Monday, January 20, 2014

Jan. 20: MLK Jr. Day!

The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz AgeThe Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fascinating and sobering topic, but also shockingly poorly written (or edited) in places. Nicolson's message is important, as we like to think, "Then the war (whichever war it is) ended and all was happy again", when of course that isn't true. Her careful exhumation of various details of national and personal mourning and response to the shattering losses of "the Great War" is thought-provoking and sad: I read this in sessions rather than all the way through, as it got overwhelming at times! HIghly recommended for historians and for students who crave that missing information on "how things felt."

However, I think this should/could have benefitted from better organization, footnoting, and editing/proofreading. Various characters appear, play roles--sometimes very detailed ones--and then vanish, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph, but Nicolson provides no sources or notes to explain where she gathered her information or characterization. A few of the people are introduced at the end (!), but there is a lack of documentation that makes the book feel almost like historical fiction at times.

As for the editing: "Weight was important, or rather the lack of it, to young women" (136) . Fine as a first draft idea, but I would expect the most relaxed editor to suggest that "Weight––or, rather, the lack of it--was important to young women" might read more fluidly.

P. 159: Lengthy description of a Punch cartoon in which a woman dreams herself "found herself at a party where the dancers were dressed in less than her." Less than she was? Less than her nightdress? At best, an awkward sentence; at worst, a grammatical mess.

p. 227: ". . . the necessitous times making it seem appropriate for guests to pay for their entrance tickets. . . " Again, it's a valid vocab word, but I would hope an alert editor might engage in a conversation about its appropriateness!

There are more of these sections and stumbles, the culminating effect of which is to make this an interesting but not excellent book. It is certainly haunting in its discussion of the lingering, inescapable personal and societal effects of WWI. A book club might read this and then embark on Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, as a world history class might benefit from various chapters or excerpts as background reading.

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Well, our lovely weekend continues. Knitting (almost all the sleeve on N's sweater!), two homemade lasagnes (sauce and noodles), double batch of Grandma Leamon's coffeecake, good exercise, pretty snow, "Miss Pettegrew Lives for A Day". . . . Much goodness. Back to Hamlet papers and then a run. . .

And always a bow to one of the heroes who chose love over hate, and peaceful endurance over violent action!

"Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 

'What are you doing for others?’"

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