1066: The Year of the Conquest

Another late afternoon post. Hopefully next week I’ll be back on track!

Today’s book was a quick read, but an intriguing one if you like history. I needed a simple palatte cleanser after Les Mis and had this one left over from my last batch of library books. It was only 200ish pages, so I figured it would do the trick.

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David Howarth’s 1066 is a short little history on the battle of the Anglo-Saxons vs the Normans. I hadn’t heard this story before–this portion of English history isn’t a piece I’ve studied–so it was interesting to me. Just another bit to file away in my mind palace.

I like Howarth’s writing. It’s informative, but engaging. He’s a great storyteller, which is something you don’t see often in nonfiction history. I’ll have to look up other things he’s written!

Short and sweet for today. Thanks for being patient with me this week! Have a great weekend everyone!

Killing Kennedy

Certain moments define a generation. They are the points in our history that we talk about forever, the stories we put in our books, the memories we tell our grandchildren.

For my generation, that moment was 9/11. I will never forget sitting in a testing room with 20 of my classmates, finishing early and hearing the buzz of the nervous teachers, then watching in horror when they turned on the TV.

Before that poignant day, I heard so many adults say, “I’ll never remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot.” And I always thought that was such a weird comment, but now I get it. Those memories really do live forever.

Until recently, the 1960s seemed so long ago. Camelot seemed so old-fashioned and unrealistic, and I was never really interested in that time period. It bored me to death, to be honest. But now, with civil rights issues suddenly exploding, the 1960s are no longer boring…they are happening all over again.

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My husband has been reading…or at least buying…Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series, and so far has found them very interesting. I don’t lean quite so Right, so I was avoiding these, afraid that they would be a little too political for me. However, Killing Kennedy really didn’t have any political slant at all, for being a book about a president. Most of the base details I already knew, but it was interesting to ready about the finer points of what happened leading up to the days of the assassination and what happened after. The book was obviously well researched and well written.

My only real criticism is that the authors (not sure who did most of the writing) use the world “belie” waaaaaay too much. Seriously, it’s a weird word and they use it over and over and over again. I know. I’m nitpicking. But it stuck out at me.

If you like histories, this is a good one. It reminded me of the Pearl Harbor history that I read of FDR not too long ago. It wasn’t a full biography of JFK, just a moment in time. I won’t be so hesitant to read the other three O’Reilly books in the series now.

 

Counting this for PopSugar #43. It takes place in Dallas, which is not my hometown but it’s where I live now. My home town is a tiny town of 10,000 people.  #43. A book that takes place in your hometown.

The Gargoyle

Some books trail just at the edge of my memory. Pieces of their plots or familiar characters are remembered when I read other stories, or I think about them when I’m having a conversation about a similar subject. The Gargoyle is one of those books for me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately–it sits at eye level on one of my shelves, and so it’s been peaking out at me. It’s also one of those books that encompasses so much legend that hints of it are everywhere. I knew I was going to have to read it again soon, and I am so glad I did. I forgot just how amazing it was.

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At its core, The Gargoyle is a very realistic, detailed story about a burn victim. This isn’t come Hollywood version, though, where the person is horrifically burned, then walks out of the hospital scarred, but pain free in a week or so. The healing process in this book is excruciating, lengthy, and frustrating.

That is only the base of the story–in between the lines are other tales, as told by the narrator’s caregiver, a mysterious woman who comes into his life out of the past. This is where the legends come in. Medieval German Catholicism is heavy here, predating Luther. I may not be Catholic, but as I am fascinated by Western Medieval history…I can’t get far without finding the lore of Catholicism interesting as well. There is also Japanese, Norse, and Italian mythology wrapped up in Marianne Engel’s stories–especially Dante’s version of Hell.

Andrew Davidson is a genius, an artist. The Gargoyle is so well constructed that you’ll find yourself lost in the best possible manner. How often do you read a book with a nameless narrator, who is the main character, and come out on the other side completely transfixed? I could read this all over again right now and be completely happy.

But, alas, it goes back on the shelf for now…

King Leopold’s Ghost

I feel a bit like I am waking up, being born. I understand, now, those grumpy Victorian men in movies who think women should not be allowed to be educated–“It isn’t right! They’ll get ideas!”

