After church today I had lunch with a friend. We ate next door to Barnes & Noble, and when lunch was over, I couldn't resist wandering through the bookstore. Just looking.
In the entranceway between the two sets of doors, where they put a lot of their bargain books, there was a coffee-table book of France, and I stood paging through the photos of cities and castles I visited during our pre-children bicycle trip through Western Europe. The book covered Paris, Brittany, the Loire, and Provence. As I flipped from one photo to the next, facts and emotion surfaced with the pictures.
The château de Chambord spoke of François I and his obsession to build it, even while his son was being held for ransom by Spain. He didn't have (or couldn't be bothered to find) the money to get his son back, but he kept building Chambord, a castle with over 400 rooms and an impressive double-spiral staircase.
The aerial photo of Chenonceau, which showed the castle straddling the River Cher, reminded me of a story our tour guide told. She said that during World War II, the castle was used as a hospital in Occupied France, but the far bank of the river was in unoccupied territory. Many people were smuggled out from the clutches of the Nazis through the castle.
And the photo of the castle at Azay-le-Rideau brought me back to the heartache evoked by the son et lumiere (sound and light show), a story of a woman's bliss and betrayal and loss.
Inside the store was a table with a sign that said, "Local Interest." It had the book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell. I think I heard Hugh Hewitt talking about this book on his radio show, but I wasn't sure. And I'm not sure if the local interest with the book is just because it's about a military operation (I'm near Camp Pendleton, home of the Marines, and not too far from San Diego's multiple Navy bases), or if Petty Officer Luttrell spent time in the area.
I noticed a novel by Robin Gerber, called Eleanor vs. Ike, and I read the back cover:
It is a time of turmoil, with the nation mired in an unpopular war in Korea and with Senator Joseph McCarthy stirring up fear of a lurking Communist "menace." Racial discrimination is rampant. A woman's place is in the home. And when a shocking act of God eliminates the Democratic presidential nominee, the party throws its support to an unlikely standard bearer: former First Lady and goodwill ambassador to the world Eleanor Roosevelt.
Captivating and fast-paced, Eleanor vs. Ike pits the unforgettable Eleanor against the enormously popular war hero Gen. Dwight David ("Ike") Eisenhower. But while the opponents promise "an honest campaign," their strategists mire the race in scandal and bitter innuendo. Suddenly Eleanor finds herself a target of powerful insiders who mean to destroy her good name—and Ku Klux Klan assassins dedicated to her death—as she gets caught up in a mad whirl of appearances and political maneuvering . . . and a chance encounter with a precocious five-year-old named Hillary Rodham.
Ugh! Naturally, Eleanor is pure as the driven snow, and the Republicans are smear merchants and KKK assassins. And isn't little Hillary just so cute?
I looked up reviews of the book when I got home. The feminists (Robin Gerber's blog describes her as a feminist) described the book in glowing terms and weren't able to put the book down, but editorial reviews, like Publishers Weekly, summarized the book saying, "Eleanor comes across as imperious, intelligent and brave, but clumsy dialogue, historical minutiae and an absence of narrative tension sink the story."
In the biography section, I saw Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, by Leonie Frieda, and was intrigued, because my time in France (and research before the trip) revealed Catherine to be somewhere between merely wicked and the devil's spawn, depending on who you asked. But this book said she was an "unjustly maligned queen." Hmmm... I'm not sure I'm ready to give up my antipathy for her. One tour guide we had told us (the tour was in French) that there's one portrait of Catherine de Medici that shows her with a bec de lièvre (hare lip), and all the rest of the portraits show her with a normal mouth, but even normal, the tour guide said, she was ugly. The guide didn't know if the one portrait was the artist being mean, like drawing a moustache on someone's picture, or if Catherine really had a cleft but made all the other artists paint her looking like a normal person.
I spotted the paperback edition of Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. Steyn had said on Hugh Hewitt's show that he had a new introduction for the paperback (I already have the book in hardcover), so I took the time to read it.
Finally, I saw a man reading the back of a book, which he handed to his wife when she joined him, and he picked up another copy and continued reading. So I picked up a copy to see what was so interesting. It was Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization's End, by Lawrence E. Joseph, a rather dismal prediction of the coming destruction of not just the world as we know it but of the world, period. I pointed out to the couple that I'm scheduled to start collecting Social Security in 2013 (a miscalculation on my part that I didn't figure out until after I left--I won't be getting it until around 2023). The whole premise of the book, which included the massive explosion of Yellowstone that alarmed Hugh Hewitt last year and the predicted volatility of the Solar Cycle that starts in 2012 (I'm hoping it will bring us out of the ice age brought on by Solar Cycle 24 that just started in January), was just too depressing for any of us to want to buy it. As we parