Good morning bookies! Stand by for news and comment.
There’s white stuff on the ground here in Memphis. It’s disgusting, let me tell you. I prefer it when that big yellow thing is up in the sky and you can wear shorts and t-shirts without shivering. People ask me if I don’t enjoy the change of seasons and the short answer is: no.
*** Neil Gaiman has made a career of creeping out adults and has now set his sights on our kids, writing horror stories for the innocent and unsuspecting. And he must be good at it, or bad, depending on your point of view, because his latest work, The Graveyard Book, has won the Newberry Medal. Talk about prestigious! In case you don’t know, winning the Newberry is a pretty big deal, about like winning the lottery, because it virtually guarantees that your book will remain in print in one form or another for years to come.
*** The first of today’s obligatory World War II reviews is rather interesting to me, concerning, as it does, a ship that was never finished. As all of you know I’m a real naval enthusiast, always have been. The earliest books that I remember reading were histories of the US Navy in World War II, I have an extensive collection of lead warships, I have read histories of both of Japan’s biggest battleships, Yamato and Musashi, as well as their sister ship that was converted to an aircraft carrier, Shinano, I’m a Titanic buff…well, anyway, I like ships. I was mildly surprised, however, to learn that someone is obsessed with and has written a new history about the Graf Zeppelin, the one and only carrier that Nazi Germany launched during its brief history.
Conceived as part of Germany’s overall naval buildup, known as the Z-Plan, Graf Zeppelin wasn’t meant to be a fighting force in itself, such as the American task forces that roamed the Pacific. It wasn’t a particularly impressive ship, despite the breathless hyperbole of the linked article. Although as long as most full-sized carriers, it’s air complement gave it the striking power of a light carrier. The planes would have been modified Stukas, with torpedo bombers and fighters designed for use on a ship. ME-109’s would not have worked due to their weird landing gear. None of these planes was overly advanced, none carried a big enough payload to really due the damage needed by a lone carrier. Now, had she ever been on the high seas in tandem with, say, either Bismarck or Tirpitz, or convoy raiding on the Murmansk run, then okay, there was a use providing air cover for other ships, scouting duties and maybe chasing away some cruisers or getting a hit or two on a battleship and forcing them back to port. And this was her intended role.
But a monster, she was not. In a carrier-versus-carrier battle Graf Zeppelin would have been kicked around pretty well. So I would like to read the book Without Wings: The Story of Hitler’s Aircraft Carrier by Stephen Burke, I’m curious what his conclusions might be, as well as any interesting tidbits he’s dug up about Graf Zeppelin’s brief history. I might get this one.
*** And next we have yet another new World War II history book article written by yet another breathless journalist who insists on making his subject bigger and more important than is necessary. Dolloping on the hyperbole we are told that a new history of the US 99th Division ‘explodes the myth!’ of this or that aspect of the war, where the only person who might have believed such a myth in the first place is the writer of the article. I mean, let’s face it, does Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II by Robert Humphrey really explode any myths that World War II was glorious, glamorous or easy? Come on. Hollywood told this story as early as 1949, with an all-star cast. Anybody seen ‘Battleground’ with Van Johnson lately? What about ‘Band of Brothers’, that ring any bells?
What this book appears to be is actually something I might read, an oral history of the 99th Division from the standpoint of the GIs who did the fighting. That’s an interesting and important story. It doesn’t need to be hyped with exclamation points of hack phrases like ‘explodes the myth.’ Any World War II buff knows that the greatest weakness of the US Army in World War II was in its officer corps. Some senior commanders were top-notch, Patton comes to mind, some weren’t bad, Bradley and Eisenhower are good examples, and some were grossly incompetent. (Mark Clark, anyone?) What was worse was the leadership void just below that level, and particularly in the supply services. The article indicates that the men suffered from poor logistics; given the corruption in the ETO that’s certainly possible.
Anyway, this book looks like my sort of book and I might read it. Despite the article.
*** Hoaxes. Let’s face it, we all enjoy reading about a good hoax. And while the linked article might not be the Top 10 Hoaxes of all time (are you telling me the Romans or Egyptians didn’t have hoaxers too, but history has forgotten them?), they are 10 fascinating examples of gullibility. And since several of them are books it is relevant to this blog. Neat how I make up the rules as I go, isn’t it?
*** John Updike died yesterday. You probably already knew that. I count myself fortunate for having been able to see him a few years ago on the campus at the University of Memphis. He spoke for an hour or so, this was right after the release of Terrorist, and I was first in line for the book-signing afterward. (I don’t know how long he was there, but the line was several hundred people in length.) He was quite funny and polished during the talk. I’m told he was paid $50k for showing up, which seems like quite a bit until you consider that he either A) needed the money or B) couldn’t turn down such a massive payday. Whichever is the case, I had a great time and I’m saddened that he’s gone.
*** Also gone is novelist/editor James Brady, aged 80. I have never read any of his work but those I trust tell me he was quite good. He seems to have been known mostly as a ‘gossip pioneer’, what that is. I thought gossip had been around a lot longer than that.
*** Gack! Stan Lee is getting sued for $750 million. Double gack! That’s a chunk o’ change. It seems shareholders in his company are wondering why he, and not they, got the payout from the many mega-hit movies based on Marvel comic characters Lee created. Beats me why not. I do know that when this much money starts floating around, lawsuits are inevitable.