Monday, March 31, 2014

John Wesley: A Biography by Stephen Tomkins (2003)

Hmmmm... I'm so lame.  I only made it half way through.  John Wesley wasn't an interesting figure as I hoped.  OR the writer didn't make his life as interesting as I wanted.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)

I would like to say I love E.M. Forster, but I haven't (yet) read everything he's ever written, so I suppose I should just say "I"m a lover of certain works of E.M. Forster" or simply "I love E.M. Forster's A Room With A View and Howard's End."  I have tried at least one other time to read A Passage to India but failed at it; it didn't capture my attention and I put it down.  I think maybe what captured me first was this 1930s Modern Library edition, which made me imagine I was reading this on a train through the English countryside, or on the Queen Mary.  It smelled so wonderful too.  Old book smell is the best.

So the trappings of the book made me finally settle down and read it, but I didn't like it any better this time.  I obviously gave it more of a chance, but it's not my favorite Forster, and I disagree with anyone who says it's Forster's best.  Howard's End is far and away Forster's best work.  I think because Howard's End is a drawing room novel, a novel of manners, and A Passage to India is Important and has Meaning (it punches you in the face with Importance throughout the book), it gets pushed to the top of the heap.  I wonder if Forster also thought this was his best work?

I thought Forster was trying to be Serious and Important, and some of the dark humor of his other two greatest novels was missing.  I also thought he was trying to Write, and Write Something Great, which shows.  Howard's End and A Room With A View seem much more light-hearted and fun; clearly they are meant to be more comedic,  and are just more enjoyable to read.

They are also more accessible. I'm not sure A Passage to India is accessible or relevant today.  Perhaps if I were English or Indian, I would feel differently.  But I struggled with some of the Anglo Indian slang; I occasionally thought I'd fallen into an Agatha Christie novel, and kept waiting for a murder that never happened.

So what exactly remains relevant about A Passage to India?  I came up with a couple of relevant themes.

Race.  Definitely still relevant.  The big show trial had shades of similar race based trials from the Scottsboro boys and Leo Frank, to Trayvon Martin today.

Clash of cultures.  Tied to race.

Male friendship and Homosexuality.  It's there, bitches.  Forster was a gay man; Dr. Aziz was modeld after an Indian student he tutored and fell in love with.  Fielding and Aziz are lying together looking up at the stars at one point... They are friends.  But perhaps they are more.  It's buried so far between the lines that we're almost at the back cover, but I think it's there (I was listening to a BBC3 radio documentary on Forster and India and a commentator on there agreed with me, so there).

What I disliked most about the book was the heavy handed-ness, and the whole "God Si Love" bullshittery.  I understand what he was trying to do (at least I think I understand) but it just seemed graceless.  Howard's End and A Room With A View had themes and messages as well, they just were delivered in a more easy going manner.

I'm going to keep the book though.  It will look good on a shelf at home.  I'm so shallow.

A Passage to IndiaA Passage to India by E.M. Forster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't going to go down as my favorite Forster ( Howards End is not only my favorite Forster, it's one of my favorite go-to books); I also would argue that it's not Forster's finest work (see above).  It's strongly written, but to me heavy handed, and occasionally ponderous.  It's supposed to be Important, and that fact smacks you in the head more than once ("God Si Love", "Mrs. Moore").  What I kept wondering as I read it was "is it still relevant today?"  I finally decided that yes, Anglo - Indian relations (and slang) aside, what it says about race is still relevant, and racially based accusations and trials are not just a thing of Raj India (Trayvon Martin came to mind).  Forster's gay-ness might not be there front and center, but it's also there, hidden between the lines (maybe so far down it's on the back cover - but it's there).  It's almost not worth the ride, other than Forster is a brilliant writer, and there are more than enough flashes of humor and compassion and thoughtfulness to make up for some of it's Importance.

