May 10, 1940. King George VI has summoned Winston Churchill to appear at Buckingham Palace, asking him to assume the prime ministry, vacated the day before by Neville Chamberlain. Great Britain and its ally, France, had declared war on Germany in September 1939, several days after its invasion of Poland nine months earlier. Within days, Churchill is told that the French armed forces, together with the British Expeditionary Force, will not be able to withstand the onslaught of the German military. Within weeks, the allied forces are driven to the sea, and the famous Dunkirk evacuation takes place.
Larson, using personal diaries, government archival documents, and communications between Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, weaves a story of the next eleven months. We are told the story of an inspirational leader, his family members, and those whom he called on to do the seemingly impossible. The book follows the prime minister, day after day, from May 1940 until May 1941. We learn of his many eccentricities, his powerful oratory, his overwhelming personal debts, and his petulance when he learns that his favorite honey has been used to sweeten a batch of rhubarb. It provides an intimate look at his family and his ever-supportive wife Clementine, who gives him direction when she feels he needs it. She gives General Charles de Gaulle a tongue-lashing in perfect French when she thinks he needs it. We meet Mary, their teenage daughter, who seems to grow from a party-loving kid into a serious adult in the span of a year. We meet Randolph, the Churchills’s twenty-nine-year-old wastrel, drunken, gambler of a son, even though we wish we hadn’t.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and I think you might, too.
Note: The Splendid and the Vile is located in the World War II section on the second floor of the Library.
Ta-Nehisi Coates himself has said that James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” is the best essay he ever read. Originally published in 1963, find this essay in a collection of Baldwin’s work in the ESSAYS AND COLUMNS section on the library’s upper level.
Watch for more important book suggestions coming to this space in July and August.
wondered? Nope. Just her west coast double, Bernadette, a sulky Seattle housewife with a mysterious past who goes AWOL on the eve of a family jaunt to Antarctica. That leaves her over-achieving teenage daughter, Bee, and her mostly-clueless Microsoft exec hubby, Elgie, to puzzle out where she’d gone.
Bee assembles the bread crumb trail of her Mom’s long-buried life and lays it out in a series of hilarious vignettes and documentary ephemera. The vignettes involve busybody moms from Bee’s second-tier prep school—unfortunately located next to an odiferous seafood warehouse—whose efforts to bust into the top tier of Seattle schools are frustrated by gardening disasters, rampant neuroses, automotive envy, and gossip. Ah, and did I mention a mudslide? Well, it is Seattle in the rainy season. Imagine.
Meanwhile, Bee is being set up for a transfer to Choate, the back-east prep school at which Mom flourished before matriculating at Princeton. Despite the family’s bottomless bank accounts and offshore personal assistant (India) who handles the money, mom Bernadette ignores the leaky roof of their hilltop manse and retreats to the Petit Trianon, her backyard camper.
After Bernadette vanishes, it’s Bee who pieces together the shattered fragments of these chaotic lives from a metaphorical dustbin of emails, school memos, emergency room bills, Artforum magazine, interviews, maps, hotel tabs, psychiatric evaluations, police and FBI reports. Laid out more or less chronologically, this deadpan detritus is hilarious. Kinda like life. Only more so.
Besides its engaging characters and unusual format, Bernadette delivers a devastating satire of Seattle and Microsoft, some laugh-out-loud passages about tech lingo and psychotherapy, and smart jabs at real architects, notably postmodernist Michael Graves and Getty Center designer Richard Meier.
Don’t just take my word for it, even the experts offer these cryptic raves:
with the first chapter. Don’t give up. The Coffman Library owns a copy.
And if you haven’t read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy the Coffman Library owns all three volumes including the recently published The Mirror and the Light. The first two were award winners. Refuse to let 600-700-page volumes about Tudor England intimidate you.
Need help in locating/borrowing/returning copies of these or any other Coffman books? Get in touch with Katie Weiblen or Carol Van Why.
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