April was frustrating due to a lack of my top “to read” books not being available from my library. So, some of these were a little different for me both good and bad.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow – How can I have read Grant and Hamilton and *not* read Chernow’s other notable biography? So, here we go with Washington. I was surprised and delighted about how much I already knew of the Revolutionary War, his presidency, and personal relationships. That’s what a deep dive into Hamilton did for me, I guess. Of course it was well written and incredibly researched –it’s Chernow! Good, thorough and is a really long history lesson. Not Chernow’s most compelling story but I’d venture to say that’s due to the subject matter and my exhaustion of the same, since I found Grant RIVETING. Anyway. I read it. It’s good.
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit – This one is super short and a little outdated due to the political news cycle being on jacked up on meth right now. I grabbed it because I’m a fan of her writing and she updated it with a new foreword. Plus, there was nothing else at the library. She wrote it post-Bush, Jr.’s election in 2004 as a way to encourage hope. Yikes. Past-Solnit has no clue what’s in store. Truthfully, I skimmed it so quickly because I’m just too angry and concerned about the direction of things in our country and kept thinking how quaint the issues of the early aughts seem in comparison. I’d mumble to myself, “Buckle up, buttercup.” That said, there are lots of quotable bits of wisdom about hope (click here to read through them on GoodReads.com. One of my favorites: “Inside the word “emergency” is “emerge”; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” Overall, it did inspire me to hang in there & keep fighting the good fight.
Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto – It’s a riveting tale that reads like a movie. Gripping drama filled with rich details. If you’re interested in NYC, colonial history, or the Dutch, it’s a must read. This is a 2nd reading for me. The first was back in July 2018 right after I discovered my Dutch roots. My maternal great grandmother Ola Mae Newkirk is descended from the original van Nieuwkirks of Midwout (n/k/a Flatbush, Brooklyn) and Wiltwyck (n/k/a Kingston, NY). Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn? Named after my 8th great grandfather. Bam! Since then, I’ve discovered my 9th great grandparents were kind of a big deal in the New Netherland colony of Wiltwyck and are all over the history books and memorialized in the Old Dutch Church in Kingston. I’ve learned so much more in the last year so thought it worthwhile to go back and read again with my new knowledge.
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto – I’m still on my history kick and am going all in on learning about my Dutch ancestral roots. Shorto is a terrific writer and historian and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading about a city I’ve never even visited, but I so enjoyed his book Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America that I read it twice. Did you know Amsterdam had the first stock exchange? I didn’t! I learned quite a bit about its history, wars, artists (Vermeer and Rembrandt, of course), tolerance and progressive views that clearly helped shape New York City before the English took over.
On a side note re: Shorto: I’m going to take a class of his to focus my attention on writing historical non-fiction to see if I have any lasting interest or talents there. I’ve got some major ADD when it comes to my projects outside of QED and hope a class might keep me on track. And, if I lose interest in the class or struggle with the research, then I can be assured that my fascination with my Dutch ancestry will be nothing more than a hobby. But right now, I’m having trouble shaking loose the niggling thoughts of “What if this story is worth telling and *I* don’t get to be the one to tell it?”
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer – I feel terrible adding books that I don’t enjoy let alone don’t finish. But I did spend quite a bit of time *trying* to get into this one and want to bookmark it for the future in case time and circumstances allow me to try it again. It sounded fascinating regarding heredity and genetics and family stuff but so much of the early chapters was spent on the extraordinary minutia of chromosomes and genomes and tinkering with sheep to create merino wool and zzz zzz sheep zzz zzz. There’s no doubt there is an audience for this book. The praise is effusive. Have any of you read it? If so, should I take another stab?
On to May where my booklist will hopefully be less redundant.