Tag Archives: wednesdays@west

Wednesdays @ West: Ten Ways to Explore American Treasures

If you aren’t a regular West Branch patron, you may be wondering where Wednesdays @ West has been over the past couple of months.  We’re on a bit of a hiatus because I, the author of these fabulous bi-weekly blog posts, have temporarily moved to the Main Library to serve as Interim Assistant Director until the library’s new permanent Director is hired.  But the gracious and wonderful staff member who oversees our blog is allowing me to still pop in occasionally when the spirit moves me.  So today, I bring to you a special Ten Ways to Explore a Book that focuses on American Treasures by Stephen Puleo.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a bit of a history and political geek, so it’s unsurprising that I would be a fan of this book.  American Treasures charts the creation and little-known (but thrilling) journeys of America’s most priceless documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.   Until reading American Treasures, I, like most people, was  unaware of all of the intriguing history behind our nation’s founding documents and the great lengths that Americans in times past have gone through to protect and defend them during times of national danger.  If you enjoy American Treasures as much as I did, I invite you to extend your reading experience in the following ways:

  1.  Come meet Stephen Puleo at the West Branch next Thursday, May 18th at 7pm.   Mr. Puleo will discuss American Treasures, answer questions and sign his books.  We’ll have his books for sale from Wicked Good Books in Salem.  If you plan to come, please let us know by signing up at our events calendar.
  2. In preparation for hearing Mr. Puleo speak or if you can’t attend, listen to his radio interview with WBUR about American Treasures.3. Read America’s founding documents.  It’s pretty much impossible to read American Treasures and not come away with a renewed understanding and appreciation for the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other documents that helped create or sustain the United States.  With all your newfound knowledge, you’ll want to explore, for the first or the tenth time, the actual text of these amazing pieces of history.  The National Archives website allows you to look at images of the originals and transcripts.

4.  American Treasures does a great job explaining the principles that guide the American Republic in the context of the Constitutional Convention debates.  To learn more about how these ideals influence the workings of democracy now and throughout the country’s history, watch one or more of the videos produced by the Bill of Rights Institute on the Constitutional Principles.

James Wilson. Image from the Constitution Center.

5. The  National Constitution Center is about to debut an exhibit which shares both a title and a subject with Stephen Puleo’s book.  If you’re going to be in the Pennsylvania area this summer, it sounds like the exhibit alone is worth a side trip.  If not, you can listen to a podcast about the roll that Pennsylvania’s native son, James Wilson, played in writing the Constitution.  Starting tomorrow, you can also explore the entire American Treasures exhibit interactively from the comfort of your home or library.

6.  FDR’s Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, played a crucial role in ensuring that America’s treasures were safely hidden and protected during the Second World War.  The details Puleo provides about MacLeish show what an interesting individual he was.  As it happens, our current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, is a similarly cool American, who is worth reading about and perhaps, following on Twitter.

7. Speaking of the Library of Congress, it happens to be a real trove of American treasures.  If you’re heading to D.C., make sure the LOC is on your itinerary, but make sure you also check out the Library of Congress website so you can marvel at all that’s available.

8.  A trip to Pennsylvania or D.C. is not the only way to immerse yourself in the history of our founding era.  If you’d like a reminder of the role that Massachusetts played in the birth of the United States, take a stroll down the Freedom Trail on a nice day this spring.

9.  American Treasures recounts the fascinating battle over the upper house of Congress that took place during the Constitutional Convention.  None other than George Washington described the proper role of the United States Senate this way: “We pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”  The Senate is, in fact, an unusual legislative body with its own culture and set of norms.  To learn more about the Senate, take a trip over to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston where you can assume the role of a Senator during your trip and debate legislation in a manner that would make Washington, Madison, and Franklin proud.

10.  Once you’ve soaked up your fill of information about the most important documents in the United State, you can further extend your fascinating historic knowledge by reading some of Stephen Puleo’s other narrative nonfiction: The Caning, Dark Tide,  A City So Grand, The Boston Italians and Due to Enemy Action.


Wednesdays @ West: Cooking up some hygge

If the weather of the last week hasn’t gotten you thinking about hygge, then nothing will!  Did you spend any time during the last snowstorms, cozied up on your couch with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, a good book and your loved ones?  Did you binge watch your favorite TV shows?  Did you go out and play in the snow?  If so, congratulate yourself for your hyggelige efforts.

