Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

January 9, 2019

[Tricia]

This book would be interesting enough if it just told the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, the search for the suspected arsonist, and how the community came together to rebuild, but it is about so much more than that – and that is why I loved it. Susan Orlean does a great job of balancing of historical context and personal stories in a way that kept me completely engaged from start to finish. Even things that I’m not especially interested in, such as architecture, were interesting to me in this book. We learn about libraries throughout the world and throughout time, the dark history of book burning and libraries being targeted in wartime. This broader historical context is juxtaposed with individual stories, including the string of fascinating people we meet who ran the L. A. Public Library from its founding up to the present. We learn of Ray Bradbury’s personal connection to this library (he wrote Fahrenheit 451 there). You can feel the pain and trauma of the library staff in the aftermath of the fire. And throughout the book you can feel the personal connection Susan Orlean has to books and to libraries, both as an author, and because of mother, who always wished she had become a librarian herself, and whom Orlean was losing to dementia through the process of writing this book. This is a beautiful, interesting book. Highly recommend.

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Never Caught: the Washingtons’ relentless pursuit of their runaway slave Ona Judge, by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

October 23, 2017

[Tricia] Never Caught tells the true story of Ona Judge, one of George and Martha Washington’s slaves who lived and worked in the presidential residence in Philadelphia during much of George Washington’s presidency. Risking absolutely everything for a life of freedom, Ona escaped and, with the help of a network of free blacks in Philadelphia, made her way to Portsmouth, NH. This book offers crucial insights into the day to day lives of enslaved people, the differing attitudes about slavery and abolition among the states during the late 1700s, and the unthinkable risks and costs of escaping slavery. Particularly revealing is George Washington’s attitude toward slavery, and his seeming inability to comprehend why Ona Judge would choose freedom over what he took to be the relatively privileged position of being a slave in the President’s home. He simply couldn’t accept that, as Ona Judge said herself, she would “rather suffer death” than return to slavery. This book offers an important examination of the meaning of freedom.

The Red House, by Sarah Messer

February 18, 2015

[Lesley] The subtitle for this book is: being a mostly accurate account of New England’s oldest continuously lived-in house. It’s another quirky, interesting book/memoir. If I was making a mini-collection of these, this one would go with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Dogtown. This is the kind of book that I love discovering in the library stacks and why I would never want to be without the eclectic selection at the library (vs. the mainstream/most popular selection at chain bookstores).

Sarah Messer’s family buys the Red House of the title – the first owners not of the original family line. In her quasi-memoir we get the history of the house and some of the people who lived there – in typical fashion, pieced together from stories, rumors, letters, wallpaper, how the house was built/added to, etc. – and the history of two families, one of which Messer is growing up in.

The “characters” are what you would expect of old New Englanders and I loved getting to know each of them. Some of the stories are haunting (like the one about the mother and child and a fire), and some are funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

Dogtown, by Elyssa East

January 19, 2014

[Lesley]  I have seen this book going in and out at the library for years and every time I think – “that looks interesting… I should read that.” Well, I finally checked it out and I was right! This is an intriguing book looking at one small area of Cape Ann from historic, artistic, spiritual, true crime, and anthropologic perspectives. The entire book is framed by the author’s own interest in this area, sparked by her admiration for and connection to the paintings of Hartley Marsden that center on the rock formations in Cape Ann’s dogtown. As she searches for an epiphany in her own life she discovers the fascinating history of Dogtown and other “towns” like it as well as more recent events (murder, conservation efforts, and invasive species – plants and people) that become more “proof” of what people already feel and think about the transcendent and dark qualities of this mostly unclaimed piece of earth. A great read – I’m sorry I waited so long to discover it!

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss – Edmund de Waal

January 25, 2011

[Tricia]

I thought this was a really wonderful book. The author explores the history of his family, a rich, powerful Jewish family from Odessa, by tracing the story of their collection of Japanese netsuke from the mid 1800s to the present – moving through high society Paris in the late 1800s, Vienna in the years leading up to the first World War, to 1950s Tokyo. The book is about art and history, but is also a deeply personal family history. I found it fascinating and moving.