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And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano; illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2012)

Fogliano and Stead do a bang up job of illustrating the starkness and waiting that is late winter for people who live in four season climates.  I happen to live in the two season climate of southern California (hot or not), but I grew up in Kansas, and I remember well thinking and imaging spring was finally here, when it still was weeks away.  Stead's illustrations are particularly good, and capture the drabness of February and early March (although the sky is too gray; a March sky is always blustery blue, at least in Kansas).  There is also small things happening in each picture, especially the illustration of the very humorous birds.  The entire book is one long sentence / poem, which is always an interesting concept.  The only bit I didn't care for - the bears.  The lines didn't scan very well, and it interrupted the sweet whimsy with a punch of surrealism that just didn't quite fit.

I had to sit in for storytime last week, and read this aloud.  It was my first story, and it worked out well.  Except the line, which I think was the most beautiful, but also difficult to read aloud:  "an is that a little green? no, it's just brown sort of brown."  The above mentioned bear section sort of fell flat too.

And Then It's SpringAnd Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Goodreads recommendation; I wasn't disappointed.  Fogliano's text and Stead's illustrations do a bang up job of capturing the drabness and waiting-ness of late winter, when all you want is for spring to finally arrive in a burst of green (and, of course it does).  A few minor quibbles - the bears in the middle of the book slam realism into what had been a whimsical prose poem with just a touch of fantasy; I wondered why they suddenly made an appearance.  Other than that, a sweet little picture book that would be perfect for a "spring is coming" storytime or readaloud.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (1979)

My love for Frog and Toad knows no bounds, but strangely I've never read all the books - or if I have, it's been so long ago I no longer remember them.  Frog and Toad Are Friends always sticks out in my mind because I owned a book and record as a kid; I would love to know what happened to it, and if I can find it on audio somewhere (or maybe even delightfully on record).

I'm always Toad, although when I read this aloud, I give Frog my voice.

Like Frog and Toad are Friends, Days with Frog and Toad consists of five stories.  And, as usual, each one is a little gem, with a kernel of wisdom tucked in it for good measure.

"Tomorrow."  Toad's house is a disaster, but the lazy bitch wants to stay in bed all day long.  Frog is naggy in this story, and keeps pointing out shit Toad needs to do.  Toad keeps saying "tomorrow" like he's Scarlett O'Hara or something.  There is a clever punchline to this one.

"The Kite" I read aloud in a storytime I was covering for today.  I love this story.  It's fantastic.  Who hasn't tried to fly a kite and ended up fucking it up beyond all hope?  Or letting it go?  The robins in here are bully bitches, but it's in their face at the end.  Ha ha.

"Shivers."  I think this is the weakest story of the five, but still cute.  I love that Frog makes them both a "fresh pot of tea."  It's crap like this that made me gay. I also love the imagery at the end.  After hearing a scary story, by the end "they were having the shivers.  It was a good, warm feeling."  Who doesn't like to be scared?

"The Hat" is a birthday story.  Frog gives Toad a hat that doesn't fit right, and when Frog offers to take it back, Toad is too polite and says he "LOVES IT" just the way it is, even though it looks like shit on him.  We all have been given clothes like THAT for various holidays and birthdays.  Frog proves his love for Toad at the end (although if he REALLY loved him, he would have bought a fucking hat that fit).  

"Alone" is the most psychologically interesting of the stories;  I think "Frog" in this story probably stands in for Arnold Lobel himself, and "Toad" is the world.  Frog leaves a Greta Garbo-esque note that says "Dear Toad, I am not at home.  I went out.  I want to be alone."  What drama.  Toad immediately assumes the worst, and goes to great trouble to find out what's wrong with Frog, thinking (like the self absorbed bastardo that he is) that he must have done something to hurt his friend.  All Frog wanted to do was go be by himself and think "about how fine everything is" which sounds perfectly delightful and made me wish I was a bit more like Frog and bit less like Toad.  

Frog is generally the calm words of wisdom and voice of reason to Toad's hysterics, grumpy-old-man-ness, bad moods, suspicious, and self deprecation.  Frog is essentially Toad's ego, navigating between Toad's id and superego.  Freud would have had a hey-day with Toad.

There are three Toads of literature that I can think of off the top of my head.  Lobel's Toad.  Graham's Mr. Toad. And Thornton Burgess's Old Mr. Toad.  They all are clearly related.

