Friday, January 30, 2015

Three I loved - The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1963: The Year of Revolution by Morgan and Leve and Entertaining Judgment by Greg Garrett

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt is so crammed with little flags that I could quote from it all day, but instead I'm going to skip quotes entirely and just tell you about it, although I may eventually do a post filled with quotes so I can remove those markers.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt is apparently a compact version of Mrs. Roosevelt's memoirs (which were originally published in several volumes). Although it's edited down to a single book, Mrs. Roosevelt's autobiography is crammed with wonderful anecdotes and gives the reader an excellent inside view of her life. Especially interesting, of course, are the tumultuous Depression and WWII years, during which her husband Franklin served as President of the United States.

I have long been an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt but wow . . . she's my hero, now. She was indefatigable in her efforts to make the lives of everyday people, especially women, better. She traveled the world at her husband's request numerous times to comfort soldiers and was relentlessly picked on by the press, though the soldiers deeply appreciated her. She wrote personal letters and columns, hosted dignitaries at her home and the White House, represented the U.S. in the early years of the United Nations. She was a woman of strong character who made an indelible imprint on our nation's direction.

I think The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt would make an exceptional school resource. Although some of the characters are unfamiliar because they were prominent at the time and have now faded into history, those occasional bits that have lost their impact tend to be brief enough that they don't interfere with the reading. Annotations wouldn't be a lost cause, in my humble opinion, but for teaching purposes it would work to use selected excerpts. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt was one of those rare books that I found so exciting I occasionally read anecdotes to my husband. He enjoyed the portions I read. Highly recommended.

1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan and Ariel Leve is an absorbing read, in spite of the fact that I don't like the way it's organized. An introduction is followed by chapters that begin with a quotation and then consist of first-person viewpoints by the people who were a part of the "youth-quake" that took place in 1963 in fashion, art and music on both sides of the Atlantic.

Each chapter contains a number of first-person accounts from musicians, artists, and other people involved in the changing events. Some were familiar to me, like Eric Clapton, Mary Quant and Sir Alan Parker, but many were not and therein the problem lies. While I enjoyed looking up various music groups, artists, fashion leaders and their work (particularly the music), it was a bit frustrating having to keep flipping back to remind myself who this or that person was. It might be a less chaotic-feeling read to those who lived it.

However, I grew up with a lot of the music that was mentioned without actually realizing who sang songs that were still playing on the radio during my childhood. So, it was loads of fun looking up music videos. And, in spite of the fact that I disliked the manner in which this oral history was presented, I really did enjoy the reading and came out of the experience feeling like I'd learned a great deal. I even have a new favorite old song. Definitely recommended, but do be aware that the book is focused on the arts and fashion, not generalities. It's worth mentioning that even though I disliked the organization of the book and having to look things up slowed down the reading, I was never tempted to set it aside. I found 1963: The Year of Revolution utterly fascinating.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and 1963: The Year of Revolution were both sent to me by HarperCollins (the former a Harper Perennial imprint, the latter from Dey Street).

Entertaining Judgment by Greg Garrett is a book I purchased because I love the author's writing. I pre-ordered it when he talked about it on Facebook and didn't wait long after it arrived before indulging. Subtitled "The Afterlife in Popular Imagination", Entertaining Judgment is about how Heaven, Hell and purgatory are portrayed in books, films, video games and music. Garrett talks a bit about angels, the devil and ghosts, as well.

Entertaining Judgment is as informative as it is captivating. Garrett describes how minimal the descriptions of Heaven and Hell are in religious writings and how strongly popular opinion of what exactly may await us in the afterlife has been dictated by fiction. I loved the fact that the author doesn't let his Christianity interfere with the presentation of the material, examining how the afterlife is portrayed in various religious texts without ever saying one is superior to another.

Entertaining Judgment is not all-encompassing. I thought the portions about ghosts focused a little too heavily on fear when ghosts often are portrayed as entities that help people move on. One of my favorite ghost movies, Always, is not mentioned, for example. But, there are plenty of excellent examples that I knew little about and I came out of the reading of Entertaining Judgment with a strong desire to catch up on films and literature that I've missed. It's probably worth noting that I don't play video games at all but I found the descriptions of video games every bit as absorbing as those about film, books and music. Highly recommended. I don't recall ever reading anything quite like Entertaining Judgment and particularly enjoyed it for the change of pace.

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  1. I bought the DVDs of Ken Burns' The Roosevelts, and am part way through watching. If you haven't seen it, you may really enjoy it after reading the ER book. I have a book called My Day which is a compilation of her newspaper pieces and I got it out to read soon. I think I'd also like to read the biographies by Blanche Wiesen Cook.

    1. I'm pretty sure we watched that series when it was on PBS. I'll have to look for the books you mentioned. After reading her autobiography, I definitely would like to read more. I need to see if FDRs "Fireside Chats" are also available in book form.

    2. Rod and I have been watching the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, too. Wonderful, wonderful stuff! I, too, am a great admirer of ER and have Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1, 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook on my nightstand. Maybe I'll try one chapter a week, rather than trying to read the whole thing in one fell swoop. It's 500 pages with almost another 100 of notes and bibliography!

    3. Even this compact version of Eleanor's biography took some time to wade through. Yeah, I'd shoot for taking your time and just enjoying it. I'm sure you'll love it. She was an excellent writer.

  2. These all sound interesting! I would be very interested to hear about WWII and the Depression for Eleanor!

    1. They were all terrific reads for entirely different reasons, Kelly. I was in a non-fiction mood and couldn't have chosen better.

      The Depression and WWII were definitely my favorite parts of Eleanor's autobiography, since I already have an interest in those time periods, but I don't mean to diminish the rest of the book. It's a great, all-around read.

  3. That Eleanor Roosevelt biography sounds awesome! I will have to add it to my wishlist.


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