Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Paris in July 2018

Paris in July is back! Hosted by Thyme for Tea, it's a month long celebration of French culture -- books, movies, art, food, etc. This year I'm going to participate by:

Reading at least two of the following books:

  • Maman, What Are We Called Now? by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar, a diary of wartime occupied France in WWII, published by Persephone;
  • In Confidence by Irene Nemirovsky, a collection of short stories;
  • The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky, her first published novel;
  • A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose, another nonfiction account of wartime France. This one is about a small village in the Loire that hid more than 3000 Jews during the occupation.
  • The Bright Side of Life by Emile Zola, the latest in the Rougon-Macquart series to be newly republished by Oxford University Press, with a new translation -- I'm quite excited about this one since the nice folks at OUP just sent me a review copy!

Watching French movies, some new to me and one I've seen years ago:

  • La Femme Nikita, because my daughter loves action movies and it would be fun to watch it together;
  • Les Choristes, because I've heard it's heartwarming; 
  • Un Secret, because it's been in my Netflix queue forever; 
  • Journey's End, because I'm nearly finished with Testament of Youth and want to learn more about WWI;
  • Suite Francaise, because I loved the book and was finally able to track down a DVD -- I'm not sure why it was never released in the U.S. but I was able to find a region 2 copy. 

Cooking French pastries:

  • I haven't made eclairs in years and I keep saying I want to make them again. Or profiteroles. 
  • I'd also like to try to make Tarte Tatin. It was also a Signature Challenge on the Great British Bake Off and though I've never made rough puff pastry, it can't possibly be that difficult, can it? 

I'd also like to take at least one day trip to France. The town of Bitche is just about an hour away. I have family visiting and that would be fun to cross the border into another country, and there's a citadel way up on a hill that you can climb -- a good activity for children with a lot of energy.

Bloggers, are you participating in Paris in July? What are your plans? 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Testament of Youth: War is Hell and Women Are Still Fighting For Equality

It took me more than a month, but I've finally completed Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's classic memoir of World War I. I'd been meaning to read this book since about 2014, when it started showing up on lists of WWI reads. I put it on my TBR Pile Challenge List last year, but I kept putting off reading it until Jillian suggested a June readalong on Twitter. Sadly, I wasn't able to finish on schedule due to some travels to the UK, but I persevered and I'm glad to say that I have completed the 661 pages and am slightly exhausted.

The background: Vera Brittain was a student at Oxford when WWI broke out. Her brother Edward, sweetheart Roland, and two of their best friends all enlisted, and after a few months, Vera could not sit idly by and joined up as a VAD [Volunteer Aid Detachment], a volunteer nurse, and worked in France, Malta, and England until the end of the war, when she returned to Oxford, completing a degree in History, and became a teacher and eventually a lecturer, speaking all over the UK about pacifism and the League of Nations. The book begins with Vera's childhood in Buxton but mostly covers 1913 until about 1924. Testament of Youth was published in 1933 and is considered one of the classic WWI memoirs. Brittain also wrote novels and two more memoirs, Testament of Friendship (1940), about her relationship with classmate and best friend Winifred Holtby; and Testament of Experience (1957) -- both of which are much shorter.

I really enjoyed this book but it is long, with tiny print. I really loved reading about Brittain's life in Oxford and her friendship with Holtby and other writers (Dorothy Sayers was also an Oxford classmate). She had to fight her parents to attend Oxford, and even after the war and the suffrage movement, she was a feminist and struggled to have a career as a woman. It's so discouraging that women are still fighting for the same issues nearly 100 years later. Also terribly discouraging to hear how badly the young nurses were treated when they were volunteers, and how how inefficient some of the staffing and medical methods were. 

Of course, the sections about the war are absolutely heartbreaking. It's devastating to realize how many lives were destroyed on both sides, and how quickly Europe went back to an even bigger war just 20 years later. I cannot imagine living through a war like that as a civilian, much less as a nurse treating patients near a battlefield. 

Though there were a few sections that I did skim over (particularly some of the politics which I'm not as familiar with, especially at the end) the writing in this book is just wonderful and insightful. I copied at least ten passages that I would love to quote, but I've narrowed it to just a couple: 

What exhausts women in wartime is not the strenuous and unfamiliar tasks that fall upon them, nor even the hourly dread of death for husbands or lovers or brothers or sons; it is the incessant conflict between personal and national claims which wears out their energy and breaks their spirit. (p. 422- 423).

