Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings

Last week Katie from the blog Doing Dewey kicked off Nonfiction November. This week Rennie at What’s Nonfiction has agreed to host. She invites participants to share their favorite book pairings, and takes a pretty inclusive approach. It could be a pairing of nonfiction books with fiction, podcasts, documentaries, movies or even additional works of nonfiction.

In past years I’ve been straight-forward, just pairing up nonfiction books with works of fiction. However, last year I did something new and featured Michael David Lukas’s 2018 novel The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, pairing it with a half-dozen books about the ancient Cairo Geniza and Egypt’s Jewish community. This year I thought I’d return to my old ways. I’ll be looking back at what I read in 2022, both nonfiction and fiction and select 15 books. For every work of nonfiction I’ll suggest a piece of fiction and visa versa.

Considering my reading tastes it’s no surprise I’ve included lots of history and international politics kind of stuff. For the first time doing these pairings I’ve featured books by two siblings (Masha and Keith Gessen), a pair of books by the same author (Andrey Kurkov) and two works of nonfiction by the same author (Adam Hochschild). In other firsts, close to half were translated into English from another language, with three quarters of these books written by either immigrants, expats, refugees or children of immigrants. I hope you enjoyed my post and I look forward to reading all the others from Nonfiction November.

20 Books of Summer: Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries

Late one Sunday morning at the public library, a year or so before COVID hit I spotted a copy of Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. Standing upright with its cover prominently displayed to all, I sensed it was some librarian’s official or unofficial recommendation. Knowing little about the Frankfort School, I had some vague recollection of its influence on mid-20th century leftist thought. So I made a mental note to someday read Jeffries’s book only later to forget.
Fast forward to earlier this summer, when, after telling one of my professor buddies who’s deep into the Frankfort School about the book he ran out and bought a copy. The next thing I knew he’d read the first two chapters and invited me to discuss Grand Hotel Abyss with him over wine at a local winery. Accepting his kind invitation I borrowed a Kindle edition of Jeffries’s 2016 book through Overdrive and went to work reading.

In the early 1920s a group of German Jewish intellectuals of the Marxist persuasion found themselves in a bit of a quandary. Within their ranks it had been a tenet of faith that when the time came for the working class to finally revolt against their capitalist masters it would begin in Germany. Lo and behold, much to their surprise when the revolution did break out it happened not in Germany, the birthplace of Karl Marx but in Russia. (On top of that, when Lenin and company did seize power it was more like a coup and not a workers’ uprising.) Adding insult to injury, in the following years the nation’s working class began showing its reactionary side, preferring to support conservative politicians and causes. Instead of embracing the communists or even the more moderate socialists many backed the Nazis.

With seed money from a wealthy grain merchant (no pun intended) the group founded an independent research agency in Frankfort to understand why capitalism, at least outside of Russia, survived even in the face of German hyperinflation and worldwide economic depression. Operating outside established academia, the organization’s highly-educated Marxist scholars (influenced as well by Freud, Proust and Weber) began their critique of not just capitalism but society as a whole. At first their influence, even in the rarefied realm of academia was minimal. Unable and unwilling to engage with members of the working class many saw them as nothing more than a high-minded talking club. György Lukács, the great Hungarian Marxist philosopher and historian called them “a hotel on the edge of the abyss”, voyeurs perched upon high watching the world slip into fascism.

Staffed by Jewish Marxists, the institute was firmly in the Nazi’s crosshairs when they seized power in 1933. With the unfortunate exception of Walter Benjamin, (who committed suicide after being denied entry into neutral Spain) members found sanctuary in either Britain or America, with several following their countrymen to Los Angeles. No strangers to academia, many landed positions at universities. During the Second World War several even went to work for the OSS as intelligence analysts thanks to their understanding of German society.

In latter years Frankfort School alumni and their disciples would shift their attention from fascist Europe to the capitalist West. Ironically, some adherents now saw unbridled American consumerism as dehumanizing as Nazism. Others helped inspire a new generation of radicals like Angela Davis, those committed to overthrowing oppression and ushering in a more egalitarian order.

This is a meaty book of considerable depth. True to the book’s subtitle much of it’s a biography of the individual Frankfort School thinkers, in addition to their ideas and the greater political and social contexts from which they sprung forth. Few can deny some of their more arcane criticisms, especially of jazz, movies and consumerism in general come across as downright loopy. But their ideas, or perhaps more importantly their questions have influenced countless individuals over the decades as they labored to understand, and ultimately change the dominant sociopolitical order. Please consider Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School highly recommended.

Library Loot

With a tall stack of library books by my bed I should be content with what I’ve got and not borrow more. Therefore, I didn’t get carried away the other day at the public library and only grabbed two. One of them, Imre Kertész’s semi-autobiographical novel Fatelessness I hope to apply to both Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge. Interestingly enough, both books are by former residents of Hungary. 

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading to encourage bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write-up your post, steal the Library Loot icon and link your post using the Mr. Linky on Sharlene’s blog.  

