Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Past Was Present at Nevermore!

History was apparently the theme of the April 10 meeting of the Nevermore Book Club.  It wasn’t planned but every book, fiction and non-fiction, was firmly rooted in the past.
The first book up was Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.  It’s a very literate, very dense, very deliberately obfuscated novel about three men who work for a vanity press and who decide to create their own conspiracy legend imbued with mystical lore.  Our club member read a convoluted sentence from the book and asked, “Now, just who is this book for?” Amid the general laughter, members opined that Eco was either showing off or teasing those who like to show off their own vast stores of knowledge.  Eco’s newest novel, The Prague Cemetery, is also very literate but more accessible as is The Name of the Rose.  The reader is going to persevere and will give us an update.
The discussion of ancient documents segued nicely into the new non-fiction work by Elaine Pagels, Revelations:  Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.  Pagels is a professor of religion at Princeton and is the author of several best-selling books, including Beyond Belief.  Pagels explores the history of The Book of Revelation, including the controversy over its inclusion in the New Testament canon; the question of the book’s authorship; the changing concepts of what it meant to be Christian; and to place the book in the political context of the time. Pagels’ Revelations is a slim volume but one that gives much food for thought.
Many histories of the New World start with the established colonies, but a great deal of human history occurred prior to the Puritans.  Before the Revolution:  America’s Ancient Pasts by Daniel K. Richter takes a look at the many different cultures that inhabited the North American continent, from the nomads who originally settled the land to the Spanish, English, Dutch, French, African and others who followed.  Each group brought with it a set of expectations, beliefs and customs, and each had its own agenda.  Richter is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Last but not least, several of the club members are looking forward to reading Hitlerland: Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power by Andrew Nagorski.  The book is a collection of first-hand contemporary accounts from American, British, and German observers about the rise of Hitler.  The selections are well-chosen and diverse; while some are from well known personalities such as Charles Lindbergh or William Shirer, others are from largely unknown businessmen or minor officials. Since several members of the club were captivated by Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,  anticipation for this new title is running high.

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