I picked up The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson at Costco a few months back while I was shopping with my mom. I try to cruise carefully (so that not too many throw themselves into my cart as I pass) through the books while I’m there just in case there’s a book that I recognize…or is about books, bookstores, libraries, etc. I can’t help it! I must bring them home! So far, I have had a pretty good record there.
When I saw a new book by Erik Larson, I grabbed it. I devoured The Devil in the White City last year, so this one is bound to be brilliant. And it’s about WWII and Churchill, something I already know a good bit about.
I started reading just before dawn this morning, after I finished an article in Creative Nonfiction magazine. That’s a new habit I’ve started, reading a magazine article first instead of scrolling through social media on my phone. I love magazines, but I tend to buy them and then never finish reading them because I set them aside for afternoon reading and then forget about them.
The new system is working because I’ve already finished one, and I’m halfway through another. It just goes to show that setting priorities for things you say you want to do does work. First things first! Right?
As I’m writing this, I’m 25 pages into The Splendid and the Vile. This man is amazing. More people should be writing history this way. From his introduction:
“Although at times it may appear to be otherwise, this is a work of nonfiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from some form of historical document, be it a diary, letter, memoir, or other artifact; any reference to a gesture, gaze, or smile, or any other facial reaction, comes from an account by one who witnessed it. If some of what follows challenges what you have come to believe about Churchill and this era, may I just say that history is a lively abode, full of surprises.”
And I love every moment I’m reading his books because he writes this way.
Here’s one more that caught my attention just before I closed the book this morning:
“But a civilian diarist named Nella Last had a different view, one she reported to Mass-Observation, an organization launched in Britain two years before the war that recruited hundreds of volunteers to keep daily diaries with the goal of helping sociologists better understand ordinary British life.”
I volunteer! Much of what we know about the details of the past comes from the diaries, not only of famous or important players, but regular people. People like you and me, just humming along our lives, jotting down notes about out thoughts and experiences. THAT’S why I keep a personal journal. And it’s why I encouraged friends and family to keep their own back when the shutdowns over Covid started.
Social media can be a great record of the community’s emotional climate, but personal journals, one’s you don’t expect anyone to read in your lifetime, are a much better barometer. We write what’s happening to us specifically, how we feel, what we might do, more openly and honestly because it’s not out for the world to read.
Looking back on my old journals, I wish I had made more of an effort to be consistent, especially when my children were younger or when there was a major crisis in our lives. But who has the time and wherewithal to sit and write at times like that? In hindsight, it may have been a good mental health practice to take that fifteen to thirty minutes a day to jot down at least a bulleted list of what happened and how I was feeling.
In my next life, I will. For now, I’ll encourage others to take up the pen or keyboard (the are advantages to both) daily for posterity! You never know who might read those words and how they may help reconstruct the details of the past.