bookfeature

What To Read?
How ‘Bout A Book With Some Spirit?

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On Our Bookshelves: One Summer: America, 1927

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NOVEL: One Summer: America, 1927

AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013

REVIEW:

It’s hard not to like Bill Bryson…he comes across as an ideal traveling companion: knowledgeable and informed, entertaining, and at times a bit cranky, but always amusingly so. I’ve enjoyed his travel books on the USA, Australia, and England…they actually are like taking a road trip with a good friend and dinner conversationalist. One Summer is a little different, but Bryson’s equally good company on an American history tour: he takes us back to a time just barely within current memory, and gives us an in-depth narrative of what was going on in May through September of 1927.

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If you are a baseball fan or an aviation enthusiast, your cup runneth over. It’s the year of Babe Ruth’s home run record (and his home run race with Lou Gehrig, his fellow New York Yankee) as he played with arguably the greatest baseball squad ever to take the field. And it’s the summer that Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic from New York to Paris and became the most famous man in the world. (Celebrity, unfortunately, did not agree with him much.)

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Plenty else happened. The Jazz Singer (the first “talking picture”) was released. There was a sensational murder trial and two accused anarchists were executed. Al Capone was at the top of his game in Chicago. Calvin Coolidge took a long vacation. The Mississippi River flooded catastrophically. Work began on Mount Rushmore. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T. The Holland Tunnel opened. There were cars, radios, refrigerators, telephones, and (brand new!) television.

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It’s not a very organized account.  The competing stories (daily life, business, government, sports, etc.) pick up and drop off, and get resumed chapters later, and lots of background information gets inserted, almost parenthetically, into the narrative.   It’s odd having cliffhangers in a history book, but it certainly makes for interesting reading. Reading One Summer is actually a bit like listening to a garrulous liberal arts professor, who knows a little something about just about everything, especially after he’s had a few drinks. Oh, where was I? Ah yes, back to Jack Dempsey. And Herbert Hoover. And Charles Ponzi (yes, he of the eponymous Ponzi scheme). And Clara Bow.

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There was plenty of violence in the 1920s in the USA.  The homicide rate then was far higher than today, and two thirds(!) of murders went unsolved. The Ku Klux Klan was popular. So was eugenics. Racism was virulent. Foreigners were viewed with suspicion, and immigration was severely restricted.

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And there was jazz music, cocktails (despite their illegality during the Prohibition era), the Charleston, the strange pastime of flagpole sitting (Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop one for twelve days in Newark, New Jersey, breaking a world record), ticker tape parades, celebrity culture, and all manner of street life (air conditioning hadn’t yet become widespread).

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I can only hope that someone like Bill Bryson is around in another 90 or so years to so capture the achievements, hypocrisies, failures, foibles, and entertainments of today so that our great grandchildren can know (and enjoy) a little bit of our time here, too.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3.5 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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ALSO ON OUR BOOKSHELVES:

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

What If?, Randall Munroe

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

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Lead-In Image: Gabrielle Hovey / Shutterstock.com

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com