Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Potato Peel Pies and Vertigo!

When I'm not doing several thousand other things involving taking care of Handsome Partner, the house and three cats, and making art, and walking, and gardening and planning for gardening, and playing music, and knitting for friends and so on, I read!

Currently, I wildly recommend: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It lists itself as a novel, but is partly a documentary about the hardships of occupied Guernsey, the channel island,in WW2, together with a great cast of comic/serious characters. It's oddly ill assorted in style, with tragedy behind farce, but it still pretty much works, and is a great read. It's like Margery Sharp meets CNN in a way, but worth reading. Judging by the length of time I had to wait to get it from the libe, it's on everyone's reading list.

Next is Philipp Blom, The Vertigo Years 1900-1914, a wonderful historical view of those years from various European vantage points. He has a great grasp of the interrelatedness of political actions, the arts, both fine and performing, and can see with great clarity how artists reflect, whether intentionally or not, their own society and expectations. And he suggests in his preface that we try to forget what we know of the years since then, since, he reminds us, the actors of that period did not know what was to come, so they were not conducting their lives in expectation of WW1. It's hard for us to realize that people didn't have foresight, since we are always looking back from the point of view of people who saw what came later.

This period was one of psychological awakening on a lot of fronts, with different segments of society developing greater powers while the established powers were losing their grip. The rise of technology was exciting and frightening at the same time. The World's Fair of 1900 in paris is an educatin in itself! waiters serving dinner to 20,000 people, all the mayors of France, by driving round in cars delivering food....the opposite of modern car service, where the food comes to the car...He also discusses the setup in Germany in a way I'd never seen before, explaining how the aristos and the middle class fought for power and why.

He gives a horrifying picture of the reign of Leopold of Belgium over the Congo, and how rubber, the search for it as a profitable commodity, caused great hardship and destruction for the people of the Congo. Nothing new under the sun.

And the situation in Russia, in turmoil for decades before the Revolution finally happened.

But it's very good to get this insight into the period before WW1, makes the whole world more understandable. So I think it's a valuable read, as well as an easy one in the sense that he doesn't get lost in technicalities, but remembers that his readers are intelligent but may not be policy wonks. and it clarifies amazingly a lot of what's going on right now in the world.

And there's always Anne LaMott, any of whose books of essays is wonderful reading. I'm not a practicing Christian, and she is powerfully so, but she still writes in a way that is very accessible to those of us who don't go for doctrine, but do go for what is a good way to conduct your life! her novels are rather feeble, and I don't think they're her best work. But her books of essays, Plan B, and Operating Instructions, and Grace Eventually, are wonderfully honest and clear and brave writing. I've just finished rereading Grace Eventually, and still found ideas in there I hadn't noticed before.


  1. liz, thanks for the reading tips. i've put in a hold request at our library for the guernsey literary society.

  2. I love Anne Lamott's writings... just finished "The Blue Shoe" and am now on "Plan B", and have read everything else she's written. I am drawn to her candidness and vulnerability particularly.


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