Saturday, July 30, 2011

London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes

Most books you read about World War II are written in retrospect. The authors have sifted through documents, books and articles to come up with their conclusions about the war. They report on decisive military strategies, what went wrong at a particular battle, or who the real heroes were. London War Notes is completely different in that it was written during the war as events were taking place. Mollie Panter-Downes was already a newspaper columnist for The New Yorker magazine, but when the war began she was asked to write bi-weekly articles specifically about Londoners’ reactions to the war.

What I liked about this book was its candid expression of peoples’ hopes, fears, and disappointments. It’s astounding to read their expectations of total obliteration by the Germans. They knew “it” was coming, but were never sure when or how it would happen.

However upset they might be by current events, the British were devoted to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. They loved him for not sugar-coating the hard news. They only waffled on their affections when he gave them vague platitudes or when he appointed wishy-washy cabinet members. For the most part, they felt they could go through anything if “Winnie” was behind them.

What I didn’t like about this book was that events and emotions were so understated that the book was almost boring. It took me weeks to get through it even though I love reading and love WWII history. Also, because War Notes was written during the war to people who were aware of current events, Panter-Downes doesn’t explain much. It is assumed you know what “Britain’s great disappointment” was on such and such a day. (Occasionally the editor of this book will add a footnote of the events leading up to a specific entry, but only rarely.) I kept wishing for a WWII timeline to connect the dots.

All in all, this was a worthwhile read because it gave an honest, raw view of the war from the people’s , rather than a historian’s perspective. I enjoyed Panter-Downes' excellent writing as well:

At St. Giles, a bomb had fallen slap on the sandbags protecting a stained-glass window, blowing a hole in the wall and toppling Milton off his plinth inside... To observers here, it sometimes seems that more than Milton has been toppled off his plinth. All that is best in the good life of civilized effort appears to be slowly and painfully keeling over in the chaos of man's inhumanity to man. (Aug 30, 1940)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Quote On Books by Charles Dickens

"My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in the house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time..."

(From p. 58 of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cape Cod Stories by Joseph Crosby Lincoln

Author Joseph Crosby Lincoln came across my radar about a year ago so I jumped at the chance to download a free copy of Cape Cod Stories on my new Kindle. What a lovely surprise.

Lincoln was born in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1870 to a family of seamen and his books reflect his heritage. The stories in this particular book are told from the point of view of elderly Barzilla Wingate and his old friend, Cap’n Jonadab Wixon. Most center around the old hotel they run and the tourists who stay there.
The chapters are written in informal, folksy language, much of it with allusions to ships and sailing. Their tone had me chuckling all the way through the book.

Maudina was like her name, pretty, but sort of soft and mushy. She had big blue eyes and a baby face, and her principal cargo was poetry. She had a deckload of it, and she’d heave it overboard every time the wind changed.

He run up to the piazza like a clipper coming into port.

We got there after a spell and set down on the big piazza with our souls full of gratitude and our boots full of sand.

[Referring to a dangerous boat trip in a cutting February wind] I expected every minute to land in the hereafter, and it got so that the prospect looked kind of inviting, if only to get somewhere where ‘twas warm.

Two of the stories in the middle of the book did not ring true. Instead of staying on sure New England soil, Lincoln placed these stories in the islands near Malaysia and Singapore. The themes of these stories were pretty far-fetched and made the islanders look like idiots. There were also some unfortunate, though rare, derogatory terms for African-Americans. I was glad when the stories returned to their original style and subjects for the second half of the book.

For humorous, light reading, Joseph C. Lincoln is my new favorite. Delightful!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Do You Think of Georgette Heyer?

My blog friend Julie loves Georgette Heyer. And Michael Dirda in his Classics for Pleasure says she's a hidden gem in the literary world. I don't really like romance novels, but based on their raves I obtained one of her books, Talisman Ring. It is basically a romance with a mystery thrown in. The witty diaologue saved the book, because the rest of it was just "okay". I was interested to see that Ardent Reader is less than enthusiastic about Heyer too. Any other opinions? Did I pick the wrong book?

While we are on the subject of Miss Heyer, Abe Books just came out with an article saying she outsells even J.K. Rowling. Read it if you'd like to know more about this lesser known author.

