Best Attended Summer Reading Program Yet
This year’s Summer Reading Program broke attendance records, with hundreds of children showing up to sing with the Bandana Babes, move with the Terpsichord dancers, watch the Signal Mountain Playhouse’s preview of “Annie,” be amazed by Mr. Bill’s insects and ocean creatures from the Tennessee Aquarium, enjoy the pony rides and animals from Noah’s Little Ark, be inspired by Jennifer Daniels’ beautiful and original music, and be entertained by Mike Edwards and his magic and balloon creations. Many thanks to all who helped and participated!
Wonderful New Novel
“The Flight Portfolio,” Julie Orringer’s second novel, was published in May to many well-deserved rave reviews in numerous major trade publications. Continuing the same time frame as her first novel, it is based on the life of Varian Fry, a man of whom she learned during research for her fiction debut, “The Invisible Bridge.” Fry was a young man in the early 1940s and was sent to France by an agency that was founded and funded by Americans. He was charged with helping Jewish artists, writers and philosophers escape from occupied France to America.
While Fry was a real person (Orringer fills her book with other real refugees, such as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Andre Breton), the author does use her authorial license to weave a dramatic, yet fictional, personal story around Fry. Under her hand, he emerges as not only an earnest and driven man determined to do his best to rescue these artists, but also one who is tortured by his own desires.
Although he strives to be impartial, Fry often must prioritize who is chosen to receive the false documents that allow them to pass through the border to freedom. He knows this is morally reprehensible, but it is also sometimes the most expedient action. This complex quandary gives him great anguish.
The story is compelling and brilliant. Orringer’s vocabulary is wonderfully voluminous, and her descriptions of the French countryside and the teeming city of Marseille are cinematic. The book reminded me of the powerful “Sophie’s Choice,” where the characters are asked to make decisions that are forever inescapable.
“The Flight Portfolio” of the title refers to a collection of artworks, gathered by one of the refugees, that capture the terrible atrocities of the Nazis. Readers of WWII literature will be fascinated to know about the real Emergency Rescue Committee, the clandestine organization working to save these notable refugees, which is a true story, mostly unknown.
The author spent years researching the book, receiving various study fellowships. “I felt like I had to understand the historical record fully before I could craft a narrative in the apertures between the facts,” she explained in an interview in Publishers Weekly.
The book is long, but I found it so engrossing that I often had to remind myself to slow down and savor its beautiful prose, rather than race through its pages.
More New Books
“The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction” by Megan Cox Gurdon explores how reading aloud can transform not only children and their reading abilities but also make adults happier and make families more cohesive. The author, a children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, bases her rallying cry on behavioral research and declares that the perfect antidote for too much screen time is reading aloud to your children, no matter what their age. “Reading out loud is probably the least expensive and most effective intervention we can make for the good of our families, and for the wider culture,” she writes.
“Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein presents the author’s premise that the only way to prepare for the unexpectedness of life is by learning a broad variety of skills. He believes that generalists are more adaptable and more creative than those who closet themselves in their own little world. Thus, the more diverse experiences you have, the more success you will have. He advises: “Approach our own personal voyage and projects like Michelangelo approached a block of marble, willing to learn and adjust.”
“Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country” by Simon Winder is a history that I have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, although I did take Medieval History from the indomitable Welcome Macon. According to Winder, a brainy London author, when Charlemagne’s grandsons divided the territory they inherited, they created three lands: France, Germany and a place between them that they called Lotharingia that extends from the mouth of the Rhine to the Alps. This book examines the places and people of this area in the author’s third history of Europe, after “Germania” and “Danubia.”
“The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places” by William Atkins covers the author’s travels to eight deserts around the world: the Empty Quarter of Oman, the Gobi Desert and Taklamakan Desert in China, the Great Victoria Desert of Australia, the man-made desert of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, the Black Rock Desert and Sonoran Desert of the American West, and Egypt’s Eastern Desert. His quest is spiritual as well as geographical, and readers will enjoy his gifted prose.
“Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation” by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw may seem like an unlikely authorial matchup, but Meacham’s bent for history and McGraw’s for music have combined to create a handsome volume that celebrates America by focusing on the music and the history that our music reflects. Documentary film maker Ken Burns said of the book, “… it’s about us and U.S. all at the same time - as intimate as it is majestic in scope and reach.”