Friday, October 13, 2006

His Family - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1918

His Family
by: Ernest Poole
Macmillan, 1916

"You will live on in our children's lives." - Judith Gale, His Family

His Family tells the story of Roger Gale and his struggle to really know and understand his three grown daughters after the passing of his wife. Before her death, she urged him to carefully remember all that the girls had done so that, "when you come after me, my dear, oh, how hungry I shall be for all you will tell me. For you will live on in our children's lives." This is the theme of the book as Roger tries desperately to keep up with his daughters and their families. Each of the daughters is strikingly different and each exemplifies a different stereotype of women in the years leading up to the "Roaring Twenties." Edith, the oldest, is the old fashioned mother and stay at home mom who strives diligently to have her children raised in a proper fashion. Her world revolves around her children. The middle child, Deborah, is the social reformer. She doesn't marry until she is older because she spends so much time working in the tenements in New York City and campaigning for women's suffrage. Laura is the youngest and is a perfect example of the early rise of the flapper. She lives the social life with no regard to the amount of money she is spending or to the feelings of her family around her.
This book is by far my favorite yet. My favorite period of history is the time from the end of the Civil War to right before World War II. It is fascinating to read this account of a family trying to move with the times at a very tumultuous time socially in American history. Some fight for the traditional values and some jump with all they have into a carefree life focused on 'self'. The book runs over into World War I and shows how a war in Europe affected Americans economically. The theme of family carrying on through generations and how generations affect each other is also fascinating. It is wonderful as Roger gradually realizes the importance of those who were before and the impact he will have on those after him.
The book is a very fast read. Many chapters end in the middle of a scene giving the reader the feeling that they must read on. By the end of the book you know the characters well and see their faults and strengths as Roger discovers them. It contains many good lessons for those of us today.

Monday, October 09, 2006

With Americans of Past and Present Days - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1917

With Americans of Past and Present Days
by: J.J. Jusserand
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916
New York:, 2000

With Americans of Past and Present Days is a fascinating book about American and French relationships from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Jusserand, a Frenchman himself, spends the main portion of the book discussing the Revolutionary War. The first section is about the French general Rochambeau. Rochambeau led the French troops who came to the aid of the Americans during the Revolution. The second section is about Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant who was chosen to plan the capitol city of the new nation. Because an existing city could not be agreed upon for the capitol of the United States, it was decided that a new city would be planned from scratch. L'Enfant, known for his grandiose plans and difficult disposition was chosen to plan the capitol city. The third section discusses George Washington and his relationship to the French. Although he never visited France himself, he remained quite close to many of the French officers who helped to fight for independence. The fourth section is a brief chapter on the French views of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It makes clear that the French highly respected Lincoln for his desire to abolish slavery. The fifth section is an oddly placed chapter including the script of a speech where a medal was commissioned in 1906 commemorating the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and the French, to be given as a gift to France. The sixth section is an address delivered in the name of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, January 17, 1913 (given by the author?). It seemed out of place because it was about Horace Howard Furness (an American I have never heard of) who wrote much of the early commentary on Shakespeare. The only reason it is included is that he gave much credit to the French critics of Shakespeare. Apparently, up until this point, only English critics of Shakespeare had been considered credible. The final chapter is the manuscript of an address delivered before the American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, December 17, 1910 discussing the attempts of several countries to join together to promote peace and disarmament. Included at the end of the chapter is an interesting note concerning the early stages of World War I in which Germany refused to disarm.
This book provides great insight into the United States' early relationships with France. It discusses the affect that the American Revolution had on the French Revolution and gives many interesting insights from a French point of view, something not usually mentioned in American History classes.
I think that reading the book online helped to keep it from seeming too disjointed. The last several chapters are particularly random, and it took a little while to figure out their relevance in the book. The author also assumed that the reader understands French, so many quotations are not translated into English. He also assumes that the reader knows who certain people are and mentions them without explaining their significance. I noticed that I sometimes had trouble telling where a direct quote ended and also that the author would switch between past and present tense and first and third person.
On the whole, the book was quite interesting. It brought forth some perspectives that I had never considered and was a pretty easy read. I think it would be especially helpful for someone researching French/American relationships throughout history.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Benjamin Franklin, Self-revealed - Winner, Biography, 1918

