Welsh, who is also heading back to England. An instant rapport occurs….
I would hope that most people would know why the Lusitania is an important backdrop. Gill Paul seems to be drawn to writing about shipboard drama, and she does it well. She’s got a lot to delve into for future books, too, so she’s given herself a great launching pad. I enjoyed this little “keep the fans entertained” story that helped me bide my time until I start the next novel.
Author: David Robertson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: *** (out of 5)
It took me a long time to read this relatively slim volume, and I think that’s part of why my rating is closer to three stars than four. While the story, by the end, was an interesting one, I had a hard time caring enough about it to put other things I was reading down in order to get back to it.
John Surratt, Jr. was the only one of the accused Booth conspirators to live to the end of his natural life. His mother, on the other hand, was executed along with three others in connection with the assassination, and the strength of the evidence that convicted her has been a matter of endless debate for more than 150 years.
This book is about John Surratt, however, and the author’s novelization of his friendship with John Wilkes Booth. Booth here is manipulative and smarmy; Surratt naive and needy. Surratt is initially awed by Booth’s attentions, and then disillusioned.
The story is highly fictionalized, though Robertson takes time in the afterword to tell us what was real and what was part of his imagination. It is intriguing to consider what might have occurred if Surratt and D.W. Griffith had met and if Surratt had shared his memories, but that experience exists only in the pages of this novel. Ditto Surratt working as a photographer’s assistant.
There are a lot of “what ifs” here, but that’s what makes historical fiction enjoyable. Taking the known narrative and asking how differently the story might go if a few curve balls had been thrown into the mix is great fun.
I really enjoyed my 365 Good Things posts last year, but posting every day was time-consuming for me, and it became a chore. I was not actually enjoying the moments, since I was so intent on documenting them.
I do miss the chronicle, however, and have been thinking ever since I discontinued the 365 Good Things project (June 2015) about how to document my life without giving up a good portion of it. Thus, we arrive at A Month in Photos.
My iPad is with me every single day. There are some days when I never turn on my computer, and some weeks when I’m never near my phone (blissful, blissful weeks). But my iPad? It’s a lifeline, a direct route to answers and a useful camera for catching those lovely moments that make me happy.
A good place for me to start would be with December 2015. There was lots to remember, what with Christmas, knitted gifts, dog-sitting and all, and I hope that at some point these images will give me a visual diary to help me recall nice things during challenging days. I hope my friends will enjoy going through the process with me.
So, to begin, as they say, at the beginning.
I made my 50 Book goal for 2015 (but only just, and only by reading very short books in the last weeks of the year, but I got there) and had a fun time doing it. December was a very good month indeed for quality of reading, with two books that were especially interesting/entertaining. I will significantly lower my sights regarding how many pages to shoot for in 2016, however. For several years, I’ve tried to get to 25,000, and rarely have I even gotten close. I think in 2016, my goal will be 16,000 pages, since I got to 15,401 last year.
For Christmas, I received a gift card from one of my family members, and at the moment it’s rather a toss-up as to whether it will be used for books or knitting supplies. Since I have a backlog of more than 500 books (or ten years’ worth) waiting to be read, perhaps the money will go for yarn. Or a new bookshelf.
50 Books: (50) – GOAL MET
25,000 Pages: (15,401)
Historical fiction: (13) – GOAL MET
43. Born to be Hurt: The Story of Imitation of Life
Author: Sam Staggs
Genre: Film Criticism and Study
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Sam Staggs would like you to know that Imitation of Life (1959) is a masterpiece. That’s a fact. Period. If you need reminding, he’ll take 372 pages and do just that. If you prefer the 1934 version (as I do), you’re wrong. If you consider the 1959 version to be somewhat camp, or soapy (as I do), you’re wrong. Got it? You think you do, but perhaps being beaten against the eyeballs for 300+ pages will ensure these facts stay with you forever.
Once you get past this confusion of opinion with fact, this is a fascinating look at what went on behind the scenes of the filming of the second iteration of Imitation of Life. Juanita Moore was still around when the book was being written and shared her reminiscences, and Susan Kohner (and her mother, Lupita Tovar Kohner – who was already in her 90s and is still with us in 2015) clearly spent a lot of time talking with Staggs, not only about making this film, but about her career in general.
