It’s been a slow week for reading, at least from the library. Unable to pursue my library reads, I re-read Prelude to Foundation and began re-reading Forward the Foundation. Otherwise, so little has been catching fire lately that after reading The Greater Journey by David McCullough, I returned my books to the library and spent a couple of leisurely hours sitting and strolling in various aisles, hoping to find something that would. I think I did, but first, a minireview…
David McCullough is a popular name among American historians, known most for his 1776 and a large biography of John Adams. The Greater Journey is somewhat less focused, but is essentially a history of Paris (1830-1900) as seen through the eyes of American visitors, most of whom were visiting professionally. For the majority of these Americans — whose numbers include famous names like Samuel Morse and Fenimore Cooper — the journey to Paris was their first trip outside the United States, and the novelty of being a ‘foreigner’ made their experiences all the more vividly memorable. Through them we experience Paris as it was in the late 19th century, beginning in the Bourbon Restoration era but enduring decades of political change — a Second Republic, a Second Empire, and a Third Republic, in addition to war with Germany and several protracted sieges. The Americans featured here are professionals of one kind or another — physicians, architects, writers — but the artists dominate the work outside of the space devoted to political change. The range of years allows the reader to experience the tremendous change of those years, as the globe shrinks underneath telegraph cables and steam engine tunnels. Given my interest in France and this period, I certainly enjoyed the book for the most part, although all the art history overwhelmed me. The photographs and prints of artwork included are stunning.
- Plan and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender. I am at the same time intrigued by the Amish devotion to simple living and revulsed by their cultish atmosphere and suppression of individuality with practices like shunning. Sue Bender is an artist who shares my objection to forced conformity, but felt herself mesmerized by Amish art and decided to spend a summer living with them.
- The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, Bernard Lewis. I read Lewis’ What Went Wrong? concerning the effects of modernization in the middle east and the ongoing hostile reaction to it during the summer, and have been meaning to sample more of Lewis.
- A Light in the Window, Jan Karon; the second in the Mitford series..
- Vagabond, Bernard Cornwell. Alas, my library doesn’t appear to have Sharpe’s Skirmish, and I’ve been mulling over whether or not to pursue in the series or attempt to acquire the novel first.
I was really in the mood for something WW2-related, specifically a novel — but I didn’t feel like getting into James Jones’ From Here to Eternity, and the loud colors and huge rendering of W.E.B. Griffin’s name on his several rows of books left me with the impression that they were meant as cheap thrillers.