Review & Giveaway: Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 by Jay Mulvany and Paul De Angelis

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)

Forty-seven years ago this month, Americans as well as people around the world were brought together by a senseless act of violence against our youthful and much-loved President, John F. Kennedy.  The outpouring of grief from around the globe directed at Jacqueline Kennedy, the beautiful and elegant new widow, was massive and immediate.  She received more than one million letters in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy.  Although Mrs. Kennedy vowed to display the letters in the Kennedy Library one day, the letters remained filed away in a warehouse for decades waiting for the library to open.

Volunteers reading and sorting the letters

From grade school children to dignitaries, nuns, moviestars, and royalty to politicians and famous names like Martin Luther King, Jr and Winston Churchill, the expressions of sorrow and sympathy came from everywhere.  I truly appreciated the authors’ decision to do more than just catalog the letters.  They introduced each one by telling who the letter writer was in relation to the president, giving the reader a much more complete snapshot of the history of the time.  This was so helpful to someone like me, who had heard of Anwar Sadat, for instance, but wasn’t quite sure why I knew the name.

I think of the Kennedy assassination as the 9/11 of that generation.  Both events shattered our collective innocence.  People en masse remember where they were and what they were doing the minute they heard the shocking news.  Both events brought everyday life to a standstill and kept us riveted to our televisions.

My reaction to this book surprised me.  I was a baby at the time so have no firsthand memory of the assasination, yet I was greatly moved by the expressions of sympathy.  I had to put the book down more than once as the tears just flowed out of me.  It also made me realize more acutely than ever before the value of the written word; the art and sensory pleasure of beautiful stationary and handwriting as opposed to emails and text messages.

This is a book every American who cares about history should read as it is a fascinating portrait of the time; an intimate portrayal of the hope personified in one young man and the shock as that hope was extinguished so violently.

Highly recommended.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few bloggers about their Kennedy memories.  This is what they wrote:

From Suzanne at Preternatura:

I was in preschool in a small town in Northwest Alabama, and we were on the playground when the news came in. I remember the teacher herding us back in our classroom and telling us the president had been shot. We were really too young to get it but others in my class I’ve stayed in touch with over the years remember it the same way. They closed school early.

More than that, I remember watching the funeral on our black-and-white TV (God, does that make me feel old), not understanding it but mostly watching Caroline and John-John, as everyone called him, since they were about my age. I remember sitting and watching it with my brother and my parents, and my parents being upset, but not much else. I was too young, and over the years my memories have gotten mixed up with all the iconic images we’ve seen from the media.

From Debra at Bookishly Attentive:

My parents, my twin sister, my grandmother and I were in a lighting store in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, probably shopping for a dining room fixture. I was three. I actually remember the store (I was fascinated by the lights, evidently) and I remember the owner (an older, heavyset woman) coming up to my parents and asking if they heard what happened, and if they had, why are they still shopping in the store?  She was crying, wringing a white handkerchief. I then remember my parents hustling us out to the car. She closed the shop behind us.

I asked my mother about this memory years later, after watching some kind of JFK documentary, and she said I had remembered the events almost perfectly.

I was too young to really process what had happened, but I do remember my parents being subdued.  I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the living room of our old apartment on Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. My mother, my sister and I were watching the funeral on the old black and white in the corner. The thing that made the biggest impression on me and what I actually remember to this day is the horse (Black Jack?) with the boots backward in the stirrups. I remember that scared the heck out of me.

I just think how totally different this world would have been if that day in November, 1963 had never happened. And it makes me immeasurably sad. Always.

From Terri at Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement:

I was 13; I was in a junior high class (English I think); the news came over the loudspeaker, our principal announced it. I don’t recall precisely what we were doing in class; when the news came over the loudspeaker, I was confused at first. It didn’t sink in until later when I saw my friends in the cafeteria. There was lots of crying and hugging. I think they let us out of school early.

We watched TV non-stop for days. It was quite surreal, especially when Oswald was shot. I hate to admit it, but I was taking my cues from my parents, so I can’t really recall what I was feeling, other than scared and sad.

