Saturday, April 26, 2014

1939: The Last Season by Anne de Courcy

1939: The Last Season1939: The Last Season by Anne de Courcy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always had a fascination with the time between the wars; I grew up hearing firsthand about what it was like to grow up in that time from my grandmother and her sister. This book takes me back to all of that; the women described here put me so much in mind of them.

DeCourcy begins innocently enough, describing the diaphanous lives of the young ladies of England's upper class all a-flutter at being presented to the King and Queen on the occasion of their society debuts. We read of sumptuous menus, daring beaus, exhausted chaperones, and too much champagne. Intertwined with the furs and music, however, is the growing threat of war, and so skillfully does she shift the narrative from the silly-young dance floor to the deadly Axis threats, that we hardly notice how imminent the danger has become.

The pathos is in the fact that life did indeed go on throughout the spring and summer of 1939. Traditions were observed as always, people took their usual holidays, wrote letters, dined, and danced. But they also gathered food, bought sturdy clothing, and made arrangements for their children and pets should the worst happen.

Of course it ends simply with a transcript of the King's radio address informing his subjects that England is at war with Germany (have tissues ready at the end; it's difficult). We know the rest. How beautiful that last summer must have been to savor in the dark days that followed, and that is the reason to read this book-- it describes beautifully the very last months of an era that is gone forever and cherished by the few left who remember.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Soccerhead: An Accidental Journey into the Heart of the American Game by Jim Haner

Soccerhead: An Accidental Journey into the Heart of the American GameSoccerhead: An Accidental Journey into the Heart of the American Game by Jim Haner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haner's story is his own of a dad pressed into service as a youth league soccer coach. The team turns out to have serious talent, so he has to step up his own game as a coach in order to keep up with the players, and in learning about the game, he uncovers the United States' rich, forgotten, and unappreciated history of soccer.

He skillfully interweaves his son's story of success on the field with the story of soccer's rise and fall in the US, with a lot of focus on the Washington, DC area where he lives and coaches. As someone who grew up while a lot of what he relates was happening, I found the story interesting until that point-- and then I read with wide eyes as he named some of the grownups of my youth. I did not know they were threads in the fabric of the game; they were my best friend's father and her league president, who fought successfully for girls to have parity with boys in the youth leagues.

Haner's writing is compelling. He's an excellent storyteller, and you'll be able to see these kids on the field as well as the players from decades ago. Soccer has well over 100 years of history in our country, almost all of it buried, much of it now in a warehouse near where I live. I'm doing my part to help it gain ground again. If you care about the beautiful game or have a child who plays, read this to learn more about why soccer matters.

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