Days with Frog and Toad (Frog and Toad, #4)Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Frog and Toad stories are always brilliant little gems, and these are no exception.  "The Kite" is the best and most humorous story to read aloud (those Robins in the story are Frieda, Patty and Violet from Peanuts).  "Alone" is the most poignant.  As with all the stories, Frog is generally the calm words of wisdom and voice of reason to Toad's hysterics, grumpy-old-man-ness, bad moods, suspicious, and self deprecation.  Frog is essentially Toad's ego, navigating between Toad's id and superego.  Freud would have had a hey-day with Toad.

Really, every child should own at least one, if not all the Frog and Toad books.  Are there any better beginning readers?  Maybe Mo Willems.  Maybe.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (2011)

So delightfully funny!  Charlie Brown's kite eating tree taken to a sweetly witty nth degree.  I'm not a huge fan of the illustrations, but the story more than enough makes up for them.  Great fun!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charlie Brown's kite eating tree, taken to a sweetly witty nth degree. Delightfully droll! 

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (2006)

I don't know why I even ever try to read books like this.  I never, ever make it all the way through.  I always start off going Yeah, and MMM, and deeply thinking, and midway through, lose interest.  Books like this make better magazine articles for me.  Like this would have made a nice article in Men's Health.  I think Dear Prudence from Slate recommended this book.  I'm not going to dwell too long on it.  

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomThe Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

I don't even know why I pick up books like this.  I always get about half way through and lose interest.  This isn't badly written or badly though out - I think I'm just bad at reading self help books and pop psychology.  What I read (I made it half way through) felt a wee bit like a text book to me though.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

This is one of those books that I don't think I'm going to be able to write anything interesting about, and not because I didn't like the book. I loved this book.  I thought at first I would hate it - the narrative point of view is quite odd, and my initial reaction was "I will never get used to this, it's too confusing, too strange, I hate modern literature..." But like being drowned in molasses, the book oozed into all of my pores and openings, slowly I became trapped in its amber.  The narrative point of view is "third person limited" and Thomas Cromwell, this third person limited, is almost always referred to as He.  Rather than annoy me, what that did is made you aware of Cromwell's power and influence.  Of course at a certain time in Tudor history, if you said "He said this" or "He is coming" that was probably referred to one of two people - the King or Cromwell.  No names necessary.  That also had the power of making you see the plot even more clearly through one person's eyes, like you were inside his head, watching all this, and listening to his thoughts.

One might assume that the Tudor tree is all out of sap; that a new book about the Tudors couldn't possibly tell you anything of interest.  The Tudor story has been told for six hundred years in various forms, from Shakespeare to The Other Boleyn Girl, but Hilary Mantel has proved there is much to be learned and more to tell.

This is certainly a tale about the corruption of power, and although Thomas Cromwell is a sympathetic character (at least I thought so, I think Mantel wants you to think so too) there is a shift between the Cromwell at the beginning of the book and the powerful courtier at the end.

I want to read Bring Up the Bodies, although I think I want to try to listen to it on audio, which is further envelope me (a good audio book does that to me).  But I'm giving Mantel a break; I need something lighter (so why I chose E.M. Forster's A Passage to India is beyond me; that is hardly lighter, although perhaps less dense).

Loved  the characterization of Thomas More.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was like being drowned in maple syrup; it oozes into every pore and opening, slowly but surely, and once you get over the initial shock you just sink into it.  This is not an easy read; it's dense and dark,and the point of view is quite odd.  Thomas Cromwell is the Third Person Limited, and is almost always referred to as simply He.  That makes sense if you think about the world of the Tudor court at this time; there were only two "He"s,and when you said "He" everyone knew you meant one of two people:  the King, or Thomas Cromwell.  You might have thought that the Tudor tree was all of sap; after all writers have been writing about the Tudors for six hundred years, from Shakespeare to The Other Boleyn Girl.  But brilliant Hilary Mantel found a way to write a remarkable, interesting novel with fully realized characters.  The plot was lived out six centuries ago, but she injected new life into through the eyes and ears and brain of Cromwell, our flawed hero.  I'm almost afraid to move on to the second book in the trilogy, because I can't imagine it being any better than this one.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier; illustrated by Suzy Lee (2013)

