The Tatty Cover

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



When Books Went to War

Books war

If you get the chance to read this extraordinary book, “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII” does not disappoint. Through in-depth research and entertaining storytelling, Author Molly Guptill Manning weaves together a gem about the men who fought for the freedom of ideas and speech and the librarians, publishers and authors who armed them with their arsenal of weapons: books.

From the publisher:

“When America entered World War II in 1941, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war.
“Comprising 1,200 different titles of every imaginable type, these paperbacks were beloved by the troops and are still fondly remembered today. Soldiers read them while waiting to land at Normandy; in hellish trenches in the midst of battles in the Pacific; in field hospitals; and on long bombing flights. They wrote to the authors, many of whom responded to every letter. They helped rescue The Great Gatsby from obscurity. They made Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, into a national icon…”

In all there were 123 million Armed Services Editions’ books sent to soldiers during WWII. The book program served a two-pronged approach: to arm soldiers with ideas of freedom that Adolf Hitler was intent on destroying, while at the same time giving them the comfort of a book from home. Later, the men recounted how they relied on the books to “escape” the war if only for a few minutes at a time.

By the end of the war, America had the most well-read military in history that knew the likes of Plato, Shakespeare and Dickens. Further, because of their broad reading education, those who went on to college on the GI Bill tended to outscore their traditional student counterparts. Importantly, through the program, more books were given to American soldiers than all of the books destroyed by Hitler in Europe.

Not only is “When Books Went to War” a great read about WWII history, it’s a good reminder of the true value of books for a flourishing democracy built on the ideals of knowledge, expression and ideas.


Back in the Saddle

I am getting back into the swing of things. After more than a year’s hiatus from my beloved Tatty Cover, I am back. I didn’t stop reading during that time. In fact far from it. I finished all of Shakespeare’s work, which I set out to do at the beginning of last year; finished the WV Reads 150 (again), in honor of the state’s birthday; and am now taking park in a new book club being offered by the Kanawha County Library called the 12×12. The goal is to chose a book based on a prescribed topic every month. My personal goal to to read what I already own–books that have been sitting on my shelves for years–and in doing so kill two birds with one stone. Here’s a look so far at my selections:

January (A book by an author that’s new to you); Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

February (A book someone else loves); White Dog Fell From the Sky, E. Morse

March (A book with a title or name that shares your first or last name); The Gravity of Birds, Tracy Guzeman

April (A book with a one-word title); #GIRLBOSS, S. Amoruso —-LOVED THIS!

May (A book set in a different country); In a Strange Room, D. Galmut

June (A book about an artist or musician); A Rockwell Portrait, D. Walton

July (A book about a hero); Our Daily Bread about Norman Borlaug, N. Vietmayer

August (A book that’s the first in a series new to you); Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock, C. Keene

Here’s the rest if you would like to join along:

September (A book on a subject you know very little)

October (A book with a title or author’s name that begins with O)

November (A book about an animal)

December (A book set at least 25 years in the past)

Yeats’ Castle


I, the poet William Yeats,

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George.

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.

I got the chance to visit Yeats’ castle, Thor Ballylee, in County Galway several years ago. I love the tower house, which is set in such a peaceful, serene location on the Streamstown River . I especially love the dedication to his wife that is set into the castle stone. Only a poet….


All Things Irish


“I dreamt I reach’d the Irish shore and felt my heart rebound. From wall to wall within my breast, as I trod that holy ground.”

-Thomas D’Arcy McGee

It’ s no secret that I love Ireland. For as long as I remember, I’ve heavily identified with the land, the people and the culture.  And while I visit as often as I can, it’s not the same as living there (as I one day plan to do–just waiting for the hubby to agree). In the meantime, I do what every other Irish-wannabe American does…read Irish lit and poetry.  Ireland has a rich and robust literary heritage.  Just think, without Irish writers we’d never have Dorian Gray, Leopold Bloom or even Dracula.

Hands down, William Trevor is my favorite Irish writer. His books and short stories are heartbreakingly beautiful.  Other contemporary writers I like include Colum McCann, Sebastian Barry, Frank Delaney and Colm Toibin.

In honor of Paddy’s Day, I encourage you to try an Irish author or poet you’ve not read before. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Meeting on the Roof of the World


“Our business was to fight the mountain, not to worship it.”

It’s no secret I’m a huge George Mallory fan. And its through reading about him that I’ve come to have a great appreciation for all of the early British explorers, including John Baptist Lucius Noel. A mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker, Noel in 1922 and 1924 captured Everest in photographs and motion picture at heights thought impossible. For the 1924 expedition, he bought all photographic rights from the Everest Committee at a staggering £8,000, helping to fund the trip.

