Fitzgerald, Meags. Photobooth: A Biography.

Greenwich, NS: Conundrum Press, 2014.

I’m old enough to remember when nearly every dime store, bus station, and amusement park had a coin-operated photobooth. Close the curtain, take a seat, feed in a couple of quarters, and smile — or, more likely, if you were a teenager, make faces. And out would come a strip of six black-and-white wallet-size portraits. Because the image was printed directly to paper and there was no negative, each shot was unique and non-repeatable — a tiny time capsule of a single moment in your life.

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Published in: on 15 October 2018 at 5:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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MacGregor, Neil. A History of the World in 100 Objects.

NY: Viking, 2010.

My academic field is social history, which means I’m far more interested in the evolution of everyday life than I am in treaties and royal weddings and big battles, and I have a particular interest in what’s called “material history” — the study of things, mostly man-created. There’s something about actually holding a manufactured object — a bayonet, a patent-medicine bottle, a faience bead — and thinking about the person who made it and those who have held it over the centuries — or millennia — before you.

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Hayward, James. Myths & Legends of the Second World War.

Thrup, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2003.

The heroic evacuation from Dunkirk, the British stiff upper lip during the dark days of the Blitz, the willingness of British civilians to give shelter to refugees from the Continent — those are all a matter of history, right? Not so much, as it turns out. The BEF was horribly under-trained and ill-equipped to deal with the invading Germans and there were many units who threw down their weapons and sprinted for the beach. What we would now recognize as PTSD was a major problem during the bombing of London and so was the black market, and so was theft from bodies in bombed houses. And most British wanted no part of non-English-speakers fleeing from Hitler — especially if they were Jews.

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Published in: on 24 July 2018 at 8:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lovesey, Peter. Beau Death.

NY: SohoPress, 2017.

This series about Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath CID has been generally pretty good. The first couple of volumes were problematic, frankly, but then the author got a handle on his characters and now he’s up to adventure no. 17. Diamond runs into oddball situations in nearly every book, and this one is no different.

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Holm, Jennifer & Matthew Holm. Swing It, Sunny.

NY: Scholastic, 2017.

This is a sequel to this sister/brother team’s Sunny Side Up (2015), and it’s pretty good. It’s set in the closing months of 1976 and Sunny, now starting middle school, misses her older brother, Dale, who has been sent away to a military boarding school for his own (and everyone else’s) good. The story is episodic, going from the start of school to Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s — all the landmarks in an adolescent’s calendar

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Brown, Chester. Paying for It.

Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2011.

Chester, who lives and works in Toronto, has been a working cartoonist for quite a long time and his books tend to serious subjects and transparent honesty. The subtitle here is “A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John,” and that’s exactly what it is. When he broke up with his third long-term girlfriend (though they kept living together), he decided enough was enough: No more traditional relationships. It wasn’t worth it.

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Grisham, John. Sycamore Row.

NY: Doubleday, 2013.

Many of Grisham’s non-courtroom-oriented stories are lightweight and rather fluffy, but he’s also capable of solid writing, tense plotting, and very well-drawn characters. This one, happily, is one of those. It’s also a semi-sequel to his very first book, A Time to Kill, set in small-town northern Mississippi, an area the author knows well. It’s 1988, only a few years after the sensational trial detailed in the earlier book, in which defense attorney Jake Brigance had his house burned down and his dog killed by the KKK for defending a black man who had killed a white man in revenge.

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Cohen, Gabriel. Red Hook.

NY: Open Road, 2001.

I’d never heard of this author, even though he’s been around for nearly two decades, but I followed the recommendation of a friend and I’m glad I did. This was Cohen’s first book and it’s not only a very good mystery novel, it’s a first-rate book, period. Brooklyn police detective Jack Leightner, a native of the blue-collar Red Hook community, is fifty years old and he’s beginning to wonder where his life has gone.

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Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep.

NY: Knopf, 1939.

There are people who will tell you that Philip Marlowe is THE fictional detective in American literature and it’s hard to argue with them. This was his first appearance and Chandler’s prose is as smooth and ironically elegant as it was more than three-quarters of a century ago. It’s not a long book, less than 180 pages, but the author doesn’t waste a single word anywhere. It really does set the standard for every private eye story that came after.

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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

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