Book reviews: Old-timey books!

Wow it has been a while since I’ve been able to post any book reviews. Well, I’ve been busy. Reading has happened less frequently over the past month or so. Also, there’s been a lack of reading material. I packed about three months worth of books into my air freight, hoping that it would carry me over until all my books are delivered with the rest of our stuff. But since our air freight is still not quite here, yet, I’ve had to make do with what I had. It involved reading a lot more blogs over this past bit, as well as stealing my husband’s book for a week or so. I read a lot faster than him: he didn’t miss it.

Both these book unintentionally have a theme of America in the ’20s. It really was a fascinating era. I wish you could pick when and where you were born to. For me, it would be England in the late 1800s, Paris at the turn of the century and America in the 1920s. There was something so glamourous, yet seedy at the same time which must have made it an exciting time to live in. You know, if you didn’t starve to death in that time. Or were poisoned by your own government for drinking alcohol, holy crap.

Sutton: A Novel, by J. R. Moehringer

Book description: Willie Sutton was born in the squalid Irish slums of Brooklyn, in the first year of the twentieth century, and came of age at a time when banks were out of control. If they weren’t failing outright, causing countless Americans to lose their jobs and homes, they were being propped up with emergency bailouts. Trapped in a cycle of panics, depressions and soaring unemployment, Sutton saw only one way out, only one way to win the girl of his dreams.

So began the career of America’s most successful bank robber. Over three decades Sutton became so good at breaking into banks, and such a master at breaking out of prisons, police called him one of the most dangerous men in New York, and the FBI put him on its first-ever Most Wanted List.

But the public rooted for Sutton. He never fired a shot, after all, and his victims were merely those bloodsucking banks. When he was finally caught for good in 1952, crowds surrounded the jail and chanted his name.

Blending vast research with vivid imagination, Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer brings Willie Sutton blazing back to life. In Moehringer’s retelling, it was more than poverty or rage at society that drove Sutton. It was one unforgettable woman. In all Sutton’s crimes and confinements, his first love (and first accomplice) was never far from his thoughts. And when Sutton finally walked free – a surprise pardon on Christmas Eve, 1969 – he immediately set out to find her.

Poignant, comic, fast-paced and fact-studded, Sutton tells a story of economic pain that feels eerily modern, while unfolding a story of doomed love that is forever timeless.

My rating: Three stars (of five)

Sutton is the fictional telling of the very real life of Willie Sutton, apparently an American hero that I had never heard of before. He was a bank robber, but often with popular support as he robbed the banks that were viewed by most of the populace (probably about 99% of them) as being thieves who screwed over hard-working Americans.

So, a really great premise. I found the telling a little gimmicky – reliving his life with two very annoying newspaper men, who I’m sure were supposed to be foils to his character or something but I was too exasperated to give it that much thought. I wanted more for Willie, than what Moehringer gave him. In the end he was a very sick, deluded man, a figure of pathos. I just wanted him to keep on being awesome. I mean, doesn’t America’s antihero deserve at least some kind of happy ending? I was a little depressed after this, to be honest.

 

One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson

Book description: In the summer of 1927, America had a booming stock market, a president who worked just four hours a day (and slept much of the rest of the time), a semi-crazed sculptor with a mad plan to carve four giant heads into an inaccessible mountain called Rushmore, a devastating flood of the Mississippi, a sensational murder trial and a youthful aviator named Charles Lindbergh who started the summer wholly unknown and finished it as the most famous man on earth (so famous that Minnesota consider renaming itself after him).

It was the summer that saw the birth of talking pictures, the invention of television, the peak of Al Capone’s reign of terror, the horrifying bombing of a school in Michigan by a madman, the ill-conceived decision that led the Great Depression, the thrillingly improbable return to greatness of a wheezing, over-the-hill baseball player named Babe Ruth and an almost impossible amount more.

In this hugely entertaining book, Bill Bryson spins a story of brawling adventure, reckless optimism and delirious energy. With the trademark brio, wit and authority that have made him our favorite writer of narrative non-fiction, he rolls out an unforgettable cast of vivid and eccentric personalities to bring to life a forgotten summer when America came of age, took centre stage and changed the world forever.

My rating: Five stars

Bill Bryson is a genius. Reading anything by him is both entertaining, but you know you’re going to come away feeling way smarter about things. One Summer is no different. His genius lies in taking all these random events that came up within a five month span and weaving a story that is both fascinating and coherent, tying each string together so that the reader really has a feel for the mood of America at that time. Everyone seemed to be riding high on something then. What a time to be alive, when the future seemed irresistibly yours. Anyway, you should read this book, nothing I can say about it will do it justice. Then read more of Bill Bryson, because you will become a better person.

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