There’s another thing I bet many of our dear readers did to weather the storms: cook.  And if hygge points exist (they don’t), then cooking and baking would earn you lots of bonus points.  Personally, I made some rather tasty chocolate chip, oatmeal bars that were gobbled up rather quickly.


Hyggelige foods, you see, tend to not be exactly diet friendly.   They are most likely what we would refer to as “comfort food.”  Also very hyggelige is slow food.  Fast food would probably not qualify.  Turning once more to The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, we will see that he has considerately included some recipes for a few Danish favorites guaranteed to help you get your hygge on.  If you want your hygge cooking to be as authentically Danish as possible, his recipes sound like a yummy place to start.  Skibberlabskovs or skipper stew, braised pork cheeks in dark beer with potato-celeriac mash, boller (Danish meatballs in curry), Glogg (mulled wine) and Snobrod (twist bread) can give you a feel for the type of dishes Danes whip up on cold, snowy days.

If you’re looking for even more comfort food (personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much comfort food) or you’d like to stick with some good ole’ American cuisine, the cookbook section at the library is a bottomless well of inspiration.  Here are a few to check out.

Mario Batali big American cookbook : 250 favorite recipes from across the USA.  With words like state fairs, rotary clubs, cobbler, and BBQ in the book description, it’s pretty easy to tell that this one could quickly become a go-to cookbook for comfort food.

Purely pumpkin : more than 100 wholesome recipes to share, savor, and warm your kitchen by Allison Day.  Call it my New England bias, but to me anything pumpkin screams “comfort food.”  Allison Day’s cookbook can fulfill all your cravings for pumpkin with beverages, soups, stews, side dishes, entrees and desserts.

How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman.  Bread and desserts are pretty much the ultimate in hygge cooking in my opinion.  And even though I’m not Danish, you may be happy to hear that Meik Wiking agrees with me: “confectionery, cake and pastries are hyggelige.”  Which means that Mark Bittman, who compiles cookbooks so large that it would take to a lifetime to try out every recipe, is pretty much the King of Hygge.

Cook it In Cast Iron.  According to Cook’s Country magazine, 85% of us own a cast iron skillet.  Who knew?   That means many, many of us could right now be whipping up their recipes for cornbread, roasts, apple pie, cinnamon swirl bread.  The only question is why aren’t we?

Of course, your hyggelig culinary attempts will need to be paired with equally delicious and comforting beverages.  For these needs, I would suggest the following books:

Tea: history, terroirs, varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, François Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais and Hugo Américi.  This book is a tea lover’s dream.  I purchased it for the West Branch’s collection and I also have a copy at home.  Everything you ever needed or wanted to know about the different types of tea, where they are grown, their history, varieties and health benefits.

The World’s Best Drinks: where to find them and how to make them by Victoria Moore.  If you’d like a bit of global flair with your comforting drinks, this is the book for you.  Containing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, the recipes in this Lonely Planet guide will have you whipping up Chilean Terremoto, Italian Negroni, Canadian Caesars, Turkish Aryran, Indian Mango lassi and old fashioned American egg creams.

With a number of weeks left in the winter (I’m wise enough not to speculate how many), you may want to plan ahead so you’re not caught off guard without the perfect hyggelige recipes to get you through another Nor’easter.  A quick trip to the cookbook section at the PIL should be perfect to get you cooking, baking and concocting.

Wednesdays @ West: DIY Hygge

Have you ever gotten so excited to see a new book you’ve been dying to get your hands on that you forget to watch where you are going and walk into a pole?  No?  Ok, well then we’ll assume that’s just me.

In case you’re curious, the book I was recently so distracted by is The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.  To keep up the appearance of professionalism, we’ll pretend the only reason I was so eager to see the book was so that I could share the information it contains with you, our faithful blog readers.  And indeed, it has been a great help as I plan the remaining posts in the Hygge Library Style series.  This little hygge treasure trove was written by Meik Wiking, a Dane and the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (how’s that for a job?) in Copenhagen.  Consistent with his professional goal of sharing the secrets of happiness with the world, Wiking’s book is a how-to-guide for those of us who have the misfortune of living outside of the world happiness headquarters.  The Little Book of Hygge contains definitions, a hygge dictionary, plenty of lists, tips and recipes to help you get started.

