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text 2019-02-23 04:59
Reading progress update: I've read 7%.
History of Tom Jones, a Foundling - Henry Fielding

I'm enjoying a leisurely reread, after many, many years, of this classic from 1749.


The Wikipedia entry even gives me the word count!  I'm way behind on my goal of ten million words for the year, but this will add exactly 346,747 to my tally.

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review 2019-02-22 12:56
Code Girls
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II - Liza Mundy,Erin Bennett

I know this is a break from my usual, cozy mysteries or mysteries, but I do enjoy history reading, too. I just need time to read them and have time to remember the details because I will use it when I teach the kids (should I have unlimited time with them in the car, they are trapped and have to listen. I will stop and start things and ask questions to make sure they are listening and then give a test - they don't like that at all). 


This is about the women who are graduating from college or teaching at different schools are recruited to work at breaking the codes of different countries involved in WWII. They have to have strong math backgrounds and like to do word puzzles (crosswords, etc) and an ability to learn languages. They sit in rooms around Washington, DC deciphering the codes and getting the information out to the troops in hopes of saving as many men as possible. 


Things that were not surprising - they were all civilians. Men were paid more than women if they had the same amount of education. Everyone was afraid of telling anyone anything about their work. They wouldn't even talk among themselves for fear of letting something slip. Standing in line for everything - even to use a bathroom. 


The government begged for people around DC to open their homes and rent out rooms that were available. Even if it was only a basement or spare bedroom or attic. Some women would band together to find a space and rent it together and share all the available space. At one time there were 6 women living in one space because one woman's sisters and mother came, but two of them did return home after awhile. 


Another problem was the scarcity of furniture. They had to have parts sent from their parents or hope for the best. In one case, the women bartered scrambled eggs for someone to drive them and their new mattress home. 


It was a very interesting book and I did enjoy the story. Well worth the time to borrow and listen or read. 

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review 2019-02-21 16:25
The struggles of an 18th century author
Charlotte Lennox: An Independent Mind - Susan Carlile
Ask a reasonably well-informed person for a list of famous 18th century English-language authors, and they are likely to respond with names like Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, or Samuel Johnson. Likely absent from such a list will be Charlotte Lennox, yet in her day her standing as a writer was equal to many of them. Though best known today as the author of the 1752 novel The Female Quixote, her output consisted of a range of poetry, prose, and criticism, all of which won her an admiring audience. One of the many merits of Susan Carlile's biography of Lennox is that she situates her subject squarely within the literary world of her time, fully detailing both her prominence and her literary impact among her contemporaries.
Lennox's journey to that point was a difficult one. The daughter of a Scottish army officer, Lennox was born Charlotte Ramsay in Gibraltar, where she lived until her father's appointment as lieutenant governor of the colony of New York. Though she was accepted in England as a noblewoman's companion and prepared for a position at court, Charlotte's life changed with her marriage to her husband Alexander Lennox, forcing her to look for a livelihood. After an unsuccessful period as an actress Lennox turned to writing, with her novels and translations serving as her family's primary means of financial support. As Carlile demonstrates, though, earning a living from one's pen at that time was no small challenge even for the most successful authors, and despite her literary accomplishments Lennox lived a financially challenging existence until her death as a pensioner in 1804.
Among the challenges Carlile faces in recounting Lennox's life is the paucity of surviving sources about it. To overcome this she draws not just upon Lennox's novels for the insights they provide, but the information available about the times in which she lived, which she weaves into her narrative with authority and understanding. In doing so, Carlile not only highlights the many obstacles Lennox faced throughout her long literary career but how notable her success was in overcoming them. It also makes her book more than just a biography of an accomplished author and an exploration of her many writings but a nuanced examination of the 18th century literary world. The result is a first-rate work of scholarship that should be read not only by people interested in this remarkable woman but by everyone interested in the literature of the era and the world of the authors who produced it.
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review 2019-02-20 13:43
An accessible biography of a remarkable man
Lord Reading: Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading, Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy of India, 1860-1935 - Denis Judd
In an era when politics in Britain was dominated by an oligarchic upper class, Rufus Isaacs was a true anomaly. The son of an East End fruit importer, he left school at an early age and spent a year abroad as a ship's boy. Upon his return he worked as a stockjobber until a slump forced him to abandon finance for the law. After a meteoric rise at the bar Isaacs won election to Parliament and served in a variety of posts in the pre-war Liberal governments, leading to his enoblement as the baron of Reading upon becoming Lord Chief Justice. Though his association with the Marconi scandal tarnished his standing, wartime diplomatic service and his friendship with David Lloyd George led to Reading's selection as Viceroy of India, in which post he served at a time of rising nationalist tumult. Returning to a fractured Liberal Party, he endeavored unsuccessfully to heal the divides between the various groups, though his status as an esteemed elder statesman led to his appointment as Foreign Secretary in the initial National Government formed in 1931 to deal with the crisis brought about by the Great Depression.
Given Isaacs's remarkable career, it is disappointing that there are so few biographies about him. Fortunately Denis Judd makes up for this with a book that provides readers a comprehensive and accessible overview of his life and times. This is no small feat given that doing so requires Judd to master not just the politics of Isaacs's time but the relevant aspects of the English legal profession — which, while still not addressed in the detail it deserves, he does in a way that distills this key part of his subject's life to easily comprehensible information. When supplemented with Judd's astute analysis, it makes for a book that gives readers an excellent introduction to a politician and statesman who deserves to be remembered both for his many achievements and the circuitous path he took to reach them.
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review 2019-02-18 18:04
Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith
Fires in the Mirror - Anna Deavere Smith