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

I finished Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II   as well as Adam Hochschild’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. I read both books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Late last week I started David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. So far it’s shaping up to be an excellent book and perfect for the European Reading Challenge. I’ve also resumed reading Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. On Thursday after watching the January 6 Hearings I followed it up with an entertaining and informative episode of the Lincoln Project’s The Breakdown.    

Everything else. Yesterday my professor buddy and I had some great wine as we took in the amazing view at our favorite local winery. The weather at my place has been nice of late so I’ve been reading on my porch.  While I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, in the evenings with my book I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two.

 

 

20 Books of Summer: Rather Die Fighting by Frank Blaichman

Needing something representing Poland for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I happily helped myself to a copy of Frank Blaichman’s 2009 memoir Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II when I came across it during at the public library. I knew a little bit about Poland’s wartime Jewish partisans thanks to Matthew Brzezinski’s excellent 2012 book Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland and figured Rather Die Fighting would present me with a great opportunity to learn more.

Frank Blaichman was 16 years old when Germany invaded his native Poland in 1939. After witnessing the Nazis rounding up his fellow Jews for “resettlement” he fled into the forests and soon joined a band of Jewish partisans. Like so many teens across war-torn Europe he was forced to grow up quickly, electing to fight the Germans and their collaborators. Committed, intelligent, and wise beyond his years it wasn’t long before his commanders made him an officer.

Hard enough Blaichman and his fellow Jewish partisans had to fight the Germans but they also had to contend with a complicated array of rival armed groups, some with hostile intentions. While the Polish AK partisans also fought the Germans they were avidly anti-Semitic, and thus usually impossible to trust. Even worse were the German-allied, anti-Polish Ukrainian militias, as well as assorted Polish fascist groups. Even more cooperative partisan forces like the Polish AL or Russians had their own military and political agendas and weren’t entirely free of anti-Semitism. (It wasn’t uncommon for leaders of such groups to order hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned Jewish fighters to attack advancing German tank columns.)

Eventually, the tide of battle turned , the Red Army drove the Germans from Poland and Blaichman was absorbed into the Soviet-sponsored Polish regular army. However, not long after Germany’s surrender the former partisan and his young wife sought to leave Poland. With virtually his entire extended family dead, anti-Semitism on the rise and the prospects of living under communist rule unappealing Blaichman and his wife made their way westward and eventually settled in America.

Few Jewish fighters survived the Second World War. Fewer still went on to write about their experiences. With that mind, rare memoirs like Rather Die Fighting are a rare commodity and should be treasured.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

 

After putting aside both Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School and Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting I started Adam Hochschild’s 2016 Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. So far it’s been very good.

Listening. At least for one day last week the January 6 Hearings were back at it again. In addition to the many other ongoing political developments this has provided no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. Tuesday I took in the January 6 Hearings.

Everything else. Met my professor buddies for wine yesterday at an area winery. The weather has been nice so I’ve been reading on my porch. All good things. 

 

 

 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Earlier this morning I finished Lea Ypi 2022 memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History. Hopefully, within the next few days I’ll get my review up and posted for that as well as Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic. I’ll be applying both books towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

I also made major progress with Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. I put Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting on hold but I hope to finish it in the next few days. 

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) on hiatus until Tuesday I didn’t do my usual deep dive related podcasts. However, that didn’t deter me from indulging in some of my favorites. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught an episode of Stranger Things. I haven’t seen a movie in a month or two but last Sunday night I took in the thoroughly entertaining film Everything Everywhere All at Once. (Since any description I’d cobble together could never adequately explain this movie I suggest you just watch it.) 

Everything else. Monday was Independence Day and one of our neighbors hosted a terrific BBQ for the community at his event venue down the road. Even though gas is damn expensive right now yesterday I made a trip to my favorite adult watering hole for a beer. 

 

Sunday Salon

About a month ago the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I finished both Yasmina’s Khadra’s The Attack and Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic. Hopefully, I’ll get my reviews up and posted by the end of the week. Since both are translated works I’ll be applying them towards The Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge

After putting aside Jay David’s anthology Growing Up Jewish I started Lea Ypi 2022 memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History.  Ypi’s recollection of life in Albania during the implosion of that country’s oppressive communist regime is shaping up to be a winner. I also went back to reading Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting as well as Stuart Jeffries’s 2016 Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) serving up a bombshell special session last Tuesday I once again dived into some of my favorite podcasts for helpful insight and commentary. With so much stuff out there it’s hard knowing where to begin but Deep State Radio’s “Showstopper” is a good place along with The Lincoln Project’s “The Emergency Hearing.” The Bulwark never ceases to satisfy so I’d recommend both “A Damning Witness” and “Mea culpa. Really.” Opening Arguments is a recent find of mine and the episode “Surprise Jan. 6 Hearing – Bombshells Within Smoking Guns Within More Bombshell” is definitely worth a listen. The Lawfare Podcast can get a bit dry and wonky but “The Jan. 6 Committee, Day Six” episode is good. During the Trump administration Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive was my go-to source for place intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed the recent episode “If You Bite the Head Off of the Snake, the Rest of the Snake Will Die”: Daniel Goldman on Prosecuting Trump.” If you wanna learn more about the assorted far-right militia groups in cahoots with Trump and his crones then check out the Fresh Air episode “Investigating The Far-Right Militia Groups Of Jan. 6.” Lastly, round things out with Talking Feds and “This is (Trump’s) America.”