I wrote another post about her that includes a few links to Kindle titles here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Minimizing My Library

What if you had to reduce your library from 600 to 100 books in one week? Recently I had to make just such a choice. When we left Brazil in 2009, we left all of our earthly possessions behind. Since our return to South America continues to be delayed I went back this spring to pack things up. I decided to keep only what would fit into five suitcases. My friends were horrified that I used so much of that space for books, but, honestly, I had more affection for those than for any knick-knacks.
Some of the decisions were easy. Ten percent of the books were missing or damaged beyond repair. At least a hundred books had never been read and were easy to give up because I had no emotional attachment to them. I had over 200 hundred children’s books, but since my youngest is now fourteen, I let most of them go. (That made me wince a little because I love children’s lit.) That left about 250 to agonize over.

I found several seminary students who wanted my theology books so I was glad to give them a good home (though I kept a handful of favorites). The non-fiction was easy to let go (again, for lack of emotional attachment). I cut my WWII library way down because I knew I could get most of those books through the library here in the U.S.

Surprisingly, most classics (including my beloved Trollope) did not make the cut because I knew I could replace them easily. However, anything by Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton or Elizabeth Goudge was sacrosanct. When it came down to it, why did the Clyde Robert Bulla’s books get left and Enid Blyton’s chosen? And why were Helen Roseveare’s biographies the only ones selected from all my Christian books? My choices may have been based on impulse rather than common sense, but all I know is that now that I’m surrounded by these old friends, I feel “at home” again.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Children's War by Ruth Inglis

During WWII heavy bombing in England caused three major migrations of children from the city to the country. Ruth Inglis writes compelllingly of each exodus in her book,The Children's War. The first migration began on September 1st, 1939 just days before Britain declared war on the Axis powers. The second was in August of 1940 with the onset of the Battle of Britain and the third was in September of 1944.

Half of the children in London were evacuated on E-Day (the first evacuation day).But since German bombers did not appear in earnest until the spring of 1940, two-thirds of the evacuees had returned home by January of 1940. Although the first evacuation seemed a farce, it was, in reality, a practice run for the two subsequent evacuations which were necessary when the Germans blitzed all major cities.

You can imagine the distress of having to decide between parting with one’s children for their physical safety or keeping them home for their emotional well-being. Some parents refused to send their children away even though the government strongly encouraged it. Interestingly, Churchill refused to make it mandatory.

Anna Freud (daughter to Sigmund) and her co-worker, Dorothy Burlingham, directed a war nursery from December 1940 to February 1942. The experience of caring for over a hundred children who had lost one or both parents in the war, led them to conclude that the separation of a child from his or her parent or parents was far more distressing to them than the bombs from which they were being protected. (p. 155) 

On the other hand, Bernard Kops, a child of twelve in 1940, recounts the horrors of staying in London: “We went underground to get away from the sirens and the bombs. Yet they followed me and I heard sirens until the world became a siren. One endless cry of torture. It penetrated right into the core of my being, night and day was one long night, one long nightmare, one long siren, one long wail of despair… It was the beginning of an era of utter terror, of fear, of horror. I stopped being a child and came face to face with the new reality of the world.” (p. 84)

The choice was not an easy one. Some who held out (by keeping their children at home) gave in during the 2nd and 3rd migrations, particularly the last one when the Germans unleashed a new weapon, the V1 bomb. This terror producing weapon was designed to crush the morale of the British and, truly, it caused many to reach their breaking point. Inglis writes, "It has been said that many housewives confused the sounds of their own vacuum cleaners with the spluttering and buzzing of the V-1s. Gurgling faucets and the sound of frying sausages could also mimic their noise. As a consequence, many women lived in a state of daily auditory hell. (p. 140)… Motorcycles were not popular in 1944 with their spluttering, back-firing machines. It was a war of acoustics and jangled nerves." (p. 142)

One of the most famous books that mentions evacuee children is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. D.E. Stevenson’s book, Shoulder the Sky, mentions a mother and her children who left London during the war never to return. Goodnight Mr. Tom tells the sad story of an evacuee from a miserable home who finds a true father in his foster home. Connie Willis touches on the subject in her time travel book Blackout. Does you know of other fictional works that deal with this subject?