Derived from interviews with a wide range of  people who experienced or observed New York's 1991  Crown Heights racial riots, Fires In The  Mirror is as distinguished a work of  commentary on black-white tensions as it is a  work of drama.  In August 1991 simmering tensions in the racially polarized Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Crown Heights exploded into riots after a black boy was killed by a car in a rabbi's motorcade and a Jewish student was slain by blacks in retaliation.  Fires in the Mirror is dramatist Anna Deavere Smith's stunning exploration of the events and emotions leading up to and following the Crown Heights conflict.  Through her portrayals of more than two dozen Crown eights adversaries, victims, and eyewitnesses, using verbatim excerpts from their observations derived from interviews she conducted, Smith provides a brilliant, Rashoman-like documentary portrait of contemporary ethnic turmoil.





On August 19th, 1991, the motorcade of a Lubavitcher Hassidic rebbe was traveling through Brooklyn. While driving through the Crown Heights neighborhood, at 8:20pm, one car in the motorcade drove up on the curb suddenly, the car striking and killing seven year old Gavin Cato and also leaving his older cousin with a broken arm. Word quickly spread that a black child had been killed by a Jewish motorist. Some witnesses even said the driver appeared to be intoxicated. Three hours later and five blocks away from the site of the crash, a visiting Hasidic history professor from Australia was stabbed, dying at the hospital some hours later.


The basic timeline of events:


* August 19th, 8:20pm -- Seven year old black child Gavin Cato killed by car that jumps a curb
* Same night, 11:30pm -- visiting Hasidic Jew professor Yankel Rosenbaum, with no connection to the death of Gavin Cato, is stabbed five blocks away from crash site.
* August 20th, 2am -- Rosenbaum dies at the hospital from his stab wounds; later that day, Trinidad-American teen Lemrick Nelson, Jr. is arrested in connection with the stabbing. By August 21st, he is charged with second degree murder (but by October 1992 is acquitted).
* August 21st -- funeral of Yankel Rosenbaum; that same day marks the start of days of rioting and looting throughout the Crown Heights community. That first day, 16 arrests and 20 police officers left injured.
* August 22nd -- the arrest count during the riots rises to 107, the police presence increased to over 1500 officers.
* August 24th -- 1500 protesters led by Rev. Al Sharpton and Alton Maddox march through the streets of Crown Heights.
*August 26th -- funeral of Gavin Cato; Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy.
* Violent acts and courtroom drama in connection with the deaths of Cato and Rosenbaum continue back and forth between the black and Jewish communities through 1992 and 1993, both sides wanting justice and vengeance.


Image result for Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith



In 1993, Anna Deavere Smith crafted a one woman stage play depicting these events, compiled from the numerous interviews she did with more than two dozen Crown Heights community members, representing both sides of the story, as well as the impressions of high profile members of the black community such as Rev. Al Sharpton and writer Nzotake Shange. Smith pulls from the interview transcripts verbatim to create the monologues for the stage show, ending on the words of Carmel Cato, Gavin Cato's father.


The early portions of the play explore the political and emotional environment that existed prior to the events of August 1991, while the later monologues get more into the course of events on August 19th itself (I was surprised to see the text here included one of the actual crime scene photos under one of the passages). Smith, in her foreword, writes of how it was difficult to get a clear, unbiased look of the events at the time when there was media bias from nearly every angle. It was her hope and goal to use the interviews, and later the play, to give a more honest, balanced display of this tragic and emotionally charged time. Also, prior to the start of each monologue, Smith gives contextual history such as when / where each interview took place, even what the person was wearing. For example, in regards to the use of the interview with rapper Big Mo, Smith notes that the interview used in the text was actually one done in 1989. 


"Fires In The Mirror is part of a series of theater (or performance) pieces called On the Road: A Search for American Character, which I create by interviewing people and later performing them using their own words. My goal has been to find American character in the ways that people speak... my goal was to create an atmosphere in which the interviewee would experience his / her own authorship. Speaking teaches us what our natural "literature" is. In fact, everyone, in a given amount of time, will say something that is like poetry."


~ Anna Deavere Smith on her process



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While I appreciate Smith's unique approach to the subject matter, I'm not sure it entirely worked for me, personally. I was expecting for these passages to be more impactful. While some of them are quite good, there are others here where I was wondering about the relevance. The words themselves always didn't quite hit the mark for me, so I did a watch of the stage show itself. While better, even there something was falling short. Again, I can appreciate and acknowledge the work that clearly went into crafting this show, but the execution ... something was a little off for me. It didn't always strike me as unbiased a portrayal as Smith claimed she was aiming for and some of the acting did come off as at least a little bit too caricatur-ish. 


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