Reader's Exchange

January 2014 - Posts

Over there and back again

For this significant anniversary, choose when you wish to observe it.  (Don't try this at home; a wedding date is a wedding date.)

With World War I's centenary, the approach makes sense.  Nations entered into the conflict over time, and some locales are noted for one definitive event.  The city of Sarajevo plans its commemoration for June 21-28, 2014.  France anticipated the generally agreed-upon remembrance dates of 2014-2018 by opening a new World War I museum in 2011.  Turkey's "Anzac Day" event--April 25, 2015--will mark 100 years since Gallipoli.

Check the Centennial Commemoration of the United States in World War I website, and you'll find notes about the organization but no events yet (U.S. declared war in April 1917.)

Publishers mobilized their forces in advance to equip us with insightful reads.  Classics like Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and Eric Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front are being reissued.  Margaret McMillan's The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 appears on several recommended reading lists.

Librarian Chris, who selects  RRPL's nonfiction history resources, suggests these recent library acquisitions:  The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in1914 by Christopher Clark; Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson; Catastrophe 1914:  Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings; The Great War: A Photographic Narrative by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts;  To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild; and The Last of the Doughboys: the Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin.

Poppies for remembranceAmong a host of intriguing World War I novels, Jennifer Robson's Somewhere in France follows a British aristocrat who defies her family to train as an ambulance driver.  P.S. Duffy's The Cartographer of No Man's Land considers physical and psychological battles through the eyes of a sensitive Nova Scotia boat captain/artist.  Anita Shreve's Stella Bain also portrays a female ambulance driver whose case of what we would now label Post Traumatic Stress Disorder evokes the war's aftermath--horribly mutilated survivors, long-term care veteran care, early studies of "shell shock".

Sir Michael Howard observes, "...arguably, the Great War was one of the greatest tragedies of all of them because it was so inconclusive."  While much of the unfinished business was political, families in all echelons of society faced lifetimes bereft of husbands, fathers, sweethearts, colleagues.  Some of the most affecting Great War fiction considers postwar years 1918 into the next decade.  P.S. Duffy reflects that an understanding of the 1920s requires an appreciation for World War I:  "That hedonistic, devil-may-care, caution to the wind sense all comes from a sense of, "Well, we could all die tomorrow."  "

Debut novelist Anna Hope's Wake memorably spans five days in November 1920, ending with the dedication of the Cenotaph and interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.  Three British women unknown to one another mourn a dead son and fiancĂ© and a shattered, mute brother. They are unaware that their lives intersect as the Warrior's body is collected in France, ceremoniously transported to England, and laid to final rest. 

The Twenties represent a tough sort of hopefulness.  Wake invokes a slang term popular among the jazz-loving young adult set; it's intended as a compliment for anything beautiful, impressive, or admirable:  "Killing!"

A tale of two

Jennifer Lawrence and I face different challenges.

I worry about income tax filing and furry rooftop intruders at home and maxed-out Fiction shelving at work. Poor Jennifer, on the other hand, is tasked with maintaining her ever-increasing trove of award statuettes, determining which enviable film roles to accept, and choosing designer gowns that don't elicit critics' comparisons to Ariel's makeshift frock in The Little Mermaid.

Here's what we have in common:  appreciation for less conspicuous films and books. 

Certainly, high-grossing productions earn their popularity for good reasons.  But the artists behind those thriving endeavors are already amply recompensed.  They don't need me.  When I bestow my patronage on quieter, more esoteric projects or the work of newcomers, I derive satisfaction from the sense of having somehow encouraged them. 

Interviewers report Ms. Lawrence's initial reluctance to play Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, citing her love of independent film.  Lawrence's ultimate acceptance of the role was prompted by her "fondness for strong-spirited characters".

Havisham coverI imagine Jennifer would be intrigued by two resolute types I've lately encountered.  Ronald Frame's recent Havisham and M.D. Waters' Archetype (available next month) both consider the plight of a woman with potential far exceeding the prescribed behavior of her society.

