Thursday, September 13, 2007

This and that

Well, amazing. I actually got on the internet. Let's see if I can get anything drafted before I get kicked off again. (Sigh. Technology is wonderful when it works.)

Plan A for today, when I went to bed last night, was to get up early and bake some bread as a Welcome to the Neighborhood gift. Or, rather, gifts. A couple has moved into the house next door and I've only met the husband in passing, and a Baptist pastor and his family just moved to town yesterday, and I haven't met any of that family yet, even though they're only half a block away, more or less. The plan was to show up bearing gifts, see if anybody needed anything, and then probably just scoot back out of their way until they got over the exhaustion of moving.

So much for planning. My husband was ill much of the night, so we were both rather unrested this morning. When I did drag out of bed it was with sneezing and sniffling and with a swollen, itchy eye. I don't know know about you, but if I just moved into a neighborhood and some stranger showed up on my doorstep sneezing and coughing and with an infected eye and presented me with a batch of homemade rolls that she said she'd just baked that morning, I have a funny feeling I wouldn't consider it a gift quite as much as an invasion. I might also wonder what sort of neighborhood I'd just moved into. So, anyway, the re-enactment of the scene from the movie It's a Wonderful Life got put on the shelf. Not that I intended to have a ceremony or anything, but, still, the tradition of bread-as-gift for people moving into a new home seemed like a good idea last night, but not today.

Between the bug and some sore muscles from overdoing it a bit in the heavy-physical-labor department on Tuesday, I was kind of slow today, both in mind and body, so I did some drudge work I'd been putting off, both indoors and out, both personal and business. It was a good day for drudge work. The bookstore is better off because of it, too. And so's the lawn. Such a deal.

I probably should have taken a nap somewhere along the line, but I am well and truly glued to a book I started the other day, and it took up all my spare time today. It's not one I was especially excited about when it showed up in a trade-in pile, but it caught my eye and I thought I'd browse through it before putting it out for sale. Browse? I'm eating the details.

The book is a biography of Bess Truman by her daughter, Margaret Truman. The title, plainly enough, is Bess W. Truman. I'm rather fond of biographies in general, but I usually avoid those written either by employees or family members. I'm not quite sure why I made an exception in this case, but I suspect that in part it's because I've read some mysteries by Margaret Truman and know she's a pretty good writer, and also in part because I have a weak spot for books from World War II and the years leading up to it.

To my surprise (I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but I was) Margaret Truman really did her research on this. I was afraid it was going to be something along the lines of I-remember-this and Somebody-told-me-that. But, no. I'm only about two-thirds of the way through, but I feel like I've already gotten more in the way of history lessons than found in most college courses. It's also making me rethink some of what I thought I knew about that time period. At any rate, despite some awkwardness that inevitably results from the author being the daughter of the two main subjects in the book, not to mention being a main character in her own right, I'd recommend it. (It's really as much a biography of Harry Truman as it is of his wife, with a healthy dose of autobiography on the author's part.)

I should probably mention that the author is definitely one of those I-calls-it-as-I-sees-it type of historian, which is a bit too bad for some of the people featured in the book (including, at times, her mother). On the other hand, the book doesn't suffer from, on the one hand, the cardboard people syndrome common to many history books - which seem to pretend that it didn't matter who was in place when events happened, because, you know, the events happened to them, or something like that - or, on the other hand, the over-wartiness of other history books, especially those of the important-people-should-be-torn-down-because-it-wouldn't-do-to-leave-any-heroes-standing-or-reputations-intact school. Truman is frank and sometimes-opinionated, but not vicious, from what I've seen so far.

There are some priceless quotes and passages, but for now I'm going to finish the book before I start getting into that. From what I've read so far, I've already moved it onto my Books I Wish Somebody Would Bring Back Into Print list.

Another recently read book I moved onto that list is The Foundling by Francis Cardinal Spellman, c. 1951. It's also on my Top Ten Coming-of-Age Novels of All Time list, or would be, if I were organized enough to have such a list. More on that one later, too, but in sum, a soldier returning to America after being grievously wounded in World War One is afraid to go home and have his mother and sweetheart see him scarred and crippled and, not knowing where else to go or what to do, he wanders into a cathedral and, after a while, exhausted, he falls asleep. When he wakes up he's all alone in the cathedral. Or he thinks he is. A baby cries, and he finds a baby boy abandoned in the church. The rest of the book is about the lives that intersect and intertwine because that soldier found that baby, and also about that baby growing into manhood.

Hmmm. I'm afraid that might make the book sound sappy, and it isn't. It's a rather hard to categorize book. Some of it's drop dead funny (it has, for instance, a great passage or two on a boy overcome with gallantry while in the throes of puppy love), and some of it's gut-wrenching. It's pro-America, unabashedly. But it's not blind to her faults (much of the book is a direct assault on the racism common at the time). It's, in a way, pro-military. But it's not blind to the difficulties faced by soldiers and their loved ones. It's ecumenical, in that there are Catholic, Protestant and Jewish main characters. But it's not so ecumenical that it pretends there aren't differences between Catholic and Protestant and Jew - in fact, much of the story turns on the fact that the soldier is Protestant and the baby is declared Catholic. But it is a compassionate book. And there I go, making it sound sappy again...

(Did I mention I'm buggy and not in top form today?)

I wish I knew more about classical music, because, as it happens, much of the book also revolves around the love of music, and 'highbrow' music at that. But it's not a highbrow book. In fact, Boston elitist types get portrayed as spoiled brats when the occasion presents itself.

(Did I mention that it's a hard to classify bit of fiction?)

Anyway, moving on to one more quick note before I head off to bed... I'm not going to try doing a link tonight, or a full review either, but if any of you are participating in the Apple tribute over at Semicolon (link in my sidebar) and are looking for a book with good apple information, Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes by Sue Hubbell has a pretty interesting chapter on the history and science of apples. At least I thought it was pretty interesting.

I'd probably quibble with one or two things if pressed for a point by point review of opinions/attitude/style in this book, but overall it's a well-above-average science read aimed at laymen, and it's got some interesting history in it, too. In addition to apples, the book covers corn, silkworms, and domestic cats, among other things.

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