I remember watching Jackie Kennedy and being fascinated by her and by the Catholic rituals. I don’t think I’d ever seen them before (kneeling, crossing herself, etc). In my naïve adolescence, I decided I wanted to be a Catholic, so for a few nights I knelt by my bed and crossed myself. That was as far as I went though.

It was the beginning of a very volatile time in our country – many assassinations, the Vietnam war and its protests, etc. The age of innocence ended in those years, I think.

I have one copy of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY to give away (US/Canada only).  To enter, just leave a comment and let me know where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news of either the Kennedy assassination (if you’re old enough) or the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.  The contest ends Sunday, 11/14, at midnight.

Review and Giveaway: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyTRCoverI recently had the pleasure of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer.  Where do I start in reviewing a book that has become a modern day classic in such a very short time?  A book that is almost universally loved?  A book that so many people have lauded, admired, and reviewed before me? 

Do I even need to say what it’s about?  Is it possible there are readers out there unfamiliar with the premise? 

In short, it’s a book told in letters.  It’s a cool format.  I know there is a real word for that.  Epistolary?  Is that it?  Or is that a religion?  Hmmm.. must check that out on Dictionary.com.  

Anyway, let’s dispense of the unwieldy book title for this review and just call it Potato.  Potato starts out in 1946.  WWII with all its devastation has ended, and the world is forever changed.  Early in the book Juliet Ashton, a writer, gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man living on the island of Guernsey, which had been occupied by the Germans during the war.  He found her name and address written on the inside of a book that intrigued him and, isolated on the island but seeking more information on the author, he reaches out to Juliet, the former owner of the book.  Their correspondence is the foundation for Potato.  

Dawsey tells Juliet about his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Juliet is intrigued and asks him to have the other members write to her as well, because she is looking for material for an article and thinks their group would be interesting to her readers.  Soon she is corresponding with several members of the Society, and before long she is charmed by the people and by the idea of the island, so much so that she is compelled to go meet them and see it for herself. 

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

I love my book club- love talking about it- love the many positive changes it has brought about in my life (including this blog).  However, I could never say that it saved me or got me through the worst times of my life.  I could never say that it became my lifeline during a war.  But that is precisely the function the Society served for many of the people on Guernsey. 

And I loved this book for all it’s bookish quotes and insightful observations.  There are so many to choose from, but here is one from page 11, which I adored: 

“That’s what I love about reading; one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive-all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

How true that is?!   That has happened to me so often.  

Another quote I loved isn’t specifically about reading, although I guess it could be: 

“Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person’s name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?  My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace.  He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world, and “fruitfulness” is drawn in.” 

That reminds me of when you get a new car.  I never knew how many Nissan Quests were on the road until I started driving one.  Or how many pregnant woman were in the world until I was one (and how they multiplied tenfold after I lost my baby). But it’s true in a bookish sense as well.  I have thrown my “book club energy” into the world, and I am constantly amazed at how often I meet others who participate in book clubs and who love to read and discuss what they’re reading.  You attract others like you into your sphere when you send out the right vibes.  And apparently I have some really strong book club vibes floating through the universe. 

Another quote I loved (LOVED!) is this: 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey?  Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

I am that perfect reader, in this case.  I adored this book. 

I will leave you with one last quote, and (shock) it’s a book club one.  From page 51: 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules:  we took turns speaking about the books we read.  At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves.  Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight.  We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.” 

Yes.  I can relate.  My book club is very dear to me, and it is a delight to debate a point in a book. 

If you are interested in WWII or historical fiction, you’ll appreciate this unique look at the war.  If you enjoy letters, are a member of a book club, or an avid reader, I strongly recommend this literary gem to you.  It is timeless, charming, insightful, and soothing.  It was the perfect book for me and I hope it finds other perfect readers. 

The publisher, Random House, has generously offered 5 copies of the trade paperback of this book to give away as part of it’s TLC Book Tour.  Please leave a comment by Friday, August 28th for a chance to win.  If you’ve already read Potato, please let me know what you thought of it!

Visit the Guernsey website HERE and the author’s website HERE (she also writes children’s books).  You can find discussion questions for your book group HERE.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 86 other followers