One had to go on living because it was less trouble than finding a way out, but the early ideals of the War were all shattered, trampled into the mud which covered the bodies of those with them I had shared them. What was the use of hypocritically seeking out exalted consolations for death, when I knew so well that there were none? (p. 446).

Only gradually did I realize that the War had condemned me to live to the end of my days in a world without confidence or security, a world in which every dear relationship would be fearfully cherished under the shadow of apprehension; in which love would seem threatened perpetually by death, and happiness appear a house without duration, built upon the shifting sands of chance. I might, perhaps, have it again, but never again should I hold it. (p. 470).

It did not seem, perhaps, as though we, the War generation, would be able to do all that we had once hoped for the actual rebuilding of civilisation. I understood now that the results of the War would last longer than ourselves; it was obvious, in Central Europe, that its consequences were deeper rooted, and farther reaching, than any of us, with our lack of experience, had believed just after it was over. . . . . Perhaps, after all, the best that we who were left could do was refuse to forget, and to teach our successors what we remembered in the hope that they, when their own day came, would have more power to change the state of the world than this bankrupt, shattered generation. (pp 645-646.)

I had been rather dreading this because of the length and subject, but I'm really glad I read it, so thanks to Jillian for suggesting it! I'm also inspired to read Testament of Friendship which I must track down, and to read the remaining Winifred Holtby novels that are on my TBR shelves (Poor Caroline and Mandoa, Mandoa!). I also have the TV adaptation saved on the DVR, but I might have to wait a bit to watch it -- I can't imagine how this has been adapted to film. Bloggers, have any of you seen it? Is it worth watching or should I just delete it? 

This is book #9 for the TBR Pile Challenge 2018

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge: Mid-Year Check-in and Giveaway!

2018 is already halfway over! How's everyone doing with the Back to the Classics Challenge?

I'm happy to report that I've already finished nine of of the twelve categories.  Here's what I've read so far:

That leaves me with only three categories left: Classic by a Woman Author; Classic Crime Novel; and (naturally) Classic That Scares You. So far I think my favorite was The Jewel in the Crown (except for Wives and Daughters, of course!) I'm hoping to start the next book in the series this summer, though I won't be able to count it for this challenge since it doesn't really fit any of the remaining categories. 

I'm also planning on reading Crime and Punishment this summer, which I will probably count as the Classic that Scares Me (unless I count it for Classic Crime). I'm also hoping to read something by Irene Nemirovsky which I can count as my Classic by a Woman Author.

I'm very pleased with my progress. And how is everyone else doing? As a little incentive, I'm having a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic of their choice (value up to US $20).  

Here are the rules for the Giveaway:

1.  To enter, you must already have been signed up for the challenge (sorry, the cutoff date was back in March.) If you have not already on the list, YOU ARE NOT ELIGIBLE.

2.  Challenge participants must have already linked at least one review to one of the twelve categories in the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge. If you've signed up but haven't posted any reviews, the cutoff date to post is July 31.

3.  Any new links to the Challenge must follow the original parameters for the Challenge.

4.  Challenge participants must leave a comment below, letting me know which book they've most enjoyed reading for the challenge. If you like, you can also tell me which Penguin Clothbound Classic you would choose if you won (you can change your mind if you're the winner). Include an link or an email address so I can let you know if you've won. 

5. One lucky winner, drawn at random, will receive his or her choice of Penguin Clothbound Classic valued up to $20 (US) from either OR The Book Depository. The winner must live in a country where they can receive delivery from or The Book Depository. If you're not sure, click here to see if The Book Depository delivers to your country. 

6.  Comments and links must be posted no later than July 31, 2018 at 11:59 p.m., U.S. Pacific Standard Time. On July 1, I'll post the name of the winner. 

7.  The winner must contact me with a good address by August 8, 2018, at 11:59 p.m., or I'll choose another winner. 

So what are you waiting for?  Post some reviews, tell me which books you liked best, and let me know which Penguin Classic you'd pick if you won!