Monday, July 9, 2012

This Week at the Library (9 July)

I spent this weekend finishing A People's History of the Civil War by David Brooks, which has the distinction of being the gloomiest book in the series I've yet read. Howard Zinn's original work covering the United States forced the reader to confront one tragic episode after another, but it also  imparted to the sympathetic some revolutionary vigor, also telling how common people have time and again rallied against the powerful and advanced the cause of justice.  Although this treatment of the Civil War also contains scenes such as those, they're meager and flickering lights engulfed by the great darkness of the war itself. I am looking forward to collecting my thoughts on it and then moving on to the general merriment of the French Revolution.

...or not. No, the French Revolution would also make for grisly reading*, which is why I'm glad this year's French reading is more geared toward cultural literacy than history. Oh, I've The Age of Napoleon by Alistair Horne, so I'll read about the revolution eating its children, but I have three -- count them, un, deux, trois -- others that are interesting in a delightful way instead of interesting in a morbid, impressively catrastrophic way. First will be Bringing up Bebe, which is an excellent example of how a book can utterly take me by surprise. It came out of nowhere, I started reading the preview, and the next thing I knew I'd bought it and was carrying it around reverently with me all week. I finished it before I finished my Independence Day reads, actually. Great fun and something to think about if I ever become a parent. Following up on that I have French Women Don't Get Fat, which I borrowed from the library and only half-interested in. What keeps distracting my attention is Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French, which is an exploration of French culture in general.  There seems to be quite the market for Americans who want to be judged by the French, with book titles like French Women Don't Sleep Alone and French Children Eat Everything.  I could not find any similar titles for the English, or the Germans. (The books on German culture I found were mostly written for businessmen who find Germans inexplicable, and not for people who wish they were living on some colorful strasse in Hamburg rather than the suburbs in the 'States. )

Although I've found this set of reading toe-curlingly-pleasing so far, it has had the side effect of lodging Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" in my head for days on end. I can  go nowhere without hearing that beautiful melody playing in my head. Wherever I go, I'm followed by the strains of an accordion. I've since discovered that Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong both did covers of the song, with English lyrics but incorporating the French title (like Pete Seeger did with "Die Gedanken sind frei").

So, on the agenda this week: a couple of reviews pending, my French set to continue reading, plus possibly the new Rick Riordan Egyptian fantasy novel.

* Like Simon Shama's Citizens.

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