Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore

Yesterday my friend Emily and I drove up to Manchester, VT for Ruth Franklin's event at the Northshire Bookstore. It's about a three hour drive from the Connecticut shoreline, but we love the Northshire and needed a good six hours to talk about books.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Franklin's recently released biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, has been generating a lot of buzz and receiving great reviews.

“Ruth Franklin is the biographer Jackson needed: she tells the story of the author in a way that made me want to reread every word Jackson ever wrote.” — Neil Gaiman

Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT
Ruth Franklin at the Northshire Bookstore

Franklin talked for about 45 minutes, read a bit from her book, and then took questions from the audience. Some highlights:
  • Jackson didn't get the recognition she deserved while she was alive for a variety of reasons, but a primary factor is that she was pigeonholed as a horror writer, a genre the literary establishment has never taken seriously. Jackson is partially responsible for this as she relished her reputation as a witch. She was a serious student of historical witches.
  • Jackson's reputation has also been harmed by a lack of scholarly apparatus. One of Franklin's goals in writing this biography was to establish a chronology of Jackson's writing: when she wrote what, when works were published, etc. Much of this information was unknown or inaccurate.
  • Jackson was a wife and mother in a time when those roles typically precluded a professional career. Being a faculty wife was a double whammy, even if she was the main breadwinner of the family for 20+ years. When she checked into the hospital to have her third child, the clerk asked what her job was, to which Jackson replied, "Writer." The clerk's reply was to write down 'housewife.' This was just after the publication and wild popularity of "The Lottery."
  • Jackson's archival papers are a rather disorganized mess (50 boxes at the Library of Congress). After she died her desk was cleared off and boxed up pretty much as is, candy wrappers included. Because of this Franklin was able to see relationships between documents that were boxed together just as Jackson had left them on her desk:  a dream journal, a letter to her therapist, and the novel she was working on, all of which are related, remained side by side.

Ruth Frankin Insist on Your Cup of Stars - Shirley Jackson
Insist on your cup of stars!

The evening ended much too soon. I could have listened to Franklin talk for hours. I purchased a copy and asked her to signed it. The inscription reads: "To Chris -- insist on your cup of stars!" Fans of The Haunting of Hill House will get that reference. Those of you who don't will just have to read the novel.

I'm looking forward to diving into this hefty biography in November. I've only read "The Lottery," We Have Always Lived in a Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House (one of my all time favorites), but based on Franklin's talk alone I foresee more Jackson works in my reading future.

Title: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Author: Ruth Franklin
Publisher:  W.W. Norton/Liveright, September 2016

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater by Kathyrn J. Atwood

The 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor is December 7th and if you buy or borrow only one book to read about WWII for yourself or the young people in your life, let it be this one. Through covering the action of these 15 women, Atwood provides an excellent introduction to the reasons for the war and many of the themes, conditions, and major battles of the war years in the Pacific. She doesn't shy away from the atrocities of the war, yet presents the material in a way that's suitable for  ages 14 & up.


Last year I reviewed Atwood's Women Heroes of World War I and was thrilled when asked if I'd like a review copy of her latest, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater.

This is Atwood's second book on Women Heroes of WWII. The first came out in 2011 and focused on the European Theater. Turning her attention this time to the Pacific Theater, Atwood has written another excellent biographical/historical work that introduces readers to the 15 women featured within as well as to the major battles and themes of the war and situates it in its historical context. Her introduction provides context for Japanese aggression beginning with Matthew Perry's expedition that forced the opening of Japan's borders to the West in 1854, to World War I and its fallout, to the rise of fascist Japan and its quest to conquer neighboring countries.

As you can see in the map below, by 1942 Japan had conquered many lands (the darker areas). The red circle marks the Hawaii Islands and Pearl Harbor.


This map also helps readers place the women featured in this book. These woman (and girls) were reporters, nurses, missionaries, entertainers, and civilians who took action to defend and help their peers, loved ones, and countries, either through support and/or sabotaged of the enemy. From this book it is clear that women were pro-active participants in the war effort. How many more unknown women heroes were there? There are also, of course, many unknown male heroes whose stories will never be told, but since women rarely get their due in history books, especially on the topic of war, Atwood's work is vitally important and a significant contribution to the fields of military history, biography, and history in general.