The British Film Institute last year restored and re-released Noel’s incredible 1924 documentary, ‘The Epic of Everest.’ Filmed in the coldest, highest and harshest of circumstances (-30 degrees at 23,000 feet), the documentary chronicles the fateful exploration where Mallory and Sandy Irvine lost their lives. It’s an up-close look at the conditions on Everest and one of the first looks on film at Tibet. Seeing the dramatic Everest footage is amazing. Seeing Mallory in motion picture is, well,…swoon…

In anticipation of the movie’s arrival, I read Noel’s book, ‘Through Tibet to Everest,’ written shortly after the 1924 expedition.  Noel first traveled to Tibet in 1913 and was able to get as close as 40 miles near Everest before being forced at gunpoint to leave–a feat in that day since it was not legal for foreigners to travel within the country. Tibetans lived their lives according  to horoscopes, superstitions, demons and gods. They shunned outsiders, technology and progress (an earlier explorer who trailed a telegraph line behind him told the locals it was string for him to find his way home, so they would not destroy it). They worshiped Everest as the Mother Goddess of the World. In Noel’s book, he talks about the merging of the Tibetans and British explorers with the 1924 expedition: “This was the country and these the people among it whom we wished to penetrate with a scientific expedition,” said Noel. “The inert East and the inquisitive impertinent West were there to meet on the roof of the world.”

Noel’s is a fascinating read and incredible documentary. I highly recommend both.

Christmas Loot


For me, the best gifts are books. And I got some gems for Christmas. Can’t wait to start reading😊.

A Few of My Favs


I was recently asked, so, off the top of my head….

Every Man Dies Alone(H. Fallada)What a tragic book. Written by Hans Fallada during a 24 day period  after his release from a Nazi asylum, it’s based on a true story of a Berlin couple who takes a stand against Hitler and his regime. Most all of the characters were sympathetic to me, of course some more than others. It’s one of those I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I read its final page.

To Kill a Mockingbird(H. Lee)No explanation needed on this American classic, except my dad tried to get me to read it when I was a kid. Instead of waiting until college, I wish I’d listened to him sooner.

The Things They Carried(T. O’Brien)–My favorite book. It’s pure magic. Told in semi-autobiographical, interwoven short stories about the Alpha Company, Tim O’Brien’s account of the Vietnam War, both at the front and at home, is special. My favorite of the stories are On the Rainy River and the title chapter, The Things They Carried.

Anything Hardy–What can I say, I love Thomas Hardy’s work. It’s bucolic at its best. But Hardy is more than pretty English countrysides and everyday characters. Virginia Woolf called him the greatest tragic writer among English novelists. Furthermore, I find both his prose and poetry beautiful and thoughtful, but most importantly I can identify with it. His ‘Neutral Tones‘ remains my favorite poem ever and just read this from ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ about a woman’s past being brought to light: “The figure near at hand suffers on such occasions, because it shows its sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured, in that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains.” Lyrical.

The Killer Angels(J. Shaara)–A snapshot of the Civil War during the Gettysburg Battle, I loved the strategy and minute-by-minute account of how the most deadly battle in the U.S. unfolded. I walked away idolizing Col. Joshua Chamberlain and thinking what a pompous showoff  J.E.B. Stuart was (I still don’t understand why the South immortalizes him).

The Three Musketeers (A. Dumas)I love being swept away by Alexandre Dumas’ swordplay and chivalry. I’ve not read one of his books I didn’t like. But the Musketeers are oddly comforting to me. I first read the book when I was down and out with the flu and it made me forget how miserable I was feeling. Now I can only think good things when I hear reference to Athos and the gang.

Into the Silence (W. Anderson)–See previous Mallory post.

A Prayer for Owen Meany‘ (J. Irving)–I don’t know what it was about this book by John Irving, but I couldn’t put it down. I loved the time period in which it was told (the 1950s), I adored all of the vivid characters (not only the two boys it’s centered around, but their family, friends and townspeople, too) and the mystery of who is Owen Meany and why is he so special?


Tying Up Loose Ends


I’m tying up loose ends, finishing books I have been lagging on or either putting off reading completely. I recently realized the year will be done before we know it and I had some reading to check off my list (Gretchen Rubin would be proud) before I could sing Auld Lang Syne. And, as all good things must come to an end, so, too, do library renewals.

When I set out at the beginning of the year to read a multitude of books for the WV Reads 150 program, I made a list of books I’d been neglecting. For the self-improvement category I included Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project.’ While I did pick up some useful tips from her on leading a more productive, uncluttered, happy life, the book was just ok for me.  To be honest, I was turned off by her constant fight not to nag her husband and her incessant need for “gold stars.” As far as self-improvement books go, I much prefer reading the likes of Malcolm Gladwell, Suze Orman or even Emily Post. I know, apples and oranges, but these books play more to the way I think.

