Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town by Bryan Mealer.
Belle Glade is a town deep in the Florida Everglades where football reigns. It is also a town where there are no fairytales, there is only letting go of dreams.
I heard comparisons of Friday Night Lights (the book, not film or TV show). There are similarities – hometown traditions, team rituals, pressures of big-time high school football, the struggle to get into college, and racism. And then there’s this uniquely sad fact owned by Belle Glade: During the early to mid-1980s, the city had the highest rate of AIDS infection per capita in the United States.
I was most attached, as I would imagine most readers are, to Jessie Hester – the coach and former NFL star.
• Mealer grew up in Odessa (home of the Permian Panthers – you know, whose story inspired Friday Night Lights).
• Mealer is a former war reporter in Africa. I also his book All Things Much Fight to Live about his time in the Congo, but it does not make for general reading so I will not be featuring it specifically in one of my reading lists).
• Here is a link to an interview Mealer did on NPR talking about the season he spent with the Glades Central Raiders.
• And to all the Friday Night Lights film and TV series enthusiasts (it is my second favorite series after Miami Vice) you can get a real glimpse at Odessa football – the book, film… in this fantastic article from The Chicago Tribune.
The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund De Waal
Epigraph: “What is this whiteness?” Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
De Waal is a British potter and nonfiction writer (I have his family memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes in my reading stack). The White Road is part memoir part travelogue. Beginning in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China (porcelain was first made there an estimated 1000 years ago), he journeys into history and across oceans and down rural roads to foreign lands into the “white hills” of Japan, France, Germany, England, and the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina, where porcelain was invented, or reinvented. Yes, this is a book about porcelain, but it is so much more a book for those of us who want to walk away from technology and touch. De Waal is an excellent researcher (something I admire foremost in my reading) and a true conversationalist.
It definitely reads more like a “history of” when we are given the detailed story of how during the 18th century Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, a mathematician and an alchemist, and Johann Friedrich Böttger, a young alchemist, were brought together to try and manufacture porcelain. Then there is the macabre story of Allach porcelain pieces made by prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau between 1936 and 1945. According to De Waal, the company’s catalog proclaimed that white porcelain was the embodiment of the German soul.
* Edmund de Waal was a pupil of Geoffrey Whiting, who was a student of Bernard Leach, the founding father of British studio pottery. Leach was born in Hong Kong in 1887. He travelled extensively through China and Japan in the early years of the 20th century, and is credited with bringing to the West an understanding of the subtle artistry of eastern (Asian) potters.
If you read this blog you know I go down a lot of rabbit holes. So, it was only natural that I added the following book to my library reserve list:
Hamada Potter by Bernard Leach
Hamada Shoji was a Japanese potter who worked in the arts and crafts tradition, making utilitarian – never figurative or merely decorative – pots. During the 1920s and 30s was a central part of the Japanese folk art movement founded by Yanagi Soetsu.
Hamada and Leach were friends for over 55 years. They really got to know each other when Hamada visited Leach in England between 1920 – 23. It was at this time they founded a pottery in St. Ives in Cornwall, England that became one of the most influential potteries in the world.
Leach and Hamada humanized pottery again – the public had been separating the potter from his clay – wanting colourful, brightly detailed, pretentious looking objects. It took years for Leach and Hamada to find clients who appreciated the rougher pots they were making (and which I greatly prefer!).
Michael Cardew was among the first students. (I strongly recommend reading the book The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew by Tanya Harrod
This video of Hamada in the studio is pretty cool.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This is not an easy book to put down. I read it in one day after trying to walk away twice. Thanks MW for encouraging me to read it!
The “girl” of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train is Rachel: divorced, an alcoholic and a commuter into London. Her train makes a regular stop alongside a row of houses, one of which she used to live in with her husband. He still lives there with his second wife, Anna. But Rachel is even more captivated by another house a few doors down. Repeatedly, she catches glimpses of the glamorous young couple who live there. Their mutual tenderness inspires Rachel to make up names and occupations for them and to idealize their relationship — a fantasy that may help compensate for her own lost marriage.
Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is a murder mystery with an unreliable narrator. In this case, it’s Rachel Watson, a frequently inebriated divorcee whose blackouts are a near-nightly occurrence. Rachel is a wreck. She is also the primary narrator. Each morning and evening during her commute to and from London, her train slows on a worn section of track just behind the same row of Victorian homes. Two most interest her: one the home of an attractive, perfect-seeming couple who frequently appear on their back terrace; the second is her former address and the current home of her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna.
Interested writers might want to check out this NYT interview with Hawkins
Oh, and be sure to check out the trailer for the film starring Emily Blunt.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
***Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
I LOVED this book. So, yes I am dedicating SPACE to it. I wish this book was twice the size. It took me a week to read and folks, I usually get through a book – good or bad – in two days. You want to labor over this one – the sentences are so well constructed, the story so intelligent so well though out, the characters so dear and some so evil. I find anything about Nazi Germany very uncomfortable to read. This is a whole other post, but my rage at what happened stems from my childhood. I am the girl who, when as a teenager visiting Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, couldn’t breathe towards the top and had to go outside and basically sob on the curb. But, all of that’s a whole other post. This is all about the marvelous Anthony Doerr and his exquisite book.
