Water Water Everywhere

You could be forgiven for mistaking the network evening news for the Weather Channel these days. Night after night scenes of devastating flooding somewhere and everywhere. Hurricanes, cyclones, torrential rainfall, storm surges, rivers overflowing their banks, whole towns inundated, homes lost, islands disappearing, glaciers and polar ice melting. Here in Washington D.C. alarming scenes of stranded motorists crouching on the roofs of their submerged cars awaiting rescue. Dire warnings from climate scientists ignored, even suppressed, by our government.

I learned more about the watery world that awaits us in Robert Macfarlane’s marvelous new book Underland. The book is not specifically about climate change or rising seas. It is Continue reading “Water Water Everywhere”

On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders

Witchfinders – no, not characters in our contemporary political drama. But it could be that hearing cries of “Witch Hunt” almost every day for two years was what led me to this particular book on my shelf.  Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill is a mesmerizing account of a seventeenth century English witch hunt, one of the most vicious on record, led by two Essex gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. Hopkins earned the title Witchfinder General and became something of a folk hero in the villages and towns of East Anglia. Through torture and intimidation he extracted confessions and false witness accounts from terrified people, mostly women, arresting a total of 250 presumed witches. Over a hundred were publicly hanged.  Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders”

Leaving Ireland

Emigrants Leave Ireland by Henry Doyle

They left to escape the famine, poverty, an oppressive colonial government, then the violence of rebellion and civil war. They left to find work, to send money home to their families, to find opportunities in the big industrial cities far from their small rural cottages. Some sailed east to England, some west to America, and some south to Australia. Many, like my grandmother, never spoke of Ireland again. So I have had to piece together my Irish family’s history from snatches of conversation overheard in childhood, bits and bobs of story learned from relatives, facts discovered in online archives, and a box of Continue reading “Leaving Ireland”

On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?

Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontes by Terry Eagleton, published in 1975. Quite what this book is doing on my bookshelf I have no idea. I must have acquired it long, long ago judging by the antique fashion in literary criticism it represents. Back in the 1960’s when I was educated at an English university the term “dialectical materialism” was tossed around with abandon by anyone wishing to seem a true intellectual. Marx was dragged into analysis of just about anything. But the Brontes? Surely not. The wild romantic moors of Yorkshire seem a world away from theories of an oppressed proletariat and dominant bourgeoisie locked in class struggle. Or are they? I don’t remember reading the book in the past but I decided to dig in and see if Marx can really shed light on the Bronte novels. Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?”

My Favorite Books of 2018

Of the fifty odd books I read this year I’ve picked a handful of favorites, all but one published this year. My two fiction choices are both beautifully written stories of wartime, one set on the Eastern front in World War I and one in London during and after World War II. I was stunned that neither of them made the New York Times or Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year list. My nonfiction choices are both histories, not surprisingly as I read a lot of history. What these have in common is that I knew absolutely nothing about the subjects beforehand and they were both revelatory. Next my favorite guilty pleasure of the year and my favorite older book discovery. Continue reading “My Favorite Books of 2018”

On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day

The Execution of Guy Fawkes by Nicholas Visscher

One of the oddest questions I’ve been asked since moving to the U.S. is “Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in England?” Yes, this was a real question. I resisted the temptation to answer “Yes, we celebrate that the Puritans left and took their repressive ban on dancing and merriment with them!” More tactfully I said “No, but we have our own November holiday, Guy Fawkes Day.” That met with blank stares. So I explained that Guy Fawkes was a guy who plotted to blow up King James and the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was part of a Catholic plot to restore the true faith in Protestant England. “You mean you have a day to celebrate a domestic terrorist?”  “No, no” I hastily corrected. “We burn him Continue reading “On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day”

Resistance in World War II

Paris, deutsche Wachtparade
German troops on the Champs Elysees in Paris 1940

My latest blog for my former professional home, Montgomery County Public Libraries, is a companion piece to my post on Churchill’s V sign. I introduce a selection of books on World War II resistance in Europe and reveal my favorite fiction and nonfiction books of the year so far, which just happen to be on the same theme. Also, the next book up on my nightstand, by one of my favorite authors:  Resistance in World War II

My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last Saturday I watched the funeral service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. I really tuned in because I wanted to hear President Obama’s eulogy, but I was soon drawn in by the beauty and dignity of the ceremony. The music was magnificent, particularly John Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd and Renee Fleming’s Oh Danny Boy. Several speakers mentioned McCain’s love of literature, but I could not have been more surprised by his choice of a reading from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chosen passage was from As Kingfishers Catch Fire beginning with the line “the just man justices.” One rarely hears mention of Hopkins in public life in America and Continue reading “My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins”

The Darkest Hour, The Suspect V

I finally got to watch the much lauded film The Darkest Hour last weekend. Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill certainly deserved the Oscar Award for Best Actor. Equally deserving were the creative group who won the Oscar for Makeup. In real life Oldman looks nothing at all like Churchill, but with an inspired combination of acting skill and makeup bravura he pulls off the seemingly impossible. Director Joe Wright brings a suspenseful “you are there” quality to the story of Churchill’s first days in office in 1940, battling with political rivals who favored a pact with Hitler and strategizing to save the British army trapped in Dunkirk. It is a “warts and all” portrait including Churchill’s excessive drinking and his controversial decision to sacrifice the garrison at Calais to buy time to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk. So far, so historical. But then came a scene I knew was an anachronism. Churchill giving his famous V sign for Victory. But that couldn’t have happened in 1940 for the V campaign didn’t start until Continue reading “The Darkest Hour, The Suspect V”