Coffee Table on KBBI — Good reads for summer!

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I was a guest on Coffee Table on KBBI this morning, keeping company with Shady Grove Oliver and Terry Rensel as we talked about our favorite reads with people who call in. It was a blast, as always–thanks, guys!–and without further ado, here’s the books we talked about on the air.

Caroline
Cow Woman of Akutan (there’s a title for you) by Joan Brown Dodd
The Wind is not a River by Brian Payton

Lee
The Martian by Andy Weir
Astoria by Peter Stark (Lee compares this book to Alfred Lansing’s Endurance, one of the great survival stories.)
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Trish
A Thousand Prayers by James Sweeny
The List, a collection of short stories also by James Sweeny

Shady
Shadow Show by Sam Weller
Hyperbole and a Half (another great title) by Allie Brosh
I’m a Stranger Here Myself and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Dana inserts herself here with her favorite Bill Bryson book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid)
The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley (Shady says its a great adventure story).
All’s Fair by Mary Matalin and James Carville (Shady says it’s a horrible book but you won’t be able to put it down. I just ordered a copy from the Homer Bookstore, so sold!)
Among Others by Jo Walton
Also, she’s been reading a lot of Agatha Christie, and says it’s interesting to see how Christie’s craft evolved over the years (decades)[century]. If you have yet to encounter Dame Agatha, Dana recommends Murder on the Orient Express. (They made a terrific movie out of it, too.)

Murder on the Orient Express

Terry
A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin, a history Terry says reminded him of Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly.
Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright (which Terry recommended in response to my recommendation of Read My Pins, see below)
Winston Churchill, Winston Churchill’s War Leadership and Churchill’s Political Philosophy, all by Sir Martin Gilbert. (Terry says these books are small, about 116 pages each, and a quick way into the life and character of Churchill, if you’ve always wanted to read about him but were daunted by the massive amount of books with his name in the title. Like me.)
The Martian by Andy Weir (Dana says she’s halfway through and loving it.)

Dana
If I Should Die by Matthew Frank
Sniper’s Honor by Stephen Hunter
The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Euphoria by Lily King
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld
Dana says you can read her reviews of these books on her Goodreads page.

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

And a shoutout to the Homer Public Library’s Read 15 in ’15 reading challenge, because Shady and I and Terry are all participating. Click on the link to download a list of 150 books in various categories, and pick 15 of them to read in 2015. You can fill out an online form about a book you’ve read and leave a few comments, too. They’re printing out the comments and posting them on a bulletin board in the library so you can stop buy and get a few ideas. I’ve read seven from their list so far and every one has been a book I never heard of or something I wouldn’t have picked for myself. Fun.

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Quote

John Adams just died, dammit.

[from the stabenow.com vaults, July 5, 2010]


So I’m sitting here bawling because John Adams just died. It doesn’t seem to matter that it happened 182 years ago.

adamsThe best biographers understand that a biography is not only a history of the title subject but a time machine to the time in which he or she lived. Having read David McCullough’s John Adams, I now feel like I was in the room when John (look at that, we’re on a first-name basis) rose in Congress to speak in support of the Declaration of Independence, like I was sitting at Abigail’s elbow when she wrote to him wherever he was, Philadelphia, Paris, Amsterdam, London. There are so many great word pictures, like the one of John helping to repel boarders when his ship came under attack crossing the Atlantic, told this time in the words of the ship’s captain.

And Abigail. Has there ever been such a woman? Has there ever been such a partnership? It’s almost enough to make me believe in marriage.

Of course it helps that John and Abigail both were such indefatigable correspondents (they weren’t happy that they were so many times separated but we sure lucked out) and such amazingly good writers. The quality of their writing, as well as that of their multitude of other correspondents is certain to leave you wondering where the hell that ability went.

McCullough’s organizational skills in plucking just the right phrase from just the right letter are astonishing, and his own prose doesn’t suffer by comparison, either. A glorious, you-are-there book.

A Who’s Who of Americans in Paris in the 1800’s

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisThe Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

A Who’s Who of 1800’s Americans travel to Paris to study medicine and art and to just bask in the radiance that is the world’s greatest city. Everyone’s here, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, John Singer Sergeant, Mary Cassatt, Teddie Roosevelt, the James brothers, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, and everyone else you can think of.

They ate

“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” observed John Sanderson.
“We demolish dinner, they eat it.”

They looked at art

It was on Sunday only that the Musée du Louvre was open to the public,
and to the astonishment of the Americans, the enormous Sunday crowds at the museum
included people from all walks of life, as though everyone cared about art.

They observed dead bodies

…for those with the stomach for it, there was another popular attraction of which no mention was to be found in Galignani’s Guide. At the Paris morgue on the Île-de-la-Cité unidentified bodies taken from the Seine were regularly put on public display. Most of the bodies had been caught in a net stretched across the river for that purpose downstream in Saint-Cloud. Some were murder victims, but the great majority were suicides Stripped of their clothes, they lay stretched out on black marble tables, on the change someone might claim them. Otherwise, after three days, they were sold to doctors for ten francs each…As Sanderson noted, “You can stop in on your way as you go to the flower market, which is just opposite.”

The flower market might have been necessary, after that.

Charles Sumner, the senator who later, after giving an anti-slavery speech on the Senate floor, would be famously and most brutally attacked in that same chamber by Congressman and slave-owner Preston S. Brooks of (you guessed it) South Carolina, was not always an abolitionist. That changed in Paris, on Saturday, January 20, 1838, when he attended a lecture at the Sorbonne. Among the audience, he noted two or three blacks.

“They were standing in the midst of a knot of young men, and their color seemed to be no objection to them…with American impressions, it seemed very strange. It must be then that the distance between free blacks and whites among is is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things…” It was for Sumner a stunning revelation. Until this point he is not known to have shown any particular interest in the lives of black people, neither free blacks nor slaves.

Paris was not only transformative for the Americans who went there, but the world itself was transforming around them at the same time. The first wave of Americans traveled to Europe by sail, a journey that could take as long as two months, and would then board a dilegence (stagecoach) for Paris, taking days to arrive. The second wave arrived by steam, taking considerably less time about it, and took the train, which took hours. Paris went through one war, two kings and three revolutions during this time, and what les Americains didn’t have front row seats to they read about via the first transAtlantic cable.

These expat Americans were so well-regarded by the Parisians that you better understand their gift of the Statue of Liberty. Stacy Schiff (read my review of her Cleopatra here, http://www.stabenow.com/2011/08/01/ca…) said of A Greater Journey in her NYT review

If anyone could get away with suggesting
that room be made on Mount Rushmore for Asterix
it is McCullough.

True enough, McCullough is definitely a Francophile par exellence. He’ll make you one, too.

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