14 December 2007

November Book Report

Yes, I know it's nearly the middle of December, but I have been making an effort to get packages wrapped and sent, so that they will hopefully arrive by Christmas. I have two more to send out, to West Virginia, which will go on Monday, and I'm hoping that will be enough time. But the ones to the other coast are on their way, and I'm feeling quite proud of myself. Which inevitably leads to some kind of downfall ...

Anyway, in November I managed to finish two books, so even though the number was lower than October, both were excellent.

Clara Callan, by Richard Wright. This one was part of my Book Awards Reading Challenge list, and was the winner of both the 2001 Governor General’s Award (Canada), and the 2001 Giller Prize. The book is a journal/series of letters from Clara Callan, who lives in the family home in a small town in Canada, to her sister, who has moved to New York City to become an actress, and a few other people here and there throughout the book. It takes place just prior to World War II, and Wright has really captured the attitudes, language, and spirit of the time.

While Clara is living her relatively average life as a schoolteacher in their home town, her sister has gotten a job in a radio serial, and is living a more "exciting" life in New York. The contrast between the sisters is interesting, and not totally predictable, the more you keep reading. Several times Clara, who starts out seeming like the "safe" sister, needs to rely on her sister and friends in New York to get her out of jams that would have been extremely scandalous in a small Canadian town during the time period. How they deal with one another, the ups and downs of their respective existences, and the way it ends made it a book I didn't want to put down. I would especially recommend it if you are interested in the everyday events of that time period.

As the second-to-last book on my list for the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, took me to Chicago, beginning in 1890. The story revolves around the World's Columbian Exposition, which took place in 1893, and the book begins as Chicago is making their bid for the honor of hosting it, in 1890.

There are two parallel stories in the book. The first, the story of the Exposition, and the men who were involved in its planning, development, and eventual success of it, includes characters such as Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmstead, and details their personal and professional involvement in the whole event.

The second story, that of H. H. Holmes, a medical man who also owned several businesses and properties at the same time, and developed his own macabre empire, is less familiar but no less interesting. At the same time the city and its more famous citizens were creating a vision of beauty and wonder, Holmes was slowly but surely charming young girls who had come to the city for adventure and employment, only to have them all mysteriously disappear. As the book continues, you become more and more appalled at his plans and behavior, but at the same time, you have to keep reading because it is all so fascinating.

Without going into a lot of detail that could ruin it for those who may want to discover the book on their own, I can say that I enjoyed this book on a number of levels.

In a previous life, I worked in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago, and became familiar with much of the works of Burnham and his contemporaries, besides being surrounded by examples of amazing architecture, just by being in Chicago. (I loved that job!) Chicago is a great place for history, for buildings, and for larger-than-life legends. So I devoured that aspect of the book.

I am also fascinated by urban planning and the choice of any given project at any given time. The background on how Chicago fought to get the Expostion, and the desire to prove that they could do it successfully, was fascinating.

Learning that George Ferris (of Ferris Wheel fame), was a) from Pittsburgh, and b) created the design to "out-Eiffel" the Eiffel Tower, was also news to me.

Holmes was also incredibly fascinating, and his pure unadulterated joy at planning and executing the murders of so many young women, for so long, without any suspicion or serious investigation, was fascinating in the proverbial train wreck kind of way. The fact that he met his demise in Philadelphia was an unexpected point of interest for me as well.

So, two very different books, but two that were excellent reads.

And just in case you aren't paying attention ...

there are only 11 days until Christmas!! Things are shaping up here at Chez Ravell'd Sleave, though I am a little bit disappointed, because a get-together that had originally been scheduled for here tomorrow, got rescheduled someplace else next week. On the one hand, now I have a good part of the day for more baking, wrapping, decorating, etc. On the other hand, I was looking forward to having people see our house decorated for Christmas. Now I will have to lure strangers in from off the street ... sigh, I hate when that happens, don't you??

Of course, it's gonna be hard to top the first activity of the morning - a visit to the dentist! Nothing says Christmas like getting your teeth cleaned, huh?


Unknown said...

Funny! I got my teeth cleaned this morning, too, so now we are bright and shiny for the holidays. Isn't it funny how the hygenist always trys to make conversation when you can't possibly reply? Him:"Some weather yesterday, hmm?" Me:"Ggghh!"

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

They sound like two interesting books. BTW, Steve was a grad student at the Art Inst. of Chicago. If you lived in Chicago I bet you are familiar with Garrett's Popcorn - yummmmmmmmy stuff. Creepy story about the Holmes fellow. Reminds me of the Ted Bundy murders. You make me laugh at pulling in strangers to see your house decorated - too funny - how about some pics for us?

Mistrmi said...

Oh, I really liked "Devil in the White City." Larson's good at what he does.

teabird said...

Ok, Devil now is officially on my to-read list, and it'll be on my hygienist's list, too. I'll be seeing her for my quarterly visit on Thursday. She won't give me the sweet air unless I recommend books!

Carrie K said...

Ah, the traditional yuletide dental festivities. Enjoy! ;)

Both those books sound interesting! More the former than the latter.