This Month in Nonfiction [January 2018]

new world comingNew World Coming: The 1920s and The Making of Modern America by Nathan Miller

This is a really comprehensive history of the 1920s with due notes to the decade’s antecedents and the culture that followed it. I felt that a good deal of the book focused on the politics of the time (more so than any other history I’ve read thus far) where other other cultural aspects were bundled together under one chapter. I think I learned a lot from this book–again, particularly the political background and business side of the 20s–which was really eye-opening. I didn’t know much about Harding, Coolidge or Hoover. Learning what Hoover did before, after and during his political career was the most eye-opening. I may pick up a special biography about him if any of you have some good suggestions!

Overall, this was a dense book! Like really dense! It took me a while to get through it but I’m happy I did.

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln & the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico by Amy Greenberg

This is a very engaging book about a war and time period (the 1840s) that I knew little to nothing about. The US-Mexican War is often overlooked in history classes. From my own experience in my high school history class, I remember my teacher briefly mentioning it, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and “BOOM,” we got California. Rarely did we touch upon the nitty gritty and its no wonder.

A Wicked WarThe narrative discusses how the US-Mexican war was not a noble one. Whilst poring over the details, on a surface level it reminded me of Vietnam. At least in its public perception from noble war to avenge American blood spilled to a growing antipathy towards it the longer it went on. (Of course, this war does not equal Vietnam–different conflict with different motivations.

Amy Greenberg centers her account of the war on a couple of central figures (Henry Clay, James and Sarah Polk, James Hardin, and Abraham Lincoln) showing how they and countless other actors influenced the course of the war and its conclusion. It also discusses how the war shaped them–again, that nice narrative quality.

I personally picked up the book to learn more about the 1840s as a decade and the US-Mexican war played a huge role in shaping it (as well as the following decades). I learned a lot and encourage others who are curious to pick it up.

Non-Fiction Book Highlights [December 2017]

For the last year, I’ve been hooked on nonfiction. Being a big history nerd, my shelves fill up pretty quickly with glorious nonfiction picks. Unlike fiction books however, I don’t tend to know what to say about a good deal most of them other than they’re amazing or they read like your typical dry academic text (of course, I’ll be highlighting the former more often than the latter). But I wanted to shed some light on them and I want to convince you (yes, YOU!) to read them!

1) Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

radium girlsThis book was extremely difficult to put down. From the moment I picked it up, I was feverishly paging through it. Despite being a history book, the language flowed like seamless narrative fully bringing each one of the many shining women to life.

There was a sense of doom that hung over the narrative. The book talks about all the girls poisoned by the Luminous Clock companies throughout WWI into the 1930s. Reading about the women’s misfortunes–to their medical problems due to their radioactive exposure to their prolonged fight against time to get justice against the companies who knowingly harmed them–was hard to read but very engrossing.

Recommend if interested in: work comp history, medical history, radium, stories about women, domestic American WWI stories

2) The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

poisonershandbookI finished The Poisoner’s Handbook a little while ago. I was pointed in its direction after reading A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang (a wonderful historical fiction you should also read!!!) which used this book as part of its research.

This book was really good. Its a  superb nonfiction about the development of forensic toxicology in 1920s New York. It was a book organized by poison and how certain techniques were developed to detect these poisons in prominent murders cases. The two primary characters were Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, major in the New York forensic scene. Not only do you get a good dose of history dressed in murder and poison, the book did a wonderful job in bringing both Norris, Gettler and the setting of New York to life.

Recommend if you’re interested in: murder, poison, Prohibition, forensic toxicology, 1920s

3) Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock

surpassing certaintyI feel like Surpassing Certainty will grow to be one of the most important books I’ve read in 2017. I found myself bingeing the last 100 or so pages and it touched me more than I thought it would. Janet Mock’s reflections on her twenties, the twists and turns in her life, and her journey to find herself and be comfortable with herself really got to me.

Recommend if you’re interested in:  memoir. diverse perspectives (poc, trans, and lgbtqa), learning ways to navigate your twenties or life in general

The Weekly Obsession(s): October 5th, 2017

Funny enough, this one ha a theme!

For story reasons, I’ve been really into the 1920s–specifically, America in the 1920s. When I get hooked on an era, I tend to research its history, its literature, its music (especially its music!) so most of the stuff featured here will be related to that.

In Literature:

Anything Goes by Lucy Moore

anythinggoesbook

This book gives a comprehensive view of the 1920s decades, particularly in its exploration of the mass media of the time. One of the main critiques I’ve seen leveled at this book is how it’s much more concentrated on certain people/celebrities in its chapters, condensing an element of the decade down to a singular person’s experience. Though I tentatively agree with this assessment, I think the book’s organization fits with its topic. The 20s was a decade that showed a true democratization of the celebrity. They’re stories of people who came up from various backgrounds to be well-known commodities; movies, radio, and other elements of mass culture expanded most perceptions on what the world had to offer. This book, in the end, holds as a good in-depth cultural study of the decade.

I’ve been feverishly paging through the chapters in this! I’ve always found the 1920s a fascinating decade but it wasn’t till recently that I took the time to seriously figure out why. I mean, I’m familiar with jazz and Prohibition but going beyond those signifiers.

In Music:

I’ve been really into music from the 1920s. Another thing that I’ve been really into is electro-swing so every time I find a nice, wholesome mix of the two, I can’t stop listening to it! The proleteR song has actually worked as the background music for one of my latest writing projects.

In Media:

You Must Remember This Podcast

Case File Podcast

The Weekly Obsession: “Moon of Alabama”

This Week’s Weekly Obsession is the song “Moon of Alabama”

otherwise known as the “Alabama Song,” “Moon over Alabama,” and “Whisky Bar.”

Back in college while searching for something exciting to take outside of my English and History studies, I decided to take a Musicology course that went over the history of musicals. I was always entertained by movie musicals. I was a religious Disnerd and I’ve found people dancing and breaking out in song magical (contrary to the rest of my immediate family).

But the musicology course seriously turned me on to stage musicals–the years of work and planning that goes into them and how they’ve evolved over the years.  I got somewhat familiar with the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill throughout most of 1920-1930 Germany. We particularly talked about their work with The Threepenny Opera and how their socialist leanings forced them into exile when the Nazis came into power.

“Moon of Alabama” is another one of their songs which featured in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930). But like most things I love, it was only through a rather roundabout way that I learned so.

I first got turned on to the song by obsessively listening to the backlog of the You Must Remember This Podcast (another obsession!)  which used The Door’s version of it as an outro. I looked into it and soon found myself in the Youtube rabbit hole of cover versions that range from David Bowie to Marianne Faithfull. Around the same time, I found myself revisiting the Brecht/Weill’s songs and fell in love with the voice of Lotte Lenya.

I’ll include The Doors version of it as well below since that was the one I originally fell in love with.