Gimmicky, but more in a fun gimmicky way, not a hacky way.  Suzy Lee's marvelous illustrations for all the little books look like she raided a 1960s public library, with a treasure trove of picture books from that and each preceding decade.  There isn't really any characters or stiory; rather, the gimmick is the whole thing.  Well, perhaps not the whole thing; the raison d'etre is the last sentence:  "You close this little red book... and... open another!"  Although you may disappointed that the next book you pick up isn't as interactive as this one.  That said, I can remember reading some book at my little public library that was a "scratch and sniff."  Most of the sniff had been long scratched out, but you could still catch faint whiffs of skunks and lemons.  And I don't remember expecting the next picture book I picked up to have embedded smells.  I just expected the next book I picked up to be good.  I'd say that if I finished Ask Mr. Bear and then picked up Open This Little Book, I would say that both are good in their own, unique ways.  

I wonder about the origins of the idea for this book.  There isn't very much prose, it's not story driven at all.  Did Jesse Klausmeier have the idea for the book and sold it?  Curious.

Who knew: ???

According to Anstey (2002), characteristics of postmodern picture books include:
  • Non-traditional plot structure
  • Using the pictures or text to position the reader to read the text in a particular way, for example, through a character's eyes or point-of-view.
  • The reader's involvement with constructing the meaning of the text.
  • Intertextual references, which requires the reader to make connections to other books or knowledge, in order to better understand the text.
  • Varied design layout and a variety of styles of illustration.
This book definitely falls into that category.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gimmicks in picture books are in vogue (I suppose they always have been and always will be), postmodern gimmicks that turn books into something else, with an emphasis on interactivity.  Open This Little Book is a quite lovely and exciting example of picture book postmodernity. Suzy Lee's illustrations are like the raided the shelves of a 1960s public library children's room, with examples of illustrations representing that and each preceding decade.  Midcentury modern madness, in all the right ways. The cover doesn't lead you to expect that this, or any of what occurs, is going to happen, which is another magical thing about the book. There is no plot and barely any characters here; rather, the gimmick and the last line in the book are the raison d'etre.  

Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack (1932)

This is a perfect gift for a little blonde blue eyed boy child to give to their mother on her birthday.
President Roosevelt
 This dress may be pink.

Danny, the main character, is wearing a pink shirt, and could possibly be a girl with a pixie hair cut.  Boys could wear pink in the 1930s because no one gave a shit about gender until you were older. And pink and blue were gender neutral colors; the boys wear blue/girls wear pink stuff came later.

This book is so sweet.

The illustrations look like some sort of acid trip.  The colors are really bright, and there is a golden halo around everything.

I also wondered why no one wanted to go see Mr. Bear at the end except Danny.  Were they afraid Mr. Bear would eat all of them?  Why wouldn't they be afraid of Danny then?  In fact, they are more likely to end up on Danny's plate than in Mr. Bear's stomach.  Or perhaps they had just had enough of Danny and his birthday bullshit.

All of them are throwing him some serious shade in the illustration.  The goat particularly has the classic "side eye."
Acid trip?

Ask Mr. BearAsk Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This the perfect gift for a blue-eyed blonde boy to give his mother on her birthday.  A little girl could do the same, if the person reading this aloud is willing to change "Danny" to "Danielle" and accept that "Danielle" has a golden pixie haircut (the boy is already wearing a pink shirt).

Why won't the animals go see Mr. Bear at the end with Danny?  Why must he go alone?  What kind of friends are those, to send Danny alone into the bear's den?  They obviously know something he doesn't know, yet withhold information.  Weird.

The illustrations are almost psychedelic, which I loved.  Who knew the 1930s were so "trippy."

All kidding aside, this is a sweet little birthday book.

