Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: WWII

The Splendid and The Vile: New Read

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 Anything between quotation marks comes from some form of historical document, be it a diary, letter, memoir, or other artifact; any reference to a gesture, gaze, or smile, or any other facial reaction, comes from an account by one who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.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America book cover on a Joshua Tree background.
Took advantage of that beautiful desert sunrise light this morning!

Oooooohh…Nazi story! I’m always ready for Nazi stories, mostly because my boys are big WWII history buffs and it gives me something to say, “Hey guys! Look at this!” or “Is this true?” They know everything.

The Plot Against America is an alternative history, so it will be extra fun. I’m hoping it’s not one of those stories about how if we had just done this one thing differently, everything would have been so much better. Or a story about why it was right to get involved and save the day like we did because the U.S. was so completely innocent and anti-Nazi party right from the start.

History looks so simple from the present. We can look back at the moves that were made with the information that we have right now and think we could have done it better or worse. But the truth is that we can’t possibly know. There are just too many variables. The results of each choice change the next group of choices in ways we can’t predict.

I picked up the book, started to read the back cover, as usually do only to be reminded of the The Man in the High Castle. I loved that show, but I don’t think this book will be all crazy sci-fi. It sounds like it might be more politically based. What would have happened if we had a different president and didn’t join the Allies to fight against Hitler?

This is another book picked out from the great book redistribution event last year. I didn’t know anything about it other than what’s on the cover. A quick internet search as revealed that it was made into an HBO mini-series last year…that I’ve never heard of. So much to watch that never comes across my Netflix “suggested for you” feed.

And so many apparently famous authors that I’ve never heard of! I was just reading about Philip Roth and found a “scathing” biography about him. It sounds damn racy and I’m thinking of adding that to my wishlist. I think I’ll read this book first though. If I like it, I’ll read another one by him and then the biography.

Have you read The Plot Against America? Did you know about the mini-series or Philip Roth? Am I just that clueless, or are there just so many things to know about that it’s inevitable that many things fall through the cracks of awareness?

Go over and get the book at Thriftbooks.com if you want to read it with me and tell me what you think!

Two New Books

I started two new books this week. The first one, “Democracy for Realists,” was recommended by Mark Manson on New Years Eve. It’s fascinating, but a long and more difficult read for me. I can only stay focused on it for about an hour before my brain starts to get tired!

I’ve had the same idea, that elections really don’t mean anything, for a long time but couldn’t really defend it. This book is giving me some great insight to my intuition. I’ve run across a few things I don’t agree with though. Government, federal and state, has gotten into the habit of micro-managing the people and the people have learned to depend on it instead of taking care of themselves and their own families privately.  The election process we have resembles a professional sport now, with one team against another and no principles to speak of. This book gets into why that is.

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Because I can only read this book for about an hour before my brain gets buzzy, and I my goal this year is to read for an average of three hours per day, I picked up another book to read at the same time. It’s called “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson.

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I found it at the thrift store for a dollar a few months ago and was intriqued by the cover. Yep, that’s how I find books sometimes, especially if they are a dollar. If I don’t like it right away, I stop reading it and drop it back at the thrift store so they can sell it to someone else. I’m only out a dollar.

This book is turning out great! World War II, Japanese immigrants being sent to Manzanar. It’s historical fiction and one of my favorite eras. I’ve been to Manzanar with my family and read a few other books about what happened. One was called “Nisei Daughter” by Monica Sone. What I already know is blending into this story so well.

One thing I found so strange when I first started reading about the Japanese Internment was how quick we all were to “evacuate” these people. The more I read, the more I understand.

It wasn’t like we all just turned on them. We were already wary of them. Japanese culture is very different from Western culture. Many behaviors that the Japanese consider respectful and honorable, we see as rude and suspicious. It was difficult for Westerners to accept them into society and the many immigrants did not want to assimilate either. They wanted to live thier own way and be left alone. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, it was easy for us to villify the Japanese immigrants and our government was happy to comply with our wishes.

I’m really fascinated about cultural differences and how they affect people’s perception of others. Don’t think we have outgrown our wariness of strangers!

There was a lot more going on at the time, especially on the west coast of the United States. It’s a interesting topic. Since I’ve read a bit about it in the past, this story’s setting is very clear to me and a fictional account of a love triangle and forbidden relationships in the midst of World War II is icing on that cake.

I think it’ll take me awhile to read “Democracy for Realists.” It’s long and involved, but I’ll write more about it as I read. I’m already more than halfway done with “Snow Falling on Cedars.” It’s that engaging!

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