But these aren't just chick books (not that this would be a bad thing...).  Havisham invents the backstory that fans of Dickens' Great Expectations have hankered for.   We know that Miss Havisham still wears the gown sewn for a wedding cancelled at the last minute, but haven't we wished for more insights, speculating as to the personality of the young bride-to-be?  In Frame's telling, young Catherine Havisham's exposure to wider society is curtailed by parental and economic pressures.  When eventually confronted with dilemmas
native to her privileged class, she is thus lacking in precisely the social context that could have informed her decisions.  Today, with narrowly focused informational channels limiting our own view if we let them, Catherine is both a cautionary tale and an engrossing character
study.      

M.D. Waters' debut, Archetype, variously described as "speculative", "thrilling", "gothic", and "dystopian", delivers themes reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale and The Stepford Wives.   Beautiful protagonist Emma, likeArchetype cover Catherine, also has wedding issues:  she doesn't
recall having a husband--or even understanding "husband" as a concept when the story opens.  You see, Emma suffered a terrible "accident" but now is daily gaining strength and comprehension, thanks to the unrelentingly attentive staff at a "hospital" where the entire floor is devoted to her care (Emma's husband Declan is very rich and very powerful).  As the sinister quotation marks above hint, all this does not signal good fortune for Emma.  She, like Catherine, lacks access to all the facts.  So far. Just keep turning those pages...

Jennifer could tackle either of these thought-provoking roles.  Both struggle with misdirected desire, have branding" issues, and are viewed as commodities in a male-dominated society; both are alternately tantalized and tormented by memories.

Two final thoughts: First, is it just my imagination, or don't both book covers suggest graphic representation of the author's surname?  Second, if you're an indie film follower like Jennifer, check out the library's IndieFlix access online.

In all likelihood

As of this writing, IRS' Facebook page has been "Liked" 17,878 times.

Surely it's OK to express surprise.   Noting that Round Rock Public Library has 1,687 Likes and we're SO much nicer wouldn't be quite as appropriate.  And of course further speculation (e.g., how improbable it would be that anyone would un-Like the IRS) would verge on snarkiness. 

Whenever I meet with an invitation to "Like us on Facebook"--particularly from a multinational corporation or dignified institution of long standing--I sense a neediness equated more with seventh grade than with the business world. 

But perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to differentiate.  Seventh grade is tough--notable increases in workload; changing relationship paradigms; heightened competitiveness; expectation for personal career/vocational forecasting.   And of course the need to be liked is paramount.  Passing notes in class

Seventh grade success strategies could serve one admirably throughout life.  And the internet affords so many useful tools.

Remember this 7th-grade artifact: the diary that one used to record impressions, hopes, concerns, lessons learned?   Those documentary journals exist in vibrant profusion online these days (though with less verbiage devoted to the cute boy in homeroom).  We call them blogs.

Consider this sampling of online resources for addressing 7th grade/life realities:

People like savvy communicators:    TweetQuereet analyzes key interests and allows you to receive your most relevant tweets in a daily digest.   SecretInk enables you to send a message that can be read just once (before it self-destructs).  Nextdoor, a great solution for neighborhood associations, facilitates a private network to share timely information ("for sale" alerts, etc.).

Yes, you are judged on appearance:    Free photo editor Fotor offers clip art, special effects, a mosaic tool, collage and card capability.  For your project or home or small business, try LogoGarden's free, simple-to-use tool to create a new logo.   Weebly provides what you need to set up a free website or blog with a handy drag-and-drop editor.

The opposite sex is really interesting:  Yes, but given the plethora of amazingly specific dating sites--for farmers, tall people, folks with red hair, Trekkies, Ivy League graduates, etc. etc--we'll set this topic aside in favor of...

Good habits pay off:   Spend a few minutes every day to stimulate your mind (and satisfy your curiosity) with sites like Digital Public Library of America (virtual exhibits and over 2.4 million artifacts from museums and archives all over the country) and Today in History (which focuses on "one event each day which is put in a socio-cultural context".)

You don't have to know what you want to be when you grow up yet:  But Occupational Outlook Handbook can advise you what training/certification is required for any career, also whether opportunities in that field will increase or diminish in the next few years.

People like those who can talk about what they like:  NPR's First Listen offers the chance to hear movie soundtracks, indie bands, etc.before the street date.  Forvo tells you how to pronounce words--not just in English and not just the ones in the dictionary; names and locations in the news are included.   Reddit tracks trends and news on many, many topics.

As Jon Stewart observed, "The Internet is just a world passing notes around the classroom."