Yes…I am getting ideas. I am learning. The world is getting smaller. The more I know, the more I want to know. I have always read, but not like this. I am no longer reading only for entertainment…I am seeing things that I haven’t seen before, understood before, and maybe it’s because I didn’t want to. I don’t know. But my eyes are starting to open. And I’m not yet completely sure how I feel about it. I just know I can’t go back.

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I just finished reading a book about genocide. And not just any genocide–because I’ve read about the Holocaust, which, don’t get me wrong…it’s one of the most awful historical topics a person can read about–but one reads and hears about that period of history from the moment we enter school. But this particular horror was one that I had never even heard of. Sure, I knew that there was colonialism in Africa, that at one time there was a fight to explore such a vast, unknown continent. And somewhere in the back of my somewhat intelligent brain, I knew it probably wasn’t the kindest or PC event in human history.

But, when I think of whites “discovering” Africa, the period of history I think about is the Slave Trade. So, when I first picked up Adam Hochschild’s book, that’s what I thought he was writing about. Even the subtitle of King Leopold’s Ghost, kind of sounds like it might be related–“A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.” To be completely honest, I thought it was going to be about the breakdown and halting of the slave market. I wanted to see the end of it.

I was so, so wrong.

King Leopold turned out to be Leopold II, King of Belgium, who, because he thought his country too small to be impressive, decided he needed a gigantic colony on this brand new continent that everyone was talking about. So he teamed up with the world’s best explorers, and convinced everyone he was going to be a humanitarian, and stop that slave trade we talked about earlier. (So, at first, I was still convinced this was going to be a really great, positive book.) Again…so, so, so wrong.

Instead, they discovered ivory and rubber, which of course (in their mind) required native Africans to poach and harvest and porter. And if those natives did not cooperate, they were whipped with brutal instruments or just killed openly.

The longer I read this book, the angrier I got. Mostly because of how cruel everything was–I have notes upon notes upon notes in my journal, because it was the only way I could process what I was reading. To say this book made me cry doesn’t do it justice. It made me sick to my stomach. It also made me angry because aside from “Oh yeah, there was some colonialism in Africa in the late 1800s,” I have never heard of ANY of this happening.

There’s this term being thrown around a lot right now–“White Privilege”–which, I’ll admit, it makes me cringe. Not because I think I’m not privileged…I am. I think it just stings because I want to think myself as one of the good guys, someone who wants to love everyone and help where I can help.

But goddammit. White Privilege is all this book is about. That term played over and over in my head the entire time I was reading this. White Privilege took over the Congo, and tore it apart.

There were some great people trying to fight against colonialism in this horror story, but the bad far outweighed the good, unfortunately. I have a lot of emotions, questions, and I don’t know what else to think on. This is not a book that you just move on from. For my sanity, I’m going to read something…lighter…and then I’m going to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is his fictionalized account of all this. And then, I don’t know what’s next. I am not done. It may not be the same subject, the same period of history, but I’m not done. I refuse to be numb.

Watching History be Made

Today’s “History” themed post was going to be all about my love of British lore, but you guys have heard me wax poetic about that stuff a million times.

And then this morning, something brilliant happened. My twitter feed started exploding with links and hashtags as the European Space Agency got closer to landing the Philae lander on Comet 67P, 317 million miles away from Earth. Once I saw what was happening, I tuned into the live feed. At first, there wasn’t much happening–just a bunch of people standing in a control room, a dull hum of voices as they hovered over computer monitors. William Shatner joked on Twitter about one particular man who looked very serious with his hands on his hips in a gray hoodie.

But then, that dull hum started to get louder. The serious faces started to get more animated, and the hands started pointing at the screens. People started moving around. And then, all at once, HOORAY!!!!!!!!! Images started flowing through Twitter, and after another few moments, they got confirmation that Philae was communicating from the comet.

I’ve been listening now to the follow up speeches, the excitement. This is the first time anyone has ever landed on a comet. There is so much discovery that can happen, so much research to be done.

