29 November, 2011

Books I Cast Aside: Erik Larson And David King

I have read far too many WW2 books. I know about Hitler's dog, Hitler's niece, Churchill's second cousin twice removed and the American position on all of it. I've read things I can never remove from my brain (blocked the title out, white cover, Ukraine, lost village memoir, highly recommended except for ever sleeping again) and things that made me roll my eyes. I get obsessive about certain time periods and WW2 appears to be one. It probably has something to do with the epic death toll on all sides of my family. Anyway. I'm a sucker for a WW2 book. I'm also a sucker for books that contrast different realities. Erik Larson set the benchmark for this style of non-fiction with The Devil In The White City. Now I wish he hadn't.

Too many books since then seem to be walking the same ground in a different field. I currently have a ten book nonfiction backlog due to the bottleneck created by two such books. Despite both of them dealing with WW2, I am moving on. They've kept me from other books for far too long. David King's Death In The City of Light would be an exceptional book if he edited half of it out. It's daily life in occupied France, it's a serial killer preying on desperate Jewish refugees, it's a police procedural, it's an exhaustive look at an investigation. Unfortunately it's also about Camus, Sartre, Picasso and their crowd. It's just too much. Our party people add nothing to the narrative and it's exhaustive detail is not well served by the breaks the reader takes to discover Simone was moody. I want to finish this book so much that I just started skipping all the sections with the artists. It was still overloaded. King has a fantastic book in here, but it's not the one that went to press. People with more patience for info dumps and backtracking expository will adore it. I'm shelving it for that rainy day where excessive ruminations appeal.

The other log in my book jam is Erik Larson himself. A look at the society and diplomacy around pre Pearl Harbor Germany? Well hell yea! Except it's boring. Don't get the wrong, the political stuff is interesting, the man on the street stuff is interesting, but the subtext of Martha Dodd is troubling. Every attempt is made to portray her fairly and sympathetically. Which is sort of a problem. She would be all over TMZ if she were alive today. A woman who parties with the German government, considers dating Hitler and goes on to end her days as an expatriate? Wanted in America for spying on behalf of the Soviets, not wanted by the Soviets, she let her high ideals (such as they were) lead her to a fairly unpleasant life. Judgement was never Martha's strong suit be it politics or men. If I had approached this book as a look at Martha, perhaps I would enjoy it more. If I hadn't tried to read it at the same time as Death In The City of Light I might be raving about it now It too is being shelved for a rainy day where I feel more tolerant of her foibles, less annoyed at her willful indulgences. After all, this is probably seconds away from becoming a Tom Hanks film.

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