Open Book, November 2016

The first Wednesday of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately. 

Best reading of the past month for me: A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Centurya collection of eulogies written by William F. Buckley, edited by James Rosen. They’d be worth reading for the pure good writing alone. Their substance is the greater treat. Buckley died several years ago without collecting these little gems from his extensive journalistic work, but I doubt he’d find fault with Rosen’s selection. Buckley eulogized loved ones, political figures, and celebrities with a sharp eye and often with a great deal of heart. Whether or not the reader shares Buckley’s political philosophy, this book is a sure delight.

I continue with Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy. Colonel Roosevelt covers TR’s eventful post-presidential years.

I nibble at other works, finding nonfiction more to my taste than fiction right now. I am involved in politics, so this is a stressful season. Reminders of the long view, both historical and spiritual, are balm to my spirit.

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Open Book, October 2016

The first Wednesday of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately. 

Theodore Rex was as good as its early chapters promised. I’m impatiently waiting for a copy of Colonel Roosevelt, volume three of this Theodore Roosevelt biography written by Edmund Morris.

I’m fortunate to live only a few minutes away from the offices of Sophia Institute Press, with its extensive catalog of Catholic books. One of their titles recently caught my eye: Christianity, Democracy, and the American Ideal – a particularly timely topic. I’ll be reading it through most of this month, resolutely ignoring as many political-campaign phone calls as possible. (Are voters in every state assaulted with so many calls? New Hampshire only has four electoral votes. Lord have mercy on the bigger swing states.) The book is a selection of writings by Jacques Maritain, edited by James P. Kelly III, exploring the theme of how Christianity and responsible citizenship go together. This is a welcome subject to me, in the age of personally-opposed-but.

Stark Decency deserves greater fame. New Hampshire readers like me can find it in any local bookstore or library shelf, while the rest of you must trust to online sources. Allen V. Koop’s book about a World War II prison camp in New Hampshire reveals a bit of American history little-known outside my Granite State. In 1944, German POWs were sent to the small upstate town of Stark to cut pulpwood for a local paper mill that faced wartime production demands.In an unlikely place and an unlikely situation, friendships developed between some prisoners and guards, and later between prisoners and townspeople. Koop sets out the story in just over 120 pages, ending with an account of a 1986 reunion at which five former POWs returned to Stark for a celebration of friendship and peace. “Camp Stark did more for people and peace than for pulpwood,” he notes. I love the book’s calm and undramatic style, which suits the story.

While motoring in the north country on New Hampshire highway 110, I once came across the state’s historical marker describing the camp. I’m glad the marker is there, and I’m glad Allen V. Koop wrote the story of what’s behind it.

Marker in Stark, New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
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Open Book, September 2016

The first Wednesday of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately.

I’ve been re-reading two old favorites from my fiction shelves. It’s pure coincidence that my first #OpenBook entry happens to include two books mentioned by other bloggers last month: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

The first time I encountered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was about 40 years ago in a Reader’s Digest condensed version for kids (“Best-Loved Books”). “Condensed” makes it sound about as appealing as canned soup, but Smith’s Francie Nolan came to life for me and sent me hurrying to the library for the full novel in its unedited glory. A book about a child, yet not a children’s story, it has drawn me into Francie’s Brooklyn of 1912 over and over again.

Each time I re-read this book, I’m struck anew at how such a rich, moving story is conveyed in thoroughly unsentimental prose. Fair warning: at whatever age you pick up the book, the characters and what their creator calls their thin invisible steel will not let you walk away easily.

And then there’s Brede, Rumer Godden’s story about a Benedictine monastery and the delayed religious vocation of a forty-something woman. Reading it now, I see texture and depth that I missed when I first picked up the book as a teenager. And for heaven’s sake, if you come across the TV movie made from the book ages ago, turn it off and pick up the book.

Where my recent fiction reading has brought me back to familiar ground, I’m discovering a lot of nonfiction that’s new to me. After reading Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt a few months ago, I’m now well into Theodore RexThe second book can stand on its own, but it’s best appreciated after reading the first volume. Next stop will be volume 3, covering Roosevelt’s post-Presidential years.

I’ve read plenty by C.S. Lewis and a little by G.K. Chesterton, but this is the first time I’ve opened Mere Christianity and The Everlasting Man. I’m feeding my inner poli sci grad with Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. With the possible exception of Mere Christianity (much of which is based on a series of radio broadcasts), none of these lends itself to reading-by-nibbles. Giving these books the time they deserve means cutting back on screen time, except of course with my trusty Kindle – and the fact that I find that a bit wearing startles me.

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