The Disuniting of America by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (W.W. Norton, 1992).
Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote this short book at the dawn of the culture wars, and he would undoubtedly be alarmed at how the fault lines he identified then have only deepened. He stresses that it is the idea of America, and the ideals embodied therein, that hold the nation together, as opposed to any specific racial, ethnic, or religious identity. He does not dismiss diversity, however. All who have come to this country have contributed to the national story, he insists, as proclaimed in the motto E Pluribus Unum. “In a world savagely rent by ethnic and racial antagonisms,” wrote Schlesinger, “it is all the more essential that the United States continue as an example of how a highly differentiated society holds itself together.” - Jeffrey Kroessler
Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age by Dennis Duncan (W.W. Norton, 2021). The author packs an 800-year history into an entertaining, often surprising narrative including the once novel concept of alphabetical order; heresies, rivalries and controversies, sometimes brutal and career-ending; the indexing of fiction and fictional indexes; and the accusation that indexes make readers lazy and stupid. Appropriately, the index to Index, A History of the is 31 pages long (relatively long in proportion to the book’s page count) and is given a preamble and a named human (not machine) creator. – Kathleen Collins
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (Custom House, 2021) and Zorrie by Laird Hunt (Blomsbury, 2021). Although they portray two very different worlds now long gone—1950s’ London suburbs and rural Indiana across several decades of the 20th century, respectively—these novels beautifully and poignantly capture the dignity of an ordinary life. While Small Pleasures is a page-turner, Zorrie charms with its unhurried pace. As the two remarkable protagonists struggle to build lives that they can fully inhabit, they content with hardship, self-denial, loneliness and heartache. The fleeting “small pleasures” Jean and Zorrie encounter offer temporary respite, as does the occasional kindness they allow themselves to receive, softening the hardness of the everyday. - Marta Bladek
My Friends by Emmanuel Bove; translated by Janet Louth (NYRB Classics; Reprint edition May 7, 2019)
If it were not for the Beyond the Bookends 2022 12 books in 12 months reading challenge, I may not have come across this book. For the month of March, the challenge suggested a historical fiction book. I found My Friends on the historical fiction table at the Strand bookstore. Bove writes short, well-crafted intentional lines. It is a story about a wounded World War I veteran trying to live in a prewar lifestyle in the streets of Paris. This story vacillates from sad, bleak moments of a lonely man’s mundane existence to the beautiful and hysterical within a short line. It’s a quick read and hits hard. - Patrick J Raftery Jr.
Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody Series.
In the weeks and months after March 2020, we were all at home looking for ways to reduce stress and stay entertained. I decided to reread all of a series of 19 mystery novels written by Elizabeth Peters, which is the pen name of mystery writer Dr. Barbara Mertz, who received her PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago.
The Amelia Peabody Mystery Series follows the archaeological and criminological adventures of the fictional Amelia, her husband, Radcliff and two children in Egypt, Palestine, Sudan and the UK from 1884 to 1923. Both modern and ancient history is the context for each of the stories. Each book features difficult and amazing archaeological discoveries intertwined with solving crimes, and sometimes political intrigue. In addition to a diversity of reoccurring fictional characters, several real historical Egyptologists, politicians and cultural icons make appearances, such as Howard Carter, the discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun or “King Tut” and a succession of British and Cairo Museum curators.
Like many others in 2020, I switched my reading to digital versions of books. I read all 19 of the Amelia Peabody series by borrowing e-books with my free account on the Open Library. I read them in order by following the chronological list available on Wikipedia. Transporting oneself to Egyptological excavations more than a century ago is recommended by me as a perfect escape and de-stressor. - Ellen Belcher