I was pleased to see that I was right on target when I urged our readers to write letters when they are in hyggehjornet (in the mood for hygge).  Both writing and reading letters earn a spot in Wiking’s “Hygge Emergency Kit.”  Also on that list are your favorite tea, your favorite book, your favorite TV series and some great music.    And naturally, the library is here to help you discover just the right book, TV, music and tea selections for your personalized kit.  If you’re puzzled as to how the library will help you discover your favorite tea, you must have missed the West Branch’s Literatea program.  No worries, though, there’s another one next week.

One thing that does give me pause in regards to the the hygge hype, which I have clearly enthusiastically embraced, is the criticism that hygge has really just been appropriated by non-Danish countries to sell people things they don’t really need.  A British writer has leveled that charge and others in this article, which I offer as a way in order to balance my personal hygge bias.

The consumerist charge is one that gives me pause, since the library is definitively not about selling you things.  And the criticism is also not without merit, since many retailers have co-opted hygge in their advertising.  Wiking, however, slaps down the idea that hygge can or should be bought.  He says, “Hygge is about appreciating the simple things in life and can be achieved on a shoestring budget.”   In fact, he goes on to assert that, “The more money and prestige is associated with something, the less hyggeligt [hygge-like] it becomes.  The simple and more primitive an activity is, the more hyggeligt it is.”  Whew.  That’s a relief.

In that spirit, I have decided to spend the rest of this post encouraging you to discover how hyggeligt it can be to discover your DIY side.  Those who know me might find it amusing that I am extolling you to get crafty, since that is not known to be one of my strengths.  But there is something undeniably cozy about certain crafty past times.  As a native Dane, Wiking agrees with me:  “knitting is extremely hygge.  It is a sign of ‘everything is safe’- it has a certain grandma vibe to it- and even the sound of knitting is hygge.  Knitting also brings calmness to the situation and atmosphere.”  If you, like many of us, could use a little extra calm, perhaps knitting will be your preferred way to experience hygge this winter.  Thanks to the passion of one of our former staff members, the West Branch has a rather good collection of books on both knitting and crocheting.  If you’re new to knitting, it has always seemed to me that a good place to start would be with Arm Knitting.  A recent book about this topic has been written by Amanda Bassetti.

If knitting doesn’t warm your heart,  you might try candlemaking.  In fact,  surveys show that candles are one of the items that Danes most associate with hygge.  And according to Wiking, Danes consume more candles per capita than any other country on earth.  So candlemaking must get very high hygge points.  Candlemaking for the First Time by Vanessa-Ann seems like a great place to get you started.

If I were to pick a hyggeligt crafty hobby, it would be quilting.  I have long harbored a desire to learn to quilt.  I have made one quilt in the Introduction to Quilting class that it regularly offered in the Creativity Lab.  If you are a novice quilter, I highly recommend this class.  The last session of the current class is tonight, but if you keep an eye on the Creativity Lab calendar, I’m sure it will be offered again soon.  In the meantime, you could check out Quilting for the Absolute Beginner by Cheryl Owen, which can get you started on some simple quilting

My one attempt at quilting, made with much help from a patient and talented library instructor.

I’ll freely admit that my attraction to quilting probably largely stems from a number of fictional portrayals of quilters and quilting that I have enjoyed.   In my humble opinion, these novels would be a great way to add even more hygge to your life, so I offer them as the final book suggestions from the West Branch this week:

Elm Creek quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini.  The ladies of Elm
Creek seem to know a thing or two about hygge.  Not only do they make lovely, warm quilts perfect for snuggling into while you read, drink hot beverages and bask in candlelight, but they create their beautiful blankets together, which is a very Danish thing to do.  The audio book version of these novels win my personal stamp of approval, which would allow you lovers of books and crafts to enjoy both your hobbies at once.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is engaging historical fiction that features a quilter with a social conscience.  Honor is a Quaker and a new arrival to America.  She is a talented quilter, who finds herself repeatedly drawn into the work of those smuggling slaves to freedom, despite the dangers and reservations of her new family members.  Similarly, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, draws in themes of quilting and slavery.  Quilting does not play a central role in Kidd’s fictionalization of the life of one of the Grimke sisters, a Southern plantation daughter turned abolitionist.  But the story quilt created by one of other main characters, a slave on the Grimke plantation, is one of the images of the book that has stuck with me ever since I read it.  And again, I can highly recommend the audio book versions of both The Last Runaway and The Invention of Wings.

Whether you choose to try to find a sense of coziness and contentment in the coming weeks through making crafts or just reading about those who do, I will leave you now with the common Danish farewell, “Have hygge!”