I finally finished David Robertson’s ‘George Mallory’ after picking it up and putting it back down for months. Robertson was Mallory’s son-in-law. And although he never met Mallory, he had complete access to all the family letters and papers. Robertson’s is considered the definitive biography on Mallory, but to me it was too academic.  Mallory wrote a lot in his life: letters, papers, lectures, articles, etc. And it seemed it was all included, but no other voices–just Mallory’s. And while it is a great resource to have, there was no personality in the biography. I would think being that close to the family there would be more insight and stories, but instead it read like a one-dimensional textbook. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have it on my bookshelf, but for me, David Pye’s (a close friend to the Mallory’s) biography was much more compelling with personal stories and anecdotes. Although, I have to say toward the end of the Robertson book, I found myself wanting to go to it more. I don’t know if that’s because I was having Mallory withdrawal or because my only other option was the Gretchen Rubin book.

I am almost done with ‘A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare:1599,’ by James Shapiro. This one just couldn’t hold my attention. There were interesting bits here and there, but not enough meat about Shakespeare (understandable since very little is known about the man) to keep me interested in the huge tome of a book. It was more about the year 1599 and what was happening in London and around the world. Instead, I really enjoyed ‘Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,’ by Stephen Greenblatt, which I read earlier this year. While also built on facts and anecdotes, Greenblatt’s book had more personality and kept me engaged.

Maybe Rubin’s book did me good after all. Patience and task completion were definitely in order for me on some of these reads. I guess I can say I get a gold star. 🙂

So… Getting Back to Mallory…

into silence

                “I have never known a man so entirely dominated by the spirit within him.”

– Everest 1924 expedition leader Teddy Norton on George Mallory

With the UK re-release this month of the Epic of Everest, a documentary filmed by John Noel during the 1924 Everest expedition, I can’t stop thinking about the early pioneers of mountaineering, nor hoping the film makes its way to the U.S. (if you hear of it, let me know). In both 1922 and 1924, John Noel captured the mountain in video and photos at elevations never thought possible; he developed film at heights unheard of. And it was Noel’s lens that caught the signals further up the mountain that climbers George Mallory (37) and Sandy Irvine (22) were lost.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Mallory fan, but after reading more works either written by or about the other early British expedition climbers, I’m so much more endeared to all of the men that comprised the three Everest expeditions in 1921, 1922 and 1924.  ‘Into the Silence’ by Wade Davis is a brilliant account of the men and these expeditions. Completely different from climbing Everest today, in the 1920s it took months just to get there. They traveled from Britain a month by ship, then had to take a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, and then go on a 300-plus mile trek by foot and mules just to reach the mountain. Since they were forbidden in Nepal, it took months to circle all the way around Everest. In 1921 they didn’t know how to get on the mountain, they had to survey and explore for months. They were literally walking off the map.

Enter Oliver Wheeler who, as a Canadian member of the British expedition, did the first topographical survey of Everest in 1921. Wheeler fascinates me. He spent weeks at a time isolated and alone on Everest surveying the area. His maps, the first ever of the area, were so thorough, for hundreds of square miles, that they were within seconds of latitude and longitude and 50 feet of exact height calculations. His maps were so perfect they are still being used today. It was Wheeler who also found the way onto the mountain after weeks of Mallory and others trying.  To me, Wheeler is quite the unsung hero of Everest.

The same with Everest climbers Noel Odell, Teddy Norton, Howard Somervell and the many other explorers (I especially recommend Norton’s and Somervell’s autobiographical accounts). It was Odell who spent days going back and forth between the highest camps on Everest searching for Mallory and Irvine. He spent 12 days at heights above 23,000 feet, mostly without oxygen, which defied science at the time. Twenty of the 26 men fought in WWI (which, explains Davis, drew them to Everest) and most all of them never returned to Britain after their Everest expeditions.

Not only did these mountaineers obtain heights never before reached, they lived on Everest and in its shadow for months in nothing more than tweeds and sweaters. They didn’t have any of the modern clothing and gear that climbers enjoy today, much less oxygen on many of their climbs. But it was Mallory alone who went on all three of the expeditions. He had a compulsive drive that others didn’t to conquer the greatest mountain ever. And whether he did or didn’t, his efforts, along with the other early explorers, made it possible for future mountaineers.

These early explorers had ambition and grit and when Davis’ book ended, I was sad to see them go.


Mallory & Norton on Everest

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