Bedtime Stories: November 2015
- November 11, 2015
What do literary types have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked a couple of them, and here’s what they said.
Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer with an introduction by New Yorker editor David Remnick. The longtime New Yorker reporter A.J. Liebling helped establish the reputation for excellence that the magazine still enjoys. Best known for his writing about food and boxing, both considered among the best of their genres, Liebling also covered World War II for the magazine and maintained an impressive output in his long career there. I can’t think of a nonfiction writer today who combines the sharp observational and reportorial skills with the wit and vibrancy that Liebling brought to his work, although Jon Ronson comes to mind. Liebling produced many books in his career, and this introductory compilation of his best work will almost certainly send you looking for more.
Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon. This overview, released in 2011, shares the stories of women who were perhaps considered scandalous in their times, but whose refusal to bow to societal conventions of the day ultimately advanced the future of Western women. It’s my hope that reading the book will encourage me as to the progress women have made, and my fear that it won’t.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. As with movies, when I know I want to read a book, I avoid reviews and commentary until after I’ve finished it. That’s tough to do with a Booker Prize-winning novel that received such universal acclaim, but here I am, knowing only the basics of the story and the fact that it’s already considered a masterpiece. This is the best kind of anticipation.
This Birding Life: The Best of The Guardian’s Birdwatch by Stephen Moss. I began paying attention to birds wholly by chance a couple of years ago, and now consider myself a novice birdwatcher (or “bird dork,” as my 10-year-old daughter calls it). There are any number of reasons that birding is beneficial, starting with the fact that you can’t do it indoors. You have to go outside and pay attention. I’ve never read Moss’ columns, and look forward to this collection.
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward. This new biography of the great crime writer who gave us The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, among other classics, focuses on his youth and career as a detective before he found fame as a writer. Hammett published his last novel, The Thin Man, in midlife and was blacklisted and imprisoned for a time during the McCarthy era because of his political beliefs. A veteran of both World War I and World War II, he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A life this interesting, and a talent this big, is worth reading about.
Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald, edited by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan. Epistolary collections will presumably soon be a thing of the past, which is a shame, because a really good correspondence is one of the most enjoyable reading experiences there is, and can provide terrific insight into a writer’s work. Welty never married, and lived in her childhood home all her life (with frequent traveling). The world came to her home in Jackson, Mississippi, and still does. A previous collection of letters between Welty and New Yorker fiction editor William Maxwell (What There Is to Say We Have Said) is one of the great correspondences in modern letters: lively, colorful, and rich in detail. Welty’s relationship with MacDonald began in 1970 when he wrote her a letter, and this collection includes their 13-year correspondence that was sometimes romantic and always mutually respectful.
Serenity Gerbman is director of Literature Programs at Humanities Tennessee, where she oversees the Southern Festival of Books and other literary programs. A native Tennessean, she is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, where she studied journalism. She lives with her daughter in Murfreesboro, TN.
I am greatly looking forward to the National Press Club’s 38th Annual Book Fair and Authors’ Night on November 17th. I will be there with my own book, Stolen Legacy, about my fight for restitution of the building seized by the Nazis from my family in 1937. There has not been much time for me to read while I have been writing and then promoting my book, but these are on the pile by my bed.
Anonymous Sources by Mary Louise Kelly. When I attended last year’s book fair at the Press Club, I met Ms. Kelly, and we discovered we had much in common. She once worked at the BBC, as did I. She attended Cambridge University (I went to Oxford). She lives in Georgetown, and so do I. I bought her book, but my husband borrowed it before I had time to start it. He read it during just one weekend and loved it. I opened the book at a random page and immediately recognized her description of an Oxbridge college:
“I stepped through a narrow side door and into the porters’ lodge. From behind a counter, two porters looked up. It’s the same system in every college: A handful of usually plump, usually gruff old men are charged with guarding the college gates. They also deliver the mail, prowl the grounds, and chase tourists and drunken students from the pristine lawns.”
Beautifully written, it is actually a thriller about a terrorist plot to blow up the White House with a nuclear bomb.
The Stager by Susan Coll. As a relatively new Washingtonian, arriving from London in 2008, I have much to learn of the nuances of living in this great city. Where better to start than with fellow Washington resident Susan Coll’s comic novel about the eponymous “stager” who fixes up houses to make them more desirable to prospective purchasers. Set in Bethesda, MD, the tale explores questions of friendship, loyalty, fidelity, sobriety, and sanity in an age of planned communities, cookie-cutter mansions, and cutthroat careerism.
Jews on Trial: Judges, Juries, Prosecutors and Defendants from the Era of Jesus to Our Own Time by noted Georgetown professor Ori Z. Soltes is a penetrating analysis of a vital subject. It begins with the question of when and how law became separate from religion and continues with an extensive review of the history of Christian-Jewish relations, exploring the relationship from a legal and quasi-legal perspective. This examination of human history through the lens of religion, law, and justice is intellectually rigorous and I know I will learn much.
We all know about the Holocaust as a genocide. But how many people truly comprehend that it was also a wholesale act of theft? At the heart of the Nazi project was not only mass murder but also the systematic expropriation of Jewish property.
Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews: A Photographic Album, Paris, 1940-1944 by Sarah Gensburger is an evocative fragment in the unfinished business of restitution and compensation, 70 years after the end of WWII. When Paris fell to the German army, a Parisian department store, Lévitan at 85-87 Rue Faubourg Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement, was confiscated by the Nazis from its Jewish owner, Wolf Levitan, and used to store goods pillaged from Jews. Slave laborers, including many Jews, were made to catalogue and repair the items before shipment to Germany. At times, up to 80 French trucks a day were used to ferry the stolen property to depots where prisoners were made to pack it ready for export to Germany. At the Liberation of Paris in 1944, an album of 85 photographs was found recording the work of those German soldiers employed in the “Furniture Operation” (Möbel Aktion). That album, now in the German Federal Archives of Koblenz, has been reproduced in this book.
Author Dina Gold is a former BBC investigative journalist who now writes for Moment magazine. Her book, Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin, was published in August. Follow her on Twitter at @dina_gold.