Wednesdays @ West: Happy Winnie-the-Pooh Day


I usually have a plan for my Wednesdays @ West posts, but often times something intervenes that convinces me that it’s important to change that plan.  For example, last month one of my days to post coincided with Pearl Harbor Day.  Free For All couldn’t ignore such a historic day, so I scrapped my original post idea and wrote about that.  Today, I planned to continue the series on hygge and write about some cozy winter crafts.  But when Facebook informed me this morning that it is National Winnie-the-Pooh Day, I knew another change was in order.

January 18th is the annual day set aside to honor our favorite wise bear and his creator,  A.A. Milne.  Today is Milne’s birthday and so a fitting day to celebrate the bear with a small brain that he bequeathed the world.  If you, like me, consider this an occasion worth marking, I offer you the following books to help you honor Pooh.

winniethepoohThe Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.  If you’d like to start your celebration with the author’s original works, I would recommend this volume.  It has lovely illustrated versions of Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and two of Milne’s collections of poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six.  There are, of course, many retellings, adaptations and spin-offs available that feature Pooh and his friends, but I’m a bit of a purist, so I’d urge you to stick to the originals.

findingwinnieFinding Winnie: the true story of the world’s most famous bear by Lindsay Mattick.  I don’t know about you, but I love to discover the stories that inspired my favorite works of literature, particularly children’s literature.  And Winnie-the-Pooh has a back story that is as charming as Milne’s tales.  This picture book was written by the granddaughter of the owner of the real Winnie.  To hear the author discuss this book and share a few facts about the story, watch this video:


taoofpooh Benjamin Hoff is the author of my two favorite books about Winnie-the-Pooh.  The first is The Tao of Pooh. If you are under the (very mistaken) impression that Pooh is only a story for children, this book will set you straight.  Hoff takes the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and shows how Winnie-the-Pooh is no ordinary children’s book character, but is, in fact, a living example of wisdom laid out by Lao-tzu in his classic work, The Tao Te Ching.  But never fear, this is no dry work of philosophy.  Hoff’s writing style, like Milne’s, never takes itself too seriously and yet it offers wonderful insight into Taoism, Pooh and a Way of living that advocates a return to balance.

teofpigletEvery true Winnie-the-Pooh fan has a favorite character.  For me, it’s Piglet.  Benjamin Hoff has also seen something special in Pooh’s best friend, for he wrote a follow-up to The Tao of Pooh entirely devoted to this creature, who may be small in statue, but not in heart. Actually, as Hoff contends in The Te of Pigletwhile Pooh may be the epitome of the overall Way, it is Piglet who best illustrates a foundational Taoist principle, the Way of the Small.  In a world where we glamorize the Big and Important, it never hurts to be reminded of the power  and honor of the Small.

naturalworldofwinniethepoohOne of the lovely things about the original Winnie-the-Pooh tales is how the Hundred Acre Woods truly comes to life.  It is so real a place that it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that Milne was inspired by a real place: Ashdown Forest.  If you are more a naturalist than a philosopher, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto will be the perfect read for you.  Aalto not only traces how Milne was inspired by Ashdown Forest, but she also provides an in-depth guide to the flora and fauna of this lovely English destination.

Image from ashdownforest.com
Image from ashdownforest.com

theenchantedplacesPooh is not the only character of Milne’s who was inspired by real life.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful Christopher Robin, who Milne based on his own son, Christopher.   I’ve always imagined that being the child of a famous children’s author would ensure a truly magical child (imagine the bedtime stories!), but, of course, the truth is more complicated.  Christopher Milne candidly shared his memories of life with his famous father in his autobiography The Enchanted Places.  This child who is forever immortalized in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner lived such an intriguing life, he even inspired author Douglas Lain to further fictionalize his childhood in the novel, Billy Moon.

A.A. Milne with his son Christopher and Pooh Bear, in 1926. Photo by Howard Coster.

While I may find it hard to believe, there may be a few of you out there who do not understand the inherent appeal of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Tigger and Kanga.  For those of you, I offer this thought.  I believe that much of our attachment to book characters from our childhood stems from the fact that while this time in our life can and should be magical and memorable, it can also be lonely at times.  But for a young reader, we have certain companions who travel along with us on our journey.  For many of us, one of those faithful and dear companions was and is Winnie-the-Pooh.

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,

There’s always Pooh and Me.

Whatever I do, he wants to do,

“Where are you going today?” says Pooh:

“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.

Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.

“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.

-“Us Two” by A.A. Milne


Wednesdays @ West: Write Your Way to Hygge


Perhaps I’m guilty of stretching the concept of hygge too far, but I personally think that writing can be a perfect cozy winter activity.  If writing warms your heart or penning a book has always been on your bucket list, here are my three suggestions as to how to incorporate more of it into your life in 2017.

  • Write your memoir.  Long, cold winter days and nights are a great yourlifeisabooktime to reminisce.  Get those memories down on the page.  Even if you never publish it, future generations will enjoy reading about your experiences.  If you need a little guidance, check out Your Life is a Book: how to craft and publish your memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann.

sanepersonsguidetoselfpublishingOnce you’ve finished your memoir or novel, you’ll want to get your lovely book into the hands of readers, so you’ll need a plan to publish your work.  You can go the traditional route and try to get your work picked up by a mainstream publisher.  For tips on this option, check out the classic Writers’ Market.  More and more authors, however, are going a new route and self-publishing their books.  For guidance on the DIY path to publication, the West Branch has you covered.  Tomorrow night (Thursday, January 5th) at 7pm, we’ll have self-published author Diane Mulligan here to tell you everything you need to know about the self-publishing process, from preparing your manuscript to marketing your book.  There’s still space in the workshop, so make sure you sign up and join us!

Finally, for those of you who don’t daydream about being an author, I have on final suggestion:

  • Write letters.  Hygge includes a strong emphasis on togetherness. snailmail  But let’s face it, writing (like reading) can often be a solitary past time.  Not so with letter writing.  Sometimes we just can’t be with the ones we love.  Sure, there is e-mail, texting, Facebook and Skyping for virtual togetherness, but to me that lacks a certain coziness.  And really, what brightens up a day more than opening your mailbox to discover a letter from a loved one, instead of just bills or requests for donations?  For an extra-special sense of community, try starting your own version of an Amish circle letter.  And take the time to make your letter a real work of art by creating your own stationary, decorating your envelope and adding other handmade touches before giving it to your mail carrier.  I highly recommend Snail Mail by Michelle Mackintosh for endless inspiration in this department.

So grab that pen, dust off your typewriter or cozy up to your keyboard and get to work.  And may hygge follow!




Wednesdays @ West: Winter, Happiness and Hygge


Fellow readers, today is the first day of winter.  If you are a hardy New Englander who relishes in the joys of winter sports, beautiful snow-covered landscapes and the feeling of superiority that comes from knowing you’re tougher than your friends and compatriots who live in warmer climates, I wish you all the joys of your favorite season.  If you, like me, embrace winter somewhat less enthusiastically, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that the Winter Solstice at least marks the return of the light.  That’s what I try to hang my knit hat and mittens on this time of year.

I am one of those people who grumbles, “why do we live here?” when I scrape two inches of ice off my car and I regularly daydream about moving someplace where the sun shines and (sane) people wear flip flops in January.  I have always assumed that warm weather = happiness.  It has long puzzled me, then, to see the studies that show that the happiest countries on earth also tend to be some of the coldest.  Norway, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, Denmark?  What do they know that I don’t?

geographyofblissHaving a pretty high standard of living, a strong social safety net, a good education system and a peaceful country certainly aren’t going to hurt people’s chances at finding happiness.  But is there more to it than that? Reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner gave me some additional clues.  In traveling to many of these countries Weiner learns that in Switzerland, people appreciate that their country is well regulated, the trains run on time and everyone follows the rules.  Hmm… sounds ok, but I’m not sure that would be my personal recipe for happiness.  In Iceland, people drink a lot, embrace failure, publish
more books per capita than any other country and have a charming tradition of an annual “Christmas book flood.” or Jolabokaflod.   Now, that sounds more like it.


Still discovering the secret sauce to finding happiness when it’s cold yearoflivingdanishlyoutside continues to intrigue me, so I was eager to read The Year of Living Danishly: uncovering the secrets of the world’s happiest country by Helen Russell.  While I can’t give the book an unqualified recommendation because the writing style was not without issues and I honestly found the author a bit self-absorbed and irritating at times, it did give me a few more pastry crumbs to follow in terms of how to find inner warmth during the months of cold, snow and darkness.  Many of us would perhaps rather not experiment with the idea that high taxes, a certain amount of (mild) violence and a rigid insistence on following the rules (there that is again) is the
way to find happiness.  So instead, I’d rather focus on the fact that Denmark, being the home of the Lego company, embraces less work and more play.  Like the author, I’m also willing to test the theory that their famous Danish pastries are a key part of their general feeling of well being.  What intrigued me most, however, was the Danish concept of hygge.