The film was was the first professional gig Lana Turner had after the Johnny Stompanato scandal, and it was a much-needed boost for her. Not only did it go over well with audiences (critics, not so much), but the filming atmosphere was supportive and protective. Susan Kohner had help from her parents (her father was uber-agent Paul Kohner, who represented just about everyone on the set) and her movie-mother, Juanita Moore.
Lots of the proverbial unsung heroes get their mentions here – this really was a collaboration that worked. From Ross Hunter and Douglas Sirk, to Troy Donahue and Robert Alda, everyone gets a bit of page-time. Even the young woman who only had one scene with Kohner (though it is a pivotal one) gets a mention.
The original film, and its director, John Stahl, get chapters, as well. As you might imagine, the author’s opinion of them is not favorable. Claudette Colbert, especially, comes in for some rather pointed commentary. Yes, we get it; you’re not a fan.
Born to Be Hurt was worth reading for me because of the backstage stories and the real life situations the cast and crew were dealing with during filming. I was also interested in audience and critical reaction to the film upon its release, and all this is there. I would have preferred to be presented with the information and left to formulate my own opinion, however, rather than be told (over and over again) what that opinion must be.
44. The Girl in the Mirror
Author: Cecilia Ahern
Genre: Slightly Lengthy Short Stories
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
This short volume contains two stories of about 35 pages each. The Girl in the Mirror is the first one, followed by The Memory Machine. I loved them both, but the former slightly edged the latter just on oddness/creepiness.
In the first, a young woman is close to her grandmother, who seems to be a bit of a recluse. A nice recluse, but nonetheless she keeps herself to herself. Perhaps it was my own fault for reading this in the dark and under the covers, as I used to read when I was a kid, but the story creeped me out. It is darker than Ahern’s usual fare (I’m not complaining) and I wasn’t expecting it. It was one of those deliciously spooky stories that I find just dark enough to be entertaining, without being so terrifying that I’m awake for the next three nights.
The second story delves into how we might restructure our memories if we had the opportunity to do so. I found it fascinating – what memories would I add to my mind if I could? How would my relationships change? How would my grief be altered? I thought that this concept was thought-provoking and rather beautiful to contemplate. I realize this might be strange for me to say of someone who, unfairly in my opinion, gets the “chick lit” pejorative thrown at her, but I think this is the kind of thing that Cecelia Ahern does rather often – she makes me think things over.
45. The Day Lincoln Was Shot
Author: Jim Bishop
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
From my rudimentary look at Jim Bishop’s books, it appears that “The Day” stories were his specialty. This book was an instant bestseller, and he followed it up with The Day Christ Died, The Day Kennedy Was Shot, and FDR’s Last Year, which were among the 21 books that he wrote over his lifetime.
The Day Lincoln Was Shot is certainly my favorite read for this month and it may make my top five for the year. Bishop writes in a style that is eminently readable, while still being non-fiction. Nothing about this hour-by-hour account of Lincoln’s last day is at all dry. You would be amazed at how many writers can look at a man as fascinating as Lincoln, and then turn out work that makes watching paint dry seem exciting.
The book starts with a bit of background regarding Lincoln’s visit to Richmond and his second inauguration, and Booth’s building enmity toward the President. Nowadays, the seditious and outright threatening comments that Booth made in public might have gotten him a visit from the authorities (one would hope so, anyhow), but he was very famous and much admired as an actor and a public figure, and he wasn’t alone in his sentiments about Lincoln and the War. He expected, not without some small amount of justification, to be received as a hero by the whites in the South after the assassination.
There is a lot here to digest, and a lot to infuriate anyone who wonders how things might have been different had Booth been unsuccessful. Looking back, you can see so many missed opportunities to thwart the plot. A century and a half later, we’re still feeling the repercussions of the events of April 14-15, 1865. The backlash begins in that 24-hour period, and Jim Bishop does an informative and riveting job of telling us about it.
46. The One Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps
Author: Michel Faber
Rating: *** (out of 5)
There are some books that I read and finish, and then say “hmmm, I think I need a while to process this in order to understand it.” This is one of those books. I’m writing the review now anyhow, in the belief that I may never fully understand what just happened here.