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its plot twists, great writing and superb acting. Last week we were treated to a special session of the January 6 Committee sessions which blew myself, and much of America, away. I look forward to watching more once they resume latter this month. I also caught an episode of Stranger Things. After a bit of a slow start it’s shaping up to be as dark and entertaining as I’d hoped. Like last week I checked out The Lincoln Project’s web series The Breakdown. Hosts Tara Setmayer and Rick Wilson (and special guest Harry Litman) did a fine job breaking down the last Tuesday’s bombshell January 6 hearing. It’s well worth your time. 

Everything else. Even though gas is damn expensive right now I did make a trip to my favorite area winery for some friendly discussion with my professor buddy. Weather-wise, after recently experiencing a mini heat wave temperatures have considerably moderated. 

Sunday Salon

A few weeks ago for the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I finished Ruta Sepetys’s 2022 historical novel I Must Betray You.  While it’s only June I’m betting it makes my year-end list of Favorite Fiction. I put aside  Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting, Khadra’s The Attack and Margolius Kovály’s Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street and started two new books. For Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge I started Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic.  Originally published in 1966, it’s shaping up to be quite the polemic against both the Vatican and the Catholic Church in general. (Not sure if that’s what I originally bargained for. I’ll just have to see where the book goes.) The other is the 1969 anthology Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David. One of my original 20 Books of Summer, since a number of the pieces are translated from Yiddish and German I’m hoping to apply this book as well to the Books in Translation Reading Challenge. 

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) continuing to be televised I once again dived into some of my favorite podcasts for helpful insight and commentary. With so much stuff out there it’s hard knowing where to start but I would begin with The Economist’s Checks and Balance episode “Insurrection Retrospection.” From there it’s pretty wide open. Deep State Radio’s “The Trial of Donald J. Trump” is particularly good as is The New Yorker’s Politics and More episode “What the January 6th Committee Uncovered This Week.” I’d also recommend Angry Planet’s “Proud Boys, January 6, and When a U-Haul Is a Clown Car.” Lastly, round things up with The Lincoln Project’s “The DOJ is Watching” with guest David H. Laufman and from The Bulwark “How the 1/6 Committee Could Succeed” with Denver Riggleman and “Why We Were Alarmed” with Bill Kristol. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain, throwing head-spinning plot twists at me right and left. As I mentioned earlier, I’m knee deep into the January 6 Committee sessions and look forward to watching more once they resume next month. At long last I started watching the much-anticipated season 4 of Stranger Things. After a bit of a slow start it’s shaping up to be as dark and entertaining as I’d hoped. Finally, I decided to check out The Lincoln Project’s web series The Breakdown. Hosts Tara Setmayer and Rick Wilson did a fine job breaking down the last January 6 hearing. It’s well worth your time. 

Everything else. Even though gas is damn expensive right now I did make a few trips into town. I returned to my favorite an area winery to for a bit of friendly discussion with a couple of my professor buddies. Yesterday, while out running errands I dropped by one of my favorite watering holes to have a beer and read my Kindle. Weather wise, we’ve been experiencing a mini heat wave but temperatures should drop starting tomorrow. 

Book Beginnings: Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

From the ghettos of eastern Europe westward.toward America, and in the other direction, eastward to Israel, Jewish children share a common heritage. Perhaps it is because Judaism is a way of life rather than solely a religion that certain ·similarities run through a thousand years of Jewish history.

Last week I featured Frank Blaichman’s 2009 Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II and the week before that it was Yasmina Khadra’s 2006 novel The Attack. This  week it’s the 1969 anthology Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David.

Earlier in the week, I cracked this open in a feeble attempt to read more books from my original 20 Books of Summer. It’s one of two books I bought a couple of years ago at the Rose City Book Pub in Portland . (The other one, Max Dimont’s 1978 Jews in America: The Roots and Destiny of American Jews was one of last year’s 20 Books of Summer.) Published over 50 years ago it feels not only well-made but also well-cared for, like it sat treasured in someone’s personal library for decades before being divorced from its owner.

Growing Up Jewish, as the title states is a collection of accounts by Jews recalling their respective childhoods and young adulthoods. For this anthology editor Jay David selected pieces spanning hundreds of years, from the 17th century to the 20th. Old World voices are represented by the likes of Solomon Maimon, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Anne Frank. The New World section contains selections from Alfred Kazin and Robert Koltowitz. Lastly, probably it was published in 1969 the section representing Israelis from modern State of Israel contains just two selections: one by Yemenite Zechariah Nissim and the other by Sabra Yael Dayan.

Hopefully, I’ll enjoy Growing Up Jewish and it will serve as great follow-up reading to Adam Kirsch’s excellent 2016 book The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.