Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Note on Some New Orleans Reading

About a year ago I read two books about Hurricane Katrina's effect on New Orleans and blogged about them: The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I meant to point this out a long time ago, but I was quite amused when I realized that Zeitoun, the owner of a painting company, recounts painting the interior of Reed's house on First Street (if ever remodeling a house was a nightmare, then surely hers was). Both Reed and Eggers identify the house by saying it's directly across the street from writer Anne Rice's Garden District home.

Reed: "...I was so irritated that I...scribbled...[a] very profane message to the painters that immediately became legend....They dutifully sanded down the powder room and reapplied its pretty, rich red, but not just on the walls - they painted the woodwork, the ceiling, everything. The effect was like being inside a bloodbath and I was ready for one. Instead, I marched out of the house, removed the paint contractor's sign from our iron fence, threw it in the middle of First Street, and stomped on it repeatedly" (p. 39).

Eggers: "High ceilings, a grand winding staircase descending into the foyer, hand-carved everything, each room themed with a district character. Zeitoun had painted and repainted probably every room in the house, and the owners showed no signs of stopping" (p. 21).

I can't say that Zeitoun's company is the one that had to redo Reed's bathroom, or if his company was called in to fix what went wrong with the first painters. Interesting, though, that the books reference this same house.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lost and Lord of the Flies

Recently I finished watching the sixth season of ABC's Lost on Netflix, and it was right about the time I listened to Lord of the Flies in the car. I'd started watching Lost during the second season because it was what all my coworkers at that time were watching too. We'd even tape each new episode when it aired and rewatch it together on our lunch break the next day. I moved and didn't watch seasons five and six when they aired, but got interested in the series again during the buzz around its ending. About the same time my book club mentioned reading Lord of the Flies (or reread - we'd all read the novel before at least once). I had not read it since I was a sophomore in high school. I got the audiobook narrated by the author for the 50th anniversary, which included his own remarks on the novel at the beginning, which was fantastic (I love when audiobooks are read by their author). As both of these things happened, the two kept reminding me of each other. So I Googled "Lost similarities to Lord of the Flies," and I'm not the only person who has made this connection. This article sums it up best.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A German Reading List, Part II

I've had a few more recommendations for books about Germany since my first list. Here goes:

The Wall Jumper: A Berlin Story by Peter Schneider
The Innocent by Ian McEwan
The Einstein Girl by Philip Sington
Flight from Berlin by David John
The Drinker by Hans Fallada
Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Longfellow in the Rhine Valley

While in the Rhine Valley in Germany recently, I visited the small town of St. Goar. A museum in Rheinfels Castle indicated that American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow spent the summer of 1842 writing in this town with a group of other artists. I haven't been able to find much information about it. The town was just gorgeous, and I could see exactly why you'd want to spend a summer here writing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are

"The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him 'WILD THING!' and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!' so he was sent to bed without eating anything."

These are the opening lines of one of my all-time favorite books, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak died this week and is being celebrated right now all over the place (I like USA Today's article). I can hardly think of my childhood without remembering being read this book on many, many nights before bed by my mom or grandmother. My childhood copy is still at my parents' house, but my grandmother's copy was one of the first things I grabbed when we were sorting through her things after she died.

Chances are that if you're my friend and you've had a baby, this is what I've given you (along with some Robert McCloskey or Dr. Seuss). I have Where the Wild Things Are Christmas ornaments and one of the wild things even provides me with daily inspiration at work (he's really my only coworker).

The book made it into the top 50 on USA Today's Best-Selling Books List for the first time in 2009 thanks to the movie adaptation that came out that year. Since its publication in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are has sold 10 million copies. A childhood favorite for many more than just me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Recent Read: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

On the plane back from Germany I started a book I ordered used online last year called Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (though in some places I've seen the title listed as Every Man Dies Alone). It turns out it was the perfect time to read this novel, one of only two I've rated with five stars on Goodreads this year.

The book takes place in Berlin in 1940 (since I'd just been it was fun to recognize some of the street and place names in the book) and is focused on the residents of an apartment building: an average working couple, a family of Nazi supporters, a pacifist retired judge, a Jewish woman whose husband has already been taken away, and the mail carrier who delivers to their building. A lot of the story focuses on the couple, Otto and Anna Quangel, who is their grief over losing their son in the war, takes an extraordinary stand to oppose the war and Hitler's rule over Germany and most of the rest of Europe. It is a beautiful and terrible story based on a real working-class couple who had remained uninvolved in politics and activism until the death of their son became their call to action.

There is a German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin that I now wish I'd gotten to visit. If I ever get to visit again, I'll be sure to see it.