The story opens with a nightmare. Every night, the main character has this same nightmare. She’s working on a dig at Whitby and every day requires a climb of (yes, you guessed it) 199 steps. One day she meets a handsome stranger (who I, frankly, didn’t care for) and his gorgeous Finnish Lapphund, Hadrian, who I loved from the moment he appeared. What follows is part mystery, part (I guess) romance, though that was the least understandable portion to me, given that, as I alluded to earlier, I thought this guy was a tool.
The most interesting portion of this is that the lead character is damaged, both physically and emotionally. Through the process of working on this mystery, and of considering her own reactions to situations, the onion begins to be peeled and, she starts to move forward. Not a lot, and not fast, but forward. I believe this is how most of us who have challenges to face tend to deal with them if we’re blessed to attend to them at all.
I didn’t particularly like any of the characters here, except the dog. I’m not sure that was the goal. Not everyone we meet in life is likeable. They do, however, all have their own stories.
47. Keaton Comedies
Author: Harold D. Sill
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
What a darling little book!
Keaton Comedies takes the premise that young Toby meets Buster, and that’s really all you need to know. Buster makes it worthwhile, and the story and illustrations make it special.
There are lots of forgivable errors (if you’re reading this for research purposes into the facts of Buster’s life, you may not understand how research works), but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s fun.
This would make a great bedtime reading aloud book or, if a younger kid is reading on their own, an excellent chapter book that isn’t too demanding but is enjoyable. It provides a great launching pad to viewing Buster’s films, which I heartily encourage anyhow.
This is a classic example of a book being “of its time,” I think. Kalton Lahue wrote this in the 1970s, and the essays reflect his curmudgeonly “get off of my lawn” attitude regarding the changes in cinema and cinemagoers.
Having said that, it’s interesting to see short biographical pieces on people that we still remember today (Valentino, Will Rogers) to those who were not terribly well-remembered but who have enjoyed small resurgences (John Gilbert) to those whose names would only be recognized by hardcore cineastes (Ben F. Wilson). I love silent movies; I love watching them and I love reading about them. Even so, there were people I read about here whose names were completely unfamiliar to me.
The photographs are lovely, and even now, 40 years later, they are not the commonly-seen stills that you would expect for people like John Barrymore or Douglas Fairbanks. It was nice to see some images that were new to me.
This was an interesting “curiosity piece” to read through once, but if I want to know more about people like Milton Sills or Charles Ray, I’ll look to more recently published works.
We Were There is an interesting book, for a couple of reasons. It provides eyewitness information as to what happened in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital, and it shows how confusing and chaotic an emergency situation can be, even for those who are used to seeing emergencies. All these people were in the same room, and yet some of their recollections differ slightly from the others.
There was quite a bit of repetition here, sad to say. The room was small and so a lot of the same situations are repeated several times. For instance, one staffer gave the First Lady a glass of water at some point, for which he was thanked. A few other doctors witnessed this, and recounted it in their contributions to this book, which means it was repeated in the text times. This happened with several different stories, which made it rather a numbing read from time to time.
Part of what was fascinating was the collection of photographs included in the book – many of which were taken by one of the medical students (who had skipped a class in order to go to Love Field to see the President and First Lady arrive). The assassination of JFK occurred five years before I was born. I have no first-hand memories of “what I was doing when.” These young men know exactly what they were doing – they were trying to save the life of a man who had, for all intents and purposes, died at Dealey Plaza. For that alone, these reminiscences are worth attention.
It’s a bit misleading to mark this as a graphic novel, given that it is non-fiction, but the way the subject is presented, in photographs with carefully selected text, is visually artistic in the most pleasing of ways.
Doris Eaton lived to be well over 100 years old, and stayed mobile almost to the end of her days (she was sharp as a tack, apparently, right up until her last moment). She saw a great deal of history, and even made some of it in her century of keeping body and soul together while being lovely.
Did you know that she introduced the song Singin’ in the Rain? I didn’t, and apparently she spent many, many years correcting others who assumed that it was Cliff Edwards. She had good reason to remember, given that she loved Nacio Herb Brown and he wrote it for her.
Thanks to the scrapbooks that the whole family kept, and the wonderful adventures that Doris Eaton had, this book is a visual treat. I hope Lauren Redniss does more like this because it was a unique, fascinating way to learn about a life.