The book is organized into four sections:

Part I: China
1. Peggy Hull: In a War Zone -- American, reporter in China in 1932.
2. Minnie Vautrin: American Hero at the Nanking Massacre -- American, college president.
3. Gladys Aylward: "All China Is a Battlefield" -- British, later Chinese citizen, missionary.

Part II: The US and Philippines
4. Elizabeth MacDonald: Pear Harbor Reporter and OSS Agent -- American, OSS agent.
5. Denny Williams: American Nurse Under Fire -- American. former US Army Nurse living in Manila.
6. Margaret Utinsky: The Miss U Network -- American, Red Cross Nurse & Canteen Operator.
7. Yay Panlilio: Guerrilla Warrior --American father/ Filipino Mother, undercover agent for US Army Intelligence.
8. Claire Phillips: Manila Agent -- American. entertainer ran spy network as "High Pockets."
9. Maria Rosa Henson: Guerrilla Courier and Rape Survivor -- Filipina, 14 year old rape survivor/sexual slave (aka Japanese "comfort woman").

Part III: Malaya, Singapore, Dutch East Indies
10. Sybil Kathigasu: "This Was War" -- Malayan, nurse and midwife, provided medical assistance to guerilla fighters on penalty of death.
11. Elizabeth Choy: "Justice Will Triumph" -- Ethnic Chinese from Borneo, living in Singapore, volunteered as nurse, POW, later first woman to serve on Singapore's Legislative Council.
12. Vivian Bullwinkel: Sole Survivor -- Australian, Army Nurse, sole survivor of 22 nurses who were slaughtered on Banka Island.
13. Helen Colijn: Rising Above -- Dutch, teenage POW internment camp survivor.

Part IV: Iwo Jima and Okinawa
14. Jane Kendeigh: Navy Flight Nurse -- American, first nurse to land on Okinawa, April 7, 1945 (the battle raged from April 1 - June 22)
15. Dickey Chapelle: "As Far Forward as You'll Let Me" -- American, photographer at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Survived WWII, died from wounds in Vietnam on November 4, 1965 while on patrol with the Marines. She was the first female American corresponded to be killed in action.

Each chapter offers context about the subject's personal life and situates her within the larger geopolitical setting. Atwood's writing is clear and energetic. Each woman's story reads like a mini-action adventure with historical facts and anecdotes seamlessly woven through. There are 20 black and white photos and occasional text boxes explore related events such as the Burma Railway, Kamikazes, and Executive Order #9066 (The order that forced more than 100,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps).

Like the Introduction, the Epilogue concisely wraps up the end of the war, the recovery from the war, and explains the roots of the Cold War. Atwood includes a section of Discussion Questions and Suggestions for Further Study to get readers thinking and students talking. One of the questions that interested me is the difference between German civilian and Japanese civilian attitudes toward the war: "Every German student must learn about Hitler and Nazism while Japanese students learn very little about their nation's role in the war. Why?"

Vivian Bullwinkel (source)
Of all the stories in this book, Vivian Bullwinkel's is one that haunts me. She was an Australian Army Nurse who, after surviving a ship bombing and sinking, was marched back into the water at Banka Island along with 22 of her fellow nurses and gunned down by Japanese soldiers. She was left for dead and woke up hours later, having floated back to land. Before the bullets started to fly, the group's leader, Irene Drummond, said, "Chin up girls, I'm proud of you and I love you all." What courage in the face of certain death. Bullwinkel went on to survive in the jungle and as a POW for three years before the war's end. She died in 2000 at the age of 84.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Library Visit: Seal Harbor, Maine

We had a wonderful vacation this August on Maine's Mount Desert Island. I visited some area libraries, four in all, and a few bookstores as well. I'll start with the library in Seal Harbor, which is in the neighborhood where we stayed. The Seal Harbor Library serves both year-round residents, summer people, and vacationers such as myself (and I did check out a few books).

Seal Harbor Library Association
5 Main Street
Seal Harbor, ME

Build in 1890. Going strong for 126 years!

A most picturesque library. Looks like it could be Jessica Fletcher's library, doesn't it, mystery fans?

Kids heading toward the library is such a wonderful sight. (Technically, these kids veered to the left and into the woods, not through the library doors.)

I've noticed in my travels that many small community libraries are built on small slips of triangular land between two roads. Can you make out the library at the end of this walkway, through the trees?

Custom built book return and bench.

The view from the bench.

