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Sometimes we like to write about happenings or news or stuff that, while only loosely within our authority, give off a certain – say – profundity. It’s part of our all-around service to bring these to your discerning attention.

“Across the Pond” Book Review

The Second Air Division Library plays host to the “Reading Across The Pond” book group, which reads a new book by an American author every month. While they read primarily fiction, both new and classic, the occasional biography and “real-life” story (such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood) do make an appearance.

This month, the group read Open City, by Teju Cole, and I thought it would be interesting to share their thoughts.

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America is a nation of immigrants. This book gives an interesting perspective of the different cultures in the USA.

I found it a confusing read in terms of the range of incidents and experiences recounted and the lack of a narrative, although the author’s voice is very clear in an almost autobiographical way.

Some interesting descriptions and language conveyed, but it came across as quite ‘ego-centric’, leading to a lack of engagement by the reader, which was disappointing.

The experiences do not really engage the reader as there is a lack of follow through or any connection to the different episodes recounted across New York, Brussels and Nigeria.

It seemed a perplexing book in the lack of emotions expressed by the author and an opportunity wasted. Lack of structure made it harder to engage with.

It felt like it could have been more developed around the black immigrant experience and the different cultures in the USA.

A narrative about impressions — finding meaning in the different experiences encountered.

 

If you have an interest in American literature, the group meets on the second Monday of the month, from 5:30-6:30 in the Vernon Castle Room of the Millennium Library. The next meeting is on the 14th of May, when the group will be discussing The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. We reserve copies of the book for pickup in the Library, so if you are interested stop by and snag one, although copies are by necessity limited so it’s a first come, first served process.

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In The Library: Children’s Collection

by Don Allen

While the vast majority of the books and materials that the Second Air Division Memorial Library has is focused towards a more grown-up audience, it may come as a surprise to learn that we also have a small collection of books for children. The American Storytime Collection contains many stories that I grew up with.

American folk-heroes like the massive woodsman Paul Bunyan and his big blue-ox Babe.

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The tornado-wrangling cowboy Pecos Bill.

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And a personal favorite of mine, the legendary steel-driving man John Henry.

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(These three folk heroes also happen to be the stars in one of my favorite movies, “Tall Tale”, with Patrick Swayze).

 

American history is represented as well, with books on Abraham Lincoln.

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Teddy Roosevelt.

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And Bessie Coleman.

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So the next time you come in, bring your kids with you and ask us to get out the American Storytime Collection for your young one to peruse. With other books including going to the moon, poetry, Johnny Appleseed and the 50 States, I bet they find something they’ll enjoy!

 

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Electric Light, the health fad of the future!: 101 Years Ago at the Norwich Library

by Don Allen

In Norwich in June of 1917, for the price of one penny,  you could have picked up a little booklet called “City and County of Norwich Public Library Readers Guide”.

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Our friends at Picture Norfolk (click here for their webpage) discovered this interesting booklet while going through their ephemera, and thought that we here at the 2nd Air Library would be interested in it given the first topic listed on the cover: America And The War.

Of course, this refers to the first World War, and the 2nd Air Division did not yet exist. But it is still fascinating to see what, in the heart of World War I, the library chose to highlight about England’s cousin across the pond.

Not surprisingly there are a number of books on the general history of the United States. Titles like “The War of American Independence, 1775-1783” by John M. Ludlow and “The American Civil War” by Frederic L. Paxson. While these books are now long since gone from the library, you can find digital copies online at archive.org. I personally enjoy reading old history books in order to compare what they knew and thought during their time to what we know and think today.

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A separate section of the page contains four books specifically on Abraham Lincoln. And right below that is a book on then-President Woodrow Wilson, entitled “President Wilson: his problems and his policy” by H. Wilson Harris. Funnily enough, if you look nearer the top of the page (third listing down), the library has listed works BY Wilson, who was the only US President to date with a PhD. One is titled “Division and reunion, 1829-1889” published in 1893, about twenty years before he became president (also available on archive.org if you’re interested). Also listed is Wilson’s controversial five-volume “History of the American People”. In it he defends racial segregation and the actions of the original incarnation of the KKK.

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Books on the Constitution and Government, the American Navy, Literature, Education, and America and the War round out the remaining suggestions for American reading. The booklet also celebrates the then-centenary of Jane Austen’s death by offering lists of works by her and biographies of her. And much like today’s library still does, the library hosted a public lecture by M.M. Pattison Muir, Esq, M.A., Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. (Click here for information on our upcoming series of lectures in March.)

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As much as I love seeing all the old books, I have to admit that the part that made me giggle was the advertising on the back cover. The Corporation and Electricity Dept. was located at 4-10 Duke Street, with a telephone number of: 154.

154.

That amuses me greatly.

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Just remember, electric light: it’s good for your health!

 

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Book Review: The Gatekeepers-How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple

by Don Allen

You have to be the person who says no. You’ve got to the be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can’t tell him” — Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton

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Every president since George Washington has had a personal secretary, however, it wasn’t until 1857 that it was made an official White House position and paid for by the government, rather than by the president personally. In 1961, after a few name changes, power consolidations and shuffling of duties along the way, it finally evolved into the modern office of White House Chief of Staff, currently held by John F. Kelly for the Trump administration.

The Chief of Staff’s position is an incredibly important one: he oversees the White House staff; manages the Presidents schedule; decides who meets with the President; and negotiates with Congress. Because of these duties, he enjoys unparalleled access to the President, and, as the title of Chris Whipple’s book states, is known as “the gatekeeper”. Several of these men have gone on to other important positions, including Donald Rumsfeld (future Sec. of Defense), Alexander Haig (future Sec. of State), and Dick Cheney (future Vice-President).

Whipple’s book details this extraordinary position, which does not require Senate confirmation and serves completely at the President’s discretion, by interviewing seventeen living former Chief’s of Staff  and two former presidents. Starting with the Nixon administration and running through the Obama presidency, Whipple details how “…when the president makes a life-and-death decision, often the chief of staff is the only other person in the room. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks…the chief of staff can make the difference between success and disaster”.

 

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