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Spoon by Amy Krause Rosenthal; illustrated by Scott Magoon (2009)

I enjoyed this picture book (Goodreads said I would), but I'm not exactly sure who the audience for it is.  The idea is really clever.  Spoon thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence - or in the other utensil drawer.  Fork, knife, chopstick - all have far more interesting lives than he (why does Spoon have  to be a boy?  Or have a gender identity at all?  Spoons have no genitalia.  But I way way digress).  Spoon's mother isn't really any help (At first, she gives him sort of "Yes, dear" types of answers to his grumbling and essentially blows him off; he probably bitches a lot, so she is used to this).  What Spoon doesn't know is that the rest of the utensil gang are all jealous of him.  She finally tells him he's pretty damn lucky - no one else gets to dive "headfirst into a bowl of ice cream" or "clink against the side of a cereal bowl."  A good message!  We are all damn lucky, although quite frankly, we don't always like to be told that.

The Spoons are "those" kinds of parents, because at the end, Spoon "lay awake in bed for a long time.  His mind was racing... he felt so alive!  There was only one thing to do..."   He says "I can't sleep," and his parents, who are sleeping in the compartment next to him in the drawer, say "Come, snuggle" and he sleeps with them.  Definitely 21st century parenting; my parents may have said "you are damn lucky" but they would have never said "come sleep with us."

Favorite line:  "What's wrong?" asked his mother.  "You look a bit bent out of shape."  Ha ha!

The illustrations are terrific.

The chopstick family made me giggle.  Spoon describes them:  "Everyone think they're really cool and exotic."  The illustrations make them look like they are doing performance art, which was a hoot.

The book is message driven, but not pedantically so.  There really isn't a plot, which the witty writing and cleverness of the illustrations made up for.  But audience-wise, I don't know.  This falls falls into Mo Willems land quite easily, but almost without the double charm of Willems, the ability to work on two levels (adult and child). Because the message hits you in the head (really, it's not subtle at all), it's very "adult-y."  But it has  genuine playfulness, and I think some kids would probably really enjoy it. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Playfully and wittily written, with fun and clever illustrations.  I'm not a huge fan of message-driven books (particularly about self esteem) but this one doesn't stray (very far at least) into afterschool special pedantry(the antics of pedantics make me antsy).  The Spoons are definitely modern parents (I don't recall ever being allowed to sleep with my parents regardless of fear or Eureka! moments).  There is some subtlety in the interactions between Spoon and his mother (which, I suppose, has to stand in for a plot, since there isn't one).  I have one small quibble - can't the Spoons be gender neutral?  But don't let that sway you from reading the book aloud - if you've got a little girl in your lap, change the pronoun.   

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (1995)

Sometimes when a friend's dog has died, I recommend this lovely and moving book.  I also know when my beloved dogs died, I didn't read this book because I knew I would cry even harder, and was tired of crying.

This book will win no awards.  It's not a literary masterpiece.  The illustrations are not especially artistic or interesting.

And yet, this book is wonderful.  A book doesn't have to be literary, or awe inspiring, or scholarly, or even particularly unique.  A book can be comforting.  A book can be there for you right when you need it the most.  Picture books do this a lot. But novels can be the same thing for us as well.  A book can succor us, and give us strength.  A book can make us feel special.  A book can remind us of good times.  A book can be about how dogs have a special place in heaven, and make us feel so much better.

I love Dog Heaven.  Dog Heaven makes me believe in heaven, just for dogs.  I'm not even sure people belong in heaven.  But dogs do.  (and cats too, although cats probably have more fun in Hell).

Dog HeavenDog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book can succor and provide strength in difficult times.  Damn the snarks.  I'm not even sure I believe in people heaven, but after reading this book, I know there is heaven for dogs.  They deserve it.  (cats, on the other hand, probably are in Hell - because it's far more enjoyable for them in Hell).  Only the heartless - or dog-haters - won't at least feel a sentimental tug at the corner of their eyes.  I hid in my office at work and wept.  "They will be there when old friends show up."  

