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Category: Books

Here We Go Again

Ringing in the new year like…

Hah. Or something like that.

The transition from 2017 to 2018 has been a quiet one for me. I have either a head cold, unhinged allergies, or a sinus issue, or some charming combination thereof. So tonight I’m staying in, sucking down cough drops like it’s my job, and watching the terribly bad but entertaining THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER. Don’t be jealous.

I haven’t been a total hermit today. Went out earlier with friends for a fancy steak dinner and some time at the casino, where I played blackjack and ended the evening $190 ahead. This was my first time playing blackjack at a casino, and even had I lost my precious monies, it would still have been more entertaining than feeding pennies into the greedy maws of the slot machines. Las Vegas is in my future next summer, so I’m looking forward to losing my savings at blackjack, then trying to win it all back at “Guess a Number Between One and Ten” in some rinky-dink casino, just like Clark W. Griswold. Does anyone else remember VEGAS VACATION, other than me and Nate?

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2017 has been by all accounts a long, bizarre year. I feel like I say some variation of that every year, but damn it, this time I really mean it. I’m not even going to try to collect and summarize my thoughts about the abysmal political and social landscape that’s dominated 2017, except to say: (1) in respect to all things politics, 2017 can fuck right off; (2) my picture appeared in the local newspaper; and (3) I am still emotionally abusing Chrome’s Word Replacer extension by making it replace a certain person’s name with “My Ass,” and thus making my eyes bleed a little less when I read the news. So to paraphrase the meme, Word Replacer is the real MVP.

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According to my comprehensive authors spreadsheet, I read 22 books in 2017 (not counting graphic novels), down slightly from 25 in 2016. I would like to get that number closer to 30, but we’ll see. Life is a lot busier than it was, which I am not unhappy about. Still: it’s good to have goals.

Favorite book from 2016 was Michael Swanwick’s NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT. Swanwick is a wonderful novelist, yes, but he is also one of the finest short story writers alive, and with this collection he again demonstrates why.

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2017, for me at least, is ending on a relatively high note. 2018 may be worse or it may better, but despite my occasionally affected cynicism, I remain a cautious optimist. No resolutions this year, except to read more books, eat better, and drink more wine.

Here we go again. Strap in. Happy New Year.

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THE WHITE MOUSE

The story goes that in 1944, after being dropped by parachute into Nazi-occupied France, Nancy Wake’s parachute became caught in a tree. A member of the local French maquis that greeted her said he wished all trees could bear such beautiful fruit. “Don’t give me that French shit,” was Wake’s reply.

This story isn’t recounted in Wake’s autobiography, THE WHITE MOUSE, but it’s one she liked to tell after the war, and one of my personal favorites because it succinctly gives you an idea of the kind of woman Nancy Wake was. Like I do with so many things history, I first learned about Wake during a deep-dive into Wikipedia’s bloated compendium on World War II. I was reading about the fall of France, and there was a quick mention of a British SOE agent who parachuted into France in 1944 to help lead the maquis groups of the French Resistance. Prior to joining the SOE, Wake served as a courier for the French Resistance. So effective was she at evading capture, the Gestapo called her “the White Mouse.”

I’d been searching for a copy of THE WHITE MOUSE for several years, and recently, finally, found a copy that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. At a hair over 200 pages, Wake’s autobiography is a short, compelling book. The prose is straightforward but engaging, and reads as though Wake were casually telling you her story over drinks. There are numerous asides and anecdotes about the people she knew and worked with, or the insane situations she found herself in — like bicycling several hundred kilometers across France, avoiding Nazi patrols, in 72 hours to get and receive critical messages. The war years take up the bulk of the book and are the most fascinating, but the rest of the book rounds out the story and provides good context on who Wake was and who she became. Her stories about living in Paris before the war are especially vivid, and made me want to go back again.

All in all, Wake’s tale is equal parts witty, grim, and charming. It’s an excellent book by a remarkable woman.

THE WHITE MOUSE, Nancy Wake (Goodreads)

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