Friday, January 10, 2020

1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelernter

From the back cover: "Yesterday’s World of Tomorrow. In a narrow corridor of time between the Great Depression and the most destructive war in history, a World’s Fair was held in the city of New York. It was an event that transformed an entire generation with its vision of things to come. Millions of people came from every corner of the globe to gaze in awe at the Trylon and Perisphere, and to experience for an afternoon a thrilling yet humane utopia in which every citizen lived “the good life” that art, science, technology, and moral fervor had created. In 1939, David Gelernter gives us an intensely evocative picture of the World's Fair — and of a fleeting era of innocent expectation when the world looked forward in wonder rather than backward with regret."

I'm left with mixed feelings about this one, but I think I liked it more than not. I love reading books that make me stop and Google every few pages and this was definitely one of those. I also love reading about past World's Fairs---all the details, all the emotions, all the innovations---that's where I got a little annoyed with this one. Gelernter used a fictional love story to help describe the events and I found it took a more prominent place than I would have liked it to, with even whole chapters being devoted to the story and not to the Fair.

One of my first "Google surprises" was that World's Fairs are still going on all over the world! (Don't laugh...I'm a hermit.) I had no idea but assumed that technology moved too fast for a Fair to be relevant. But I was wrong! I'd sure love to go to one. I think they're fascinating!

The author spent a lot of time trying to convince the reader that the 1930s were just as sophisticated as today. Is there any doubt? I'd say more so---and classier, too. Take his points about the code of dress and the "why bother" mentality. People who dress nicely do it to be respectful of others around them, just as much for themselves. This mentality has not left our society---it's just not promoted as important or moral anymore.

An interesting dichotomy was the things they were naive to compared to the things we assume they were naive to. For instance, these times weren't necessarily as innocent or "moral" as we might assume. There were lots of instances of nude art and even some soft porn featured at the fair. Yikes! On the other hand, the fair's SCIENCE DIRECTOR boasts, "the actual control of the weather for an entire town will by no means be impossible for air-conditioning engineers of the future." How someone not only believed that was possible or feasible but also didn't see the potential catastrophe that could create is shocking to me. However, these are also the parents of our current Baby Boomer "conspiracy theorists". Ha!

This was definitely a different time militarily. They had no such phrase to describe a nation as a, "super power", and if there would have been one, America wouldn't have been it. At that time, the French army was said to be the best in the world. Do we even hear about a French army now? Britain was possibly more powerful than us...but they sure seem awfully pacifist these days.

I really didn't too much enjoy the fictional love story and thought the story of the Fair could have been told just fine without it. I believe the author did it this way to help give a perspective of the feelings and reactions of the fairgoers, but at many points the dialogue became weirdly philosophical and didn't seem applicable.

Overall, it was a "fair"ly good read...but I think I'll be looking for something else on this particular Fair, as well.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Grandfather's Chair: True Stories from History and Biography by Nathaniel Hawthorne

For the four little cousins, Grandfather's chair is just a regular fixture of the home---that is, until he begins to tell about its history. Grandfather's chair had traveled through New England's history for 300 years and had many stories to pass along. The children learn about the history of the colonies through biographies of famous colonists---all of whom had connections to this one unique chair.

My husband bought this antique 1916ish copy for me for Christmas, along with a few other good ones. I really loved this book! Everything I know about the Puritans I learned from Nathaniel Hawthorne! Haha! This one is a history of New England with each chapter being about a different historical colonist. The fictional part is that each figure owned this chair at some point and at the end we find out how it ended up in Grandfather’s possession. I can’t get enough of Hawthorne...hands down my favorite male author. For more Hawthorne fangirling read here and here and here.

There was so much great information here that has either been lost to history or just considered "outdated". I really enjoyed reading about John Eliot who translated the Bible into an Indian language. Upon further research, I learned that his and others like it are now being used to help modern native Americans rediscover the languages of their ancestors.

I also didn't know that Cotton Mather headed up the first smallpox inoculations in America. Research didn't reflect very much about that. Wikipedia says the first inoculations were discovered almost 100 years later than that. Seems the Puritans thought it was a judgement from God that shouldn't be messed with.

I found it funny that he inserted little book critiques or plugs for fellow authors such as those for the biographers of Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, and others; as well as his good friend Mr. Longfellow.

I can't wait to read more by this fantastic Victorian era author!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael -- Book Review

From Google Books: "In this brilliant mix of fact and fiction, Juliet Gael captures the passions, hopes, dreams, and sorrows of literature's most famous sisters--and imagines how love dramatically and most unexpectedly found Charlotte Brontë. During her two years Brussels, Charlotte had a taste of life's splendors; now, back home in the Yorkshire moors, duty-bound to a blind father and an alcoholic brother, an ambitious Charlotte refuses to sink into hopelessness. With her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte conceives a plan to earn money and pursue a dream. 

Transforming her loneliness and personal sorrow into a triumph of literary art, Charlotte pens her 1847 masterpiece, Jane Eyre and catapults herself into the spotlight of London's fashionable literary scene--and into the arms of her new publisher, George Smith. But just as life begins to hold new promise, unspeakable tragedy descends on the Brontë household, throwing London and George into the background and leaving Charlotte to fear that the only romance she will ever find is at the tip of her pen. But another man waits in the Brontës' Haworth parsonage... Romancing Miss Brontë is a fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary woman whose life and work articulated our deepest human longing: to love and be loved in return."

This was a story that will stick with me for a really long time and has claimed a high place on my list of best books ever. I was reluctant to read it as Charlotte was always my least favorite of the sisters, but this story brought her to life in a way that made me sympathetic to her. I can't say that I'm endeared to her, but I think I get her better now and don't hold as many grudges as I did before.

 At first, I wasn't sure about the writing style. Sometimes the story would go into deep detail; other times it would summarize more sterilely, like a nonfiction biography type. The author would zoom in to rich description and intimate dialogue, but then all the way out to the point of addressing the reader about the characters as if we were watching them together through a window.

 All that changes half way through or so and the author does address the issue in her afterward. She had a lot of ground to cover in bringing readers up to date with the Brontes past and lifestyle so her choice makes sense and was not badly done. I got lost in this sad story many times and found myself putting aside other important things to keep reading. The Brontes' story has always been one of the most tragic I've known.

When I went to Haworth in 2016, I wept at the desolateness of the area and the sorrow that household had felt. However, being there and knowing the town and "neighborhood" featured in the story brought it to life dramatically. I was able to see it all in my mind's eye---so thankful for that. My husband and I have a northern England trip planned for 2020 or so. I hope to return to Haworth and see Charlotte's legacy there with a fresh perspective.

Romancing Miss Bronte meets the requirements for The Victorian Reading Challenges at Belle's Library and at Becky's Book Reviews.