Read this book. Alone in Berlin is a powerful, powerful statement of how regular people can do bold things, even it means putting their lives at risk but makes a difference, if only for a few others.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nazi Book Burning

Berlin commemorates the 1933 Nazi book burning incident in Opera Square where it took place off one of the city's busiest streets. A museum across the street from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe had an exhibit detailing the authors whose books were burned. We visited both sites.

Opera Square is across the street from Humboldt University, and its students were some of the ones who gathered here to burn books. I had heard of this event before, but until I learned more I didn't know that the students decided to do this themselves. A student-run organization called the Nazi German Student Association hosted this event to rid the country of socialist and anti-Nazi literature. I found the article posted on the U.S. Holocaust Museum's website to be helpful.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

In the museum across the street from the Memorial, panels gave information on all the authors whose books were deemed a threat to Nazi society and burned. The one I was most familiar with is Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front. I haven't read this book since my sophomore year of high school, so I'll probably reread it soon. The quiet room showed above was off the main room in the museum. The bookshelves are lined with copies of the same books that were burned, and a solitary chair with a table and a light gives visitors a quiet place to read those books.

In learning more about the Nazi book burning, I was reminded of the book burning held in honor of Hitler's birthday in 1940 in The Book Thief (one of the best books I read all last year), and Fahrenheit 451 which I haven't read since my freshman year of high school. Maybe it's time to reread that one as well.

Aren't you glad to live in a place where we're free to read whatever we want?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Making Wine History

One of my favorite things about being on vacation is having more time than usual to read. I read quite a lot on my week off recently, one of the books being The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazzeo. I read it on the plane and found it to be a very interesting story about a woman with a strong business sense for her time who works hard to earn a living in 19th century France after her husband suddenly passed away. She was lucky to be encouraged by both her father and father-in-law as she worked to make champagne accessible to the middle class.

Upon our arrival at our hotel in the Rhine Valley we were offered a glass of champagne during check-in, which only made me appreciate the Widow Clicquot even more, right? (Our hotel is also a winery, so everything they serve there is their own.) A couple days later at the Rheingauer Weinmuseum Bromserburg in Rudesheim, we learned a little about the region's 1,000-year wine producing history, and part of that centered around the sparkling wine produced in the Rhine Valley.

Upon returning to the States, I did investigate Clicquot's famous champagne. At $40 a bottle it's out of my price range, but it was fun to learn about all the effort she put into her work.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nancy Drew and Jane Eyre

As a young reader, I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I read hardbacks my mom had read growing up that were still at my grandparents' house. We had a few at our house, too, and I borrowed a good many from the library. My favorite was The Hidden Staircase. (Then I remember thinking how cool it was that later on when I was into the Babysitters Club series that there was also one of those at Dawn's house, remember?)

When I was looking for library books to borrow for my Kindle (OK, yes, I recently made the leap and I have to say I completely love it), How Nancy Drew Saved My Life by Lauren Baratz-Logsted immediately caught my eye. I breezed right through the book and enjoyed it for what it was (chick lit) for the most part.

The plot is nothing unusual considering the genre: a 20 year-old lives in Manhattan leading a life that has her wanting more. She's just suffered a terrible breakup; she had an affair with the married father whose children were in her care. She needs to make a change so she answers a want ad for a nanny in Iceland and gets the job.

All throughout the book Charlotte, desperately trying to improve her life, considers at each decision point how the capable Nancy Drew would handle the situation. This helps her make quicker, better decisions than she might have otherwise, thinking on her feet instead of being her wishy-washy old self. I liked that she kept striving to be move Nancy Drew-like and referenced quite a few specifics from some of the 56 novels Carolyn Keene wrote in the original series.

About halfway through the novel, though, Baratz-Logsted switched gears and I noticed that Charlotte's experiences nannying in Iceland suddenly began to mirror Jane Eyre in multiple ways. Finally, Charlotte thinks to herself that her life has eerily become just like Jane Eyre's well after most readers would have caught on to that fact. I liked the idea of life imitating Jane Eyre but it was jarring to keep jumping back and forth between Charlotte's inner thoughts about becoming more like Nancy Drew while she was aware that she was just like Jane Eyre. I don't see why the author couldn't have separated these ideas into two separate books. Perhaps Charlotte's nannying adventures could still be set in Iceland, and the Nancy Drew idea could be applied to nearly any plot line imaginable. Plus, I'd think Jane Eyre would be worthy of having her name in the title of another book as well.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable read overall, and tomorrow I have to stop by the library, because my requested audiobook of The Hidden Staircase is in.