Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Because why wouldn't you want to read a book about Woodstock?

"What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000!"
-Wavy Gravy

I feel like my life goes in cycles in which I obsess over things for as long as the ride lasts (take Lost for example. If you have talked to me in the past 2 months, you know about my Lost obsession. It's taken over my life.) and I feel like my reading habits are absolutely subject to this. When I was a kid, I LOVED series books--particularly Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitters Club--and my mom always tried to steer me away from them and make me branch out (probably so as not to become one of those girls who you see today who "reads" but only Twilight). There is nothing wrong with series books because they do have the wonderful potential to open your eyes to something else that you might enjoy. Series tend to be so engrossing and fulfilling that a person is probably more likely to understand why they like the series as opposed to trying to express why they like a certain book.

While this may be interesting, it's actually strayed a bit from the purpose of this post (shocking, I know). Recently, I've been in a non-fiction phase which is pretty rare for me, honestly. I don't know if I miss taking classes where reading non-fiction is required (like my Africana classes) or if I'm just becoming more and more aware of what I don't know, but more non-fiction books are catching my eye. The first book that I read this year was The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt by Hannelore Brenner. The book documents the lives of the girls who lived in Room 28 in this internment camp near Prague during Hitler's reign. Brenner focuses on a few girls using journal entries and interviews to get a sense of the hope, despair, and humanity that emanated from the women who were forced to act as a family toward each other in a time of utter tragedy. Brenner does a wonderful job of helping the reader understand the purpose of Theresienstadt (which was basically a cover--the Nazi's treated the Jews in this camp "well" so they could show them off to the world and prove that there was nothing wrong with Hitler's reign. In fact, they allowed the Jews in Theresienstadt to put on shows and go to school, thus helping the false image of "good treatment" be perpetuated.) However, as a reader who attaches to character more than plot, I found myself disappointed in Brenner's use of the women themselves--the organization of the book did not allow for me to remember vividly more than one girl. Although what she lacks in specific characterization, she makes up for in helping us to understand the humanity of the Holocaust--she does not paint these women as perfect or above greed or guile. Although they were in a terrible situation, these girls were still girls who did not always get along or like each other--so many different kinds of people were thrown together and it would be impossible to expect them all to get along. For me, the telling of this story was so that I felt more for the people in Theresienstadt because they were people not some idealized people. They were amazing and resilient, but they were still people. The women who were not sent to the death camps and survived the diseased conditions of the camp get together to this day (most of them now in their late 80's) and the fact that their story gets told is amazing and really opened my eyes to a different side of the Holocaust that does not always get pulled out. In reading The Girls of Room 28 I learned a lot about the Holocaust that I did not know, and to further my knowledge, when I finished the book, I visited the Holocaust Museum in DC and it really came to life more then. Which is to say, if you have not been to the Holocaust Museum, you should pay a visit. Put it on your bucket-list. It is one of the best museums I've ever been to, and every time I've been has really been a powerful visit.

After a book whose subject matter was a little depressing, I wanted to switch to something a little more light-hearted, and stumbled upon a new memoir about Woodstock written by Michael Lang called The Road to Woodstock. Lang was the man behind the organizing of the infamous 1969 music festival and uses interviews, photographs, and his own memory to recapture the planning and implementation of Woodstock. Although I have always been completely fascinated by Woodstock, I knew little about it besides the music, and there was so much more behind it than just the music. The way that Lang describes it (as many others have), makes Woodstock out to be a turning point for American culture and society as well as a completely religious experience. Lang relates his troubles with finding a place to actually have Woodstock, the weather and building issues, and some anecdotes about some of the performers including Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone. Right after reading the book, I downloaded the Greatest Hits albums of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival and just played them on a loop for days because the ways that Lang describes the festival made you wish you had been there. Yes, of course, there were drugs and all that, but Woodstock seems to have been about a lot more than just that--it was about coming together to just be and appreciate music and feel part of something. I think the fact that 400,000 people trekked to Yasgur's farm to hear music and camp in the mud says something about the state of mind of the young people of America in 1969, and Lang gets into this aspect a lot in the book. It is definitely a great read both to increase your knowledge level, but also to get a cool perspective on what Woodstock really was.

I've got some other non-fiction books lined up, but I'm not sure what I'm reading next... too many choices!

As always, feel free to comment, become a follower, or ask questions! :)

I hope that your reading adventures are taking you fun places!

PS... To end on the subject of series reading, if you haven't read Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, do it. I know that they are for kids, but they are hilarious on an adult level and pretty smart! And since they are kid's books, they don't take long! It's always a good thing to read a children's book every once in a while! :)

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