If you’ve never heard of hygge, you’re not alone.  But the word is catching on.  In fact, it was a finalist for the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year.  It ultimately lost to the term post-truth, which is, in my opinion, a very un-hygge concept.  But this week, The New Yorker published an article all about this trending Danish term.  Hygge (hoo-ga) has no direct English translation.  In fact one Danish translator ToveMaren Stakkestad has said, “Hygge was never meant to be translated.  It was meant to be felt.”  Still, this BBC article also does a fairly decent job of explaining the concept to us outsiders.  While obviously difficult to boil down to its essence, hygge appears to embrace the concept of creating coziness and togetherness during an interminable winter.  To me, a distinctly un-Danish person, it seems to involve lots of family and community bonding, candles, warm sweaters and socks, tea in china cups, books and comfort food.  At the risk of sounding like Maria von Trapp, these are a few of my favorite things, so I’m willing to give this hygge thing a shot.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Ok, Melissa, you don’t like winter.  You want an excuse to eat pastry, drink tea, wear sweaters and read books.  Fine.  But what does this have to do with the library?”  And that would be a perfectly legitimate question, since this, after all, is the library blog.  But I’m convinced that hygge and libraries do go together.  So this post is the first of a series I am going to offer you this winter on how the library can help you find hygge.  Maybe it will help you enjoy winter a bit more.  Maybe not.  But it’s worth a shot.

So more on hygge to come.  But for now I leave you this thought, which was borrowed from another library and seems to me to be the best place to start finding your winter joy:



Wednesdays @ West: A War Which Will Live in Infamy

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which officially spurred the entry of the United States into World War II.  The following day, President Roosevelt addressed Congress and famously dubbed December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” (here’s a transcript and audio recording of FDR’s full speech).


Seven and a half decades later, few survivors of this historic event are still here to tell their tales, so a concentrated effort is being made to record their stories.  The West Branch’s history book group reads a great deal about World War II and each time we discuss another great book that captures one facet or another of the war, we comment that there is no end to the stories that exist about this fascinating and horrifying era in human history.  So today on this somber occasion, I offer reading suggestions from the library’s new nonfiction section that tell a few more of the stories that focus on the war in the Pacific.

countdowntopearlharborFirst, about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there’s Countdown to Pearl Harbor by Steve Twomey.  Twomey is a Pultizer Prize winning journalist.  His book examines the series of missteps and mistakes that led to the American intelligence community’s failure to recognize the Japanese’s plan to attack the naval base.  Also published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the attack is Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson.  pearlharborfrominfamytogreatnessNelson focuses on the how and why of the attack, as well as sharing the stories of a number of survivors.

Bill O’Reilly’s history books have, without killingtherisingsunexception, always landed him on the bestseller list.  His latest Killing the Rising Sun focuses on the Pacific theater of the war and covers the battles between MacArthur’s forces and the Japanese military, the development of the nuclear bomb and Truman’s decision to deploy it.

douglasmacarthurSpeaking of MacArthur, the author of Gandhi and Churchill, Arthur Herman’s newest work is Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior.  MacArthur is, of course, a much disputed character in American history.  Herman is overall an admirer of MacArthur and this biography takes a look at some of the many lingering myths about the general and his role in World War II and Korea.

The legacy of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor touches many infamyaspects of American history, including a grim episode in our country’s history: the internment of Japanese Americans.  Historian Richard Reeves wrote Infamy: the shocking story of the Japanese American internment in World War II  which covers the historical and political decision making process that led to the internment policy, the daily life in the camps and the stories of some Americans who vehemently opposed the imprisonment of Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent.  If this is area you wish to learn more about, you may also want to check out today’s NPR interview with a woman that was in one of this prison camps.

For those of you who would rather read history that has a little bit of eveofahundredmidnightsreal-life romance and adventure to it, you could try Eve of a Hundred Midnights by Bill Lascher.  This fast paced tale of two married journalists details their harrowing experiences trying to cover the Pacific theater after the fall of Manila.

If you are a fan of history reading, keep an eye out for upcoming Wednesdays @ West posts.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be offering a list of the best books our book group  explored in 2016 and (drum roll) an announcement of a whole year of history reading for 2017.