Amanda Vaill, the reviewer for The Washington Post wrote “I’m not sure I will read a better novel this year than Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Here is a link to her review.
Description from Simon and Schuster:
New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
AND …***NOTE SPOILERS, SO MAYBE READ AFTER READING THE BOOK!!
National Book Foundation interview w Doerr:
CM: In reading through past interviews with you, I’ve been surprised to see All the Light We Cannot See described as a novel that oscillates between the viewpoints of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German orphan, because the truth is, although Marie-Laure and Werner are the books’ main protagonists, the novel is peopled with the voices of so many other characters: Etienne, Von Rumpel, Frau Elena, Dr. Hauptman—the evil Volkheimer is given an entire section near the end. To me, the degree to which you let tertiary characters come in to support the narrative felt almost experimental. Did you just follow your instincts as to who got passed the talking stick, or did you have a master plan? Did any other voices end up on the cutting room floor?
AD: Yes, lots of poor souls ended up on the floor. The perfumer, for example, had several more chapters from his point of view in earlier versions, as did Madame Ruelle, the baker’s wife. Did I have a master plan? Not really. Mostly I constructed and then cut lots of variations.
When I teach graduate writing workshops, I often see a severity regarding point of view—students like to point out sudden movements: “You broke POV here, you broke POV there.” Students are right, of course, to highlight moments when a narrator breaks into or out of another character’s thoughts, especially if the writer makes that shift unintentionally.
But when I started to worry that my book was becoming too rigidly adherent to the Marie/Werner/Marie/Werner back-and-forth structure (my editor, Nan Graham, used the adjective “ping-pong-y”) I started looking at POV in books that I admire and found that my favorite moments in those books often involved some level of disruption in point of view. A narrator’s privilege gets established and then, later in the book, it expands or frays. Ishmael assumes Ahab’s thoughts in Moby Dick, or Madame Bovary opens in first person, then promptly becomes a third person novel.
In Gatsby Fitzgerald establishes what appears to be a strict POV rule: “This novel will be narrated by Nick, who will have to guess at Gatsby’s thoughts.” Before long, though, Fitzgerald shatters that rule (“[Gatsby] knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath…”)
That kind of stuff would probably get picked on in workshops. So whenever I found All the Light getting too schematic, too rigidly obsessed with its own symmetry, I tried to remind myself that a novel can be a more organic, digressive, human thing, full of movement and departures and tertiary voices.
Street Corner Society by William Foote Whyte
Whyte was a sociologist and pioneer in participant observation. Street Corner is an ethnographic study of urban sociology. He lived for four years in an Italian community in Boston’s North End researching social relations of street gangs in Boston’s North End. *In the book Boston is referred to only as an “Eastern City,” Italian immigrants had displaced the Irish population and a corner-gang structure had arisen out of habitual association of the members of a long period of time. At the time of Whyte’s study, Italians were looked upon by upper-class as among the least desirable of the immigrant peoples. This attitude was accentuated by World War II(Mussolini).
In preparing to launch his study, Whyte read a lot of social anthropological literature – e.g. studies of primitive tribes even though he was in the middle of a great city district.
He realized he would be a stranger to the community if he did not live there and so he learned some Italian and lived with a family in the neighborhood for at least a year of his study.
He went easy on the who, what, when, where, and why questions and learned the answers in the long run without even having to ask the questions.
*I was inspired to read this after reading On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman.
Hard Times by Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, oral historian, and radio broadcaster famous for interviewing everyday people from all walks of life.
This book is an oral history of the Great Depression, featuring interviews with among others – a lower class Southern white mother and daughter living in Chicago, an upper middle class psychiatrist who studied with Freud, a former president of the Montgomery (Alabama) branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a coal miner from southwestern Indiana, a wealthy young industrialist’s wife in Chicago, a cook in western Texas, politicians, a poet, and a social worker.
Terkel wrote of the book “This being a book about time as well as a time; for some the bell has tolled. Heroes and dragons of a long-gone day were old men, some vigorous, some weary when I last saw them. Some have died.”
Terkel was an extraordinarily skilled interviewer who captured the feelings of the time. If you are interested in American history I strongly recommend this or any of Mr. Terkel’s other books.
Carl Akeley’s Africa by Mary L. Jobe Akeley
Best known for the Hall of African Mammals that bears his name at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Carl Akeley was an American naturalist and explorer who developed the taxidermic method for mounting museum displays to show animals in their natural surroundings. He died in 1926 while on an expedition in Albert National Park in Belgian Congo (now the DRC). He was among the first to accurately document mountain gorillas as intelligent and social animals.
His wife of two years, Mary, was also an adventurer. After her husband died she continued with his field work that helped result in the iconic Hall at the AMNH.
I happened across this book while perusing the shelves of main branch of the Portland Public Library, one of my favorite places in Portland. The book left me wanting to know more about Akeley – maybe from a little bit of distance, so this summer I plan to read the account of him in Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man’s Quest to Preserve the World’s Great Animals by Jay Kirk.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson
Just about everyone has heard of the Titanic, but fewer know the story of the last doomed voyage of the great Cunard luxury passenger liner the Lusitania.
As with The Devil in the White City, Larson proves himself an exceptional researcher. This non-fiction reads more like a page-turner from John le Carre. Utterly fascinating, and it all happened and you really feel like you are in the middle of it.
Description from author’s website: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.