I have so many feelings about what I just watched. In the aftermath of NASA losing funding, our space program shutting down, it’s so fascinating, so inspiring to see this work being done elsewhere. Even though I do not understand everything that is happening or what can happen, I love watching the brilliance that people are striving for. History was made today. People will talk about today 50 years in the future when they talk about space. I don’t know what will come out of this project, but I know I watched it happen today. And that is thrilling.

It Happened on Broadway

I grew up in a family that loves musical theatre. From the time I was young, we watched Disney movies and acted them out in our living room. The carpet was light blue, so it was often the ocean. Or, in the reenactment I remember most vividly, it was the Nile River, since The Prince of Egypt was one of my absolute favorites. The music in that one, am I right? I’m pretty sure we have video of it somewhere, too. Gawd.

Oh, and of course there were church plays. My most notable performance being some weird joke about taxes during “We Like Sheep.” The adults all though it was hilarious, but my partner and I had no idea what was so funny. I sure wish I could remember the punchline now. Something about keeping receipts in a shoebox. *shrug*

My sisters and father were also pretty heavy in our local community theater, show choir, the works. I was much happier putting on plays at home than in front of people, so I stayed in the audience.

Then I met my husband, who was equally enthralled with the theatre–I’ve told you about that before.

All this to say, when I saw It Happened on Broadway on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I thought it was going to be a grand history of the stage, an in depth look at some of the most favorite actors, producers, etc.

Unfortunately…I did not get what I wanted. For people who grew up in the golden age of Broadway (that is to say, people much older than myself, living in New York City), this may be the perfect book. They are going to be intimately acquainted with the people speaking in this oral memoir.

But for me, this was a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I knew exactly one person–Carol Channing.

And instead of that grand history? It was as if I was at a party, trying to grasp on to pieces of conversation from everyone around me. I was so confused. This is the type of introvert nightmare that I avoid! There’s no structure, no chapters or themes. Just a bunch of people thrown together talking.

Now, maybe if this were done documentary style on camera where we could see the vibrant personalities, this would have worked terrifically. But with words on a page, it was lacking something.

As much as I love theatre and history, I am just not the target market for this book. It’s too bounce-around, and I’m just not familiar with the contributors. I mostly skimmed through and read a few, grabbing memories from people I recognized, but I just couldn’t finish the whole thing. It didn’t hold my attention long enough. I am not going to completely discredit it, though, because I am sure there are a lot of people who are going to find this oral history extremely amusing. It was just wasn’t for me.

 

Disclaimer:  I was given an ecopy of this book by Netgalley for review.

Book to Movie/TV

My dad has always been more of a nonfiction reader than the rest of us–always reading things on the field he’s interested in at the time (sometimes books on actual fields…since he was a farmer…badaCHING!). Agriculture, business, and now, more and more, politics. But, he instantly latched on to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series when they first came out.

Once his daughters realized how much he was zooming through these books, and we started hearing how popular they were…it didn’t take us long to start fighting over his copies.

It’s no wonder these books were so popular. The chapters are short, and the action is brisk. There are constant cliff-hangers that almost force you to keep turning pages. You don’t want to put the book down because you have to know what happens next. The puzzles are very Sherlockian in nature, and are extremely fun to solve for anyone with an interest in history.

When this moved into the big screen, Tom Hanks was a perfect fit for Robert Langdon. A skitterish professor, handsome, but slightly sweaty, used to being in a dusty college library. Hanks has this awkward stutter he does when the character doesn’t quite know what to say. And I absolutely love Audrey Tautou. Can I have her lips, please?

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Update:  I realized after I posted this that this is actually the question for today’s question for Trees of Reverie too! Woot! Two birds with one stone 🙂

Paul Revere’s Ride

Today marks the 239th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride. There were actually several riders involved in the warning ride in Massachusetts, but Longfellow’s poem helps us remember the night that the enemy knocked at our door.

Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.’

Then he said, ‘Good-night!’ and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, ‘All is well!’
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.
And lo! As he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard by the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock.
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed.
Who at the bridge would be the first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,–
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,–
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

 

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Quote

Imaginatively s…

Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave on any boy whose parents forced a ring up on her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own