Inside and to the left is this handsome stove and chimney. The sign above reads, "Seal Harbor Library Founded 1890."

The small plaque to the right reads, "This stove is given in loving memory of George Ledyard Stebbins, 1862-1952, Co-Founder & Library President, this gentle, quit man strove for the good of the Village of Seal Harbor." According to the Wikipedia page on Stebbins's son, who became a renowned scientist, George Ledyard Stebbins was "a wealthy real estate financier who developed Seal Harbor, Maine and helped to establish Acadia National Park."

The librarian's desk is to the right when you walk in. Through that door is the reading room.

The view from the reading room.

The right side of the reading room. If my memory serves me correctly, this is also a local history reference room.
The left side of the reading room.

This certificate, which you can see in the photo above hanging on the back left wall, commemorates the Seal Harbor Library Association's 100th year (from 1998).

Looking back into the main room from the reading room.
This local interest book display faces the front door.

The back wall of the library.
Cather on the shelf!

Old staircase leading down to the road.

I love tiny old staircases. There is a newer one a few steps away.

Looking up at the library from the road.

A view of the harbor from the curb. Ah, Maine.

While I love grand academic and large urban libraries, there's a special place in my heart for small, community libraries such as this one. Visit The Seal Harbor Library Image Collection here.

A note if you're interested in visiting this library. The address above must be the library's mailing address.  The Google Earth image below shows the location of the address that comes up in a map at the top of the image (see the red place marker for 5 Main Street?). The yellow circle at the bottom of the image is the library's physical location. From RT 3 turn right/go straight onto Steamboat Warf Road and you'll come across the library.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Classics Club Spin #14 & Meet Buddy Fitzwilliam

I completely forgot about the need to post my classics club list before Monday/today. I have a great excuse though! On Saturday we welcomed a new addition to the family--

Meet Buddy!


Buddy's full name is Buddy Fitzwilliam Tholak.

His middle name, Fitzwilliam, is--yes--a nod to Jane Austen. We had planned on giving our next dog an Austen related name, but Buddy already had a name, so now he also has a middle name. Buddy is tall, handsome, and dashing just like Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. And although Buddy didn't come with an income exceeding £10,000 a year, he is already making our hearts grow 10, 000 times larger.

As I said above, I know I was supposed to have my list of 20 classics posted prior to the announcement of the spin number, but since I did not I am simply going to use my list from the last spin. This turns out to be kinda perfect because as you Classic Clubbers know #1 is the chosen number and #1 from my last list is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Kismet!

Here's the last list and a link to that post so you don't think I'm pulling a fast one:
  1. Pride and Prejudice, Austen, 1813 <--- The Chosen One for #CCspin #14
  2. The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne, 1851 
  3. Carmilla, Le Fanu, 1872 
  4. The Bostonians, James, 1886 
  5. A Room with a View, Forster, 1908 
  6. Maurice, Forster, 1914 
  7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce, 1916 
  8. The Education of Henry Adams, Adams, 1918 
  9. Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson, 1919 
  10. So Big, Ferber, 1924 
  11. The Magic Mountain, Mann, 1924 
  12. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck, 1939 
  13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith, 1943 
  14. From Here to Eternity, Jones, 1951 
  15. The Price of Salt, Highsmith, 1952  <--- The Chosen One for #CCspin #13. My post on that book is here.
I don't think I've read Pride and Prejudice before, but then I thought the same thing about Kate Chopin's The Awakening which I read, or more accurately re-read, last month. I remembered starting The Awakening when I was in my 20s, but didn't get into it and put it aside. However, as so many of the scenes were familiar to me, I must have gone back and read it as some point in the last 20 or 30 years. 

When I was a kid my grandmother and I once talked about her not remembering if she'd already read a particular book. I remember thinking she was just old and forgetful. Now I'm 50 and probably not all that much younger than she was when we had that conversation. I'm not calling myself old, but . . . time sure flies.

Anyway, the case of Pride and Prejudice will be different in that I've watched so many film adaptations of the novel that it might be difficult to tell if I'm recalling scenes from a movie version or a prior reading.

For now I'm off to find out what everyone else is reading for #CCspin 14 and hope to find someone who'll be reading Pride and Prejudice.

PS: Loved The Awakening, by the way. 
PPS: If you want to add more classics to your reading life check out the Classics Clubs here.
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