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Eleanor Catton on literature and elitism (2014)

 "Literature demands curiosity, empathy, wonder, imagination, trust, the suspension of cynicism, and the eradication of prejudice; in return, it affords the reader curiosity, empathy, wonder, imagination, trust, the suspension of cynicism, and the eradication of prejudice."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell (1968)

The subtitle of this book - on the cover, which has obviously been added since 1968 - is "The classic Kitchen Maid's memoir that inspired Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey."  I don't know know Upstairs Downstairs all that well (I watched the recent rendition and found it not as interesting as Downton Abbey).  I do know that I wish the servants in Downton Abbey were 1) as sassy as Margaret Powell and 2) as class conscious.  Thomas Barrow seems to be the only servant even ware of a of class difference, and he's not said something about it in ages; O'Brien said some stuff in the early series but then shut her mouth, and then vanished.  Daisy needs to get some of Margaret Powell's chutpah, give her notice, and go cook in London - she could obviously do it.  Margaret Powell basically talked her way into her first cooking job, and never looked back.

Margaret has a sassy, interesting voice and point of view.  Her story is straight forward.  She definitely draws the distinction between Us and Them.  In America, the class distinction wasn't as clear cut, it was more porous; in fact,race played more of a factor in determining where you sat on the mountain rather than class.  In England, at least in Margaret Powell's England, class was always going to keep Them at the top of the heap and Margaret well below, regardless of what she did.  She wasn't a revolutionary or Communist, but she certainly points out how unfair it all seemed.

Margaret also has some interesting things to say about sex, pretty frank things actually.  She draws not only a picture of the early twentieth century, but compares and contrasts the time period in which she was working with the time period she was writing (1960s).  I wonder what she'd make of how things are today.  It strikes me that she would fit in just fine.  She seemed like quite a woman.

An aside - I watched Titanic last night for a while - not all of it, just the point where the ship is gasping its last, and women just like Margaret Powell were running all over the ship screaming while their lords and ladies were floating just a few hundred yards away, saved.  Margaret Powell would have talked her way into one of those lifeboats.  But I also think she was the kind of woman who would have given her seat up to someone as well.

Below StairsBelow Stairs by Margaret Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Margaret Powell was a strong, sassy, independent woman, in a job that definitely didn't require that, and in a time period when strong women of a certain class were regarded with suspicion.  Her story is more interesting, quite frankly, than the current exploits of the Downton servants to whom she is compared on the front cover.  She's frank about many things in the book - the perils of sexually active women in the early twentieth century (a baby spelled doom for a kitchen maid), trying to find a boyfriend when you worked all the time, the odious class distinctions that kept Them permanently suspicious and afraid of Margaret and her fellow servants.  But the book isn't some sort of Communist screed; Powell is quite funny describing her life.  She's also really an admirable character, who apparently could talk her way into any job.  She really set her own path, and some of the Downton servants could learn a play or two from her playbook.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower (2000)

I was going to write that the Balkans seemed to have died down since the wars of the 1990s, but then I remembered the Greek financial collapse.  Not so calm, but at least no wars - or at least no wars that make the papers.

I was talking with a Serbian friend a few weeks ago, and he told me that everyone got along much better when it was Yugoslavia rather than broken up and fragmented, and that seems to be what Mazower's theme as well.  The Ottomans weren't all bad (and weren't all good either), and nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries led to ethnic cleansing and civil war.  And that you would be mistaken to think that the Balkan character is by nature violent and brutish - ethnic cleansing of various groups were common across Europe, particularly right after World War II.  

Lytton Strachey quotes Lord Palmerston in his Queen Victoria as saying, about Schleswig-Holstein, that "“Only three people...have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it."  This seems to be an apt description of the Balkans, which were confusing to read about, particularly in a short history.   There was quite a lot packed into such a small book.   Still, I liked this one better than the one I read about Islam.  

The Balkans: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles)The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lytton Strachey quotes Lord Palmerston in his Queen Victoria as saying, about Schleswig-Holstein, that "“Only three people...have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it."  This seems to be an apt description of the Balkans, which were confusing to read about, particularly in a short history.   There was quite a lot packed into such a small book. That said, Mazower's book is still interesting (though not particularly engaging).  

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