Benjamin Franklin, self-revealed; a biographical and critical study based mainly on his own writings
by: William Cabell Bruce
New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1917

Well, I'm back to reading somewhat in order. I am still reading the second book from 1917, but also read Benjamin Franklin, self revealed from 1918 while on a recent trip. I started this book thinking it was one of the types on the list of Pulitzer prize winning books that I have dreaded reading - the long book written by someone who uses lots of big words and philosophical ideas that fly right over my head. But, it wasn't.
I actually only read volume 2 because it was what I could get the fastest through interlibrary loan. The book is divided into four chapters, each on a different aspect of Benjamin Franklin's life. The first chapter focused on Franklin's personality. I was interested to find that he had a great sense of humor. The second chapter focused on his life as a businessman in the publishing world. The third chapter was about his life as a politician. This was the longest and most laborious chapter. I had forgetten, though, how very hard Franklin worked to try to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict between England and her colonies in America. The final chapter explored Franklin as inventor.
Benjamin Franklin, self revealed had plenty of interesting facts in it and quoted Franklin's writings on nearly every page - which satisfies my desire for primary sources. But, the book is long and often tedious (and I just read volume 2!). You can image how difficult it is to read a 300-page book with only four capters and no subheadings or divisions within the chapters. I would recommend reading it only if you are doing research on one of those specific areas of Franklins life.

Monday, August 28, 2006

March, A Novel - Winner, Fiction, 2006

March, A Novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Hampton, NH : Sound Library/BBC Audiobooks America, c2005

As you can tell, I have already skipped way out of order to read March. I happened to be taking a long road trip and was at the library the night before. So, I found the one book on my list that they had on CD that was also checked in at the moment.
The novel March is the story of Mr. March (his first name is never given), the father of the famous March girls of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. For those of you who grew up on Little Women like I did, you will remember that Mr. March is away at war during the book. The March family is based on Louisa May Alcott's own family, so, fittingly, March is loosely based on the real life of Louisa May Alcott's father while he was a chaplain in the Civil War.
The books presents some fascinating insights into the Civil War and how many Northerners were often just as rascist as the Southerners. Something discussed in March that I don't remember being in Little Women was the March family being part of the Underground Railroad. While that makes an interesting story line, it is an example of something that often happened in the book - it often felt like Ms. Brooks created extras storylines that seemed a little too convenient to the plot. I hope that makes sense. It just sometimes seemed that there were too many coincidences in Mr. March's life for it to be real.
It should be noted that this book is not a children's book like Little Women. It often has grisly details of war and overt sexual inuendo. Don't expect the innocence of Little Women. This book is very obviously written for an audience in 2006 who expects complete realism at the expense of romance instead of Little Women's 1868 audience who expected romance at the expense of reality. Choose for yourself which you prefer.

Julia Ward Howe - Winner, Biography or Autobiography, 1917

Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910
by Laura E. Richards (1850-1943) and Maud Howe Elliott (1854-1948)
assisted by Florence Howe Hall (1845-1922)
Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915
Volumes I & II

I began this book, as I will with many of them, having no idea who Julia Ward Howe was. It was fascinating to discover her as I read the books. I always love to read things with first hand accounts, and because she kept extensive diaries, there was plenty for her two daughters who wrote the book to quote from.
In case you don't know who Julia Ward Howe is, she is the woman who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was also an outspoken proponent of full suffrage for women. She lived in Boston, but spent much of her time travelling the country and the world speaking, reading her poetry, and preaching in Universalist churches.
The book was quite an easy read, but a little long. There were two volumes and each chapter in each volume covered sometimes only 1 or 2 years of the 93 she lived. This sometimes caused it to be a bit tedious.
I think the thing that interested me most was the freedom she had to travel and speak as a woman in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her husband died many years before she did, so she did much of her travelling with a daughter or granddaughter by her side. Not only did she visit a large part of the United States during her lifetime, but she also travelled extensively in Europe on multiple occasions and even visited Egypt and Israel.
My husband and I will soon be visiting Boston, so I look forward to visiting some of the homes Julia Ward Howe lived in and seeing Faneuil Hall where she often spoke on the many issues of the day that burdened her.
If you are a fan of biography, I recommend the book. It is an easy read and provides a wonderful glimpse into early 19th century society and politics.