Let’s think about books, rather than my blistery feet or my muggy-hot room or my computer which is really hot and for once does not have its little fan on and also refuses to play DVDs.
Hmmm. Thinking about books.
Over the break I began and finished Good-bye, Picadilly: British War Brides in America, which was a delightfully thin book. It was very interesting and scholarly, tackling the complicated numerical/statistical issues while incorporating engaging anecdotal information. It reads like a thesis, and the author’s thesis is listed in the bibliography; however, I hesitate to think the book is just the worked-over thesis because the author cites it in a couple of places. But the whole first chapter is, let’s not kid ourselves, a literature review. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it just was tickling a corner of my brain while I was reading. Overall it’s a good book, readable and illuminating of one facet of the overall picture.
One thing struck me while reading and since this blog is dedicated to things that I think are interesting and no one else does, I feel compelled to share. The author makes the valid point that WWII brought with it all kinds of social upheaval and turmoil, temporary or permanent as it may have been. She then is rather indignant at the suspicion faced by war brides at all steps of their journey to America (suspicion, that is, that they were immoral women or gold-diggers). Such suspicion, it seems to be, is not surprising in an atmosphere of upheaval. Even if, as the author asserts and I have no reason to doubt it, the marriages were by and large love matches that took place “despite” rather than “because of” the war, it remains that at a basic level, they came about because of a condition of upheaval, namely, that American GIs were in Britain long enough to contract marriages. If it hadn’t been for the social upheaval of the war, the GIs wouldn’t have been there — the couples would not have met. So the marriages — if not the love affairs, the emotional stuff — were integrally part of the upheaval. And it seems unsurprising that facets of major upheaval should be viewed with suspicion. I’m sure that’s clear as mud but, trust me, it was sheer unadulterated brilliance at the time.
I had ordered three books from Alibris before leaving campus and they very obligingly arrived while I was at home (where I had sent them). The first is Wartime: Britain, 1939-1945 which I am looking forward to, but is definitely a summer read by virtue of its brick-like proportions.
The second is Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation, which I started today on the Lakefill. It’s an interesting subject, and the book more or less concerns itself (so far) with cataloging the women who had earned their Aero Club certification before the First World War. The most prominent women get longer accounts which can be kind of floral (but such are the primary sources). I got through the chapters on French pilots, and am now partly through the section on Milli Beese of Germany. I don’t know how the rest of the book will work out but I kind of wish, since taking up my second nationality, that the information was conveyed in a more contextual way. These women — the ones who were serious about aviation as a pursuit — were aware of one another. They competed against one another. The first (French) woman to get her Aero Club license was more or less working against several other women to get the title. They were, of course, also very aware of the men who were leading the field, and famous names like Grahame-White, Wright, Dornier, and Bleriot (there’s an accent in there) come up in the narrative. So while the book is good as a sort of biographical catalog, each woman was not an island and there is overlap and interweaving between separate life stories. But it is very interesting, very easy to read, fascinating subject, and good for getting some names in my head.
The third book was Heroines of World War II, which is one of those books that feels the need to tell you how lovely each girl was before telling you what she did. I find that sort of thing dopily charming more than offensive, and I appreciate getting such a reliable indication of a book’s quality/audience/purpose so early on. I started reading it just before leaving and got a couple of chapters in. I had expected to get a collection of biographies, more or less, but not so. Instead, the book is a paean to the various heroic contributions of women during the war, with a stated mission of avoiding the obvious, well known stories. That was a surprise, as I had hoped to get a nice long chapter on Daphne Pearson (she’s on the cover!), but there you go. So what good is it? Well, for one thing, I find it absolutely fascinating that WAAF heroics (like Pearson) are included under a chapter on the homefront, but I’m waiting to finish before drawing any conclusions from that since the organization is not very clear to me yet. (What adds to that is that the author is apparently a veteran.) Overall, it gives the impression of a broad summary of non-scholarly opinion regarding the contributions of women to the war effort. That wins it a place in the Of Interest stack (if such a stack existed); plus it’s a pleasant enough read and again good for catching me up with the basic stuff that I don’t know because I’m on the wrong side of the pond.
Finally, I picked up “my” addition to the library’s collection today. I had suggested the book, which was then ordered by the library and on hold for me. It was a proud moment, picking it up. The book is A Woman’s War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in World War II, and it’s essentially conference papers. You get an introduction to each session and then the talks. Good stuff, although I’ve mostly been fawning over it today rather than actually reading it.
The other major book-related event, of course, is the quarterly purchase of overpriced used books for classes. I went around and acquired all the required texts today, and I gotta say, P.T. Barnum’s autobiography is calling my name. The books for that class are so interesting looking that I can’t help but think it will be a good class.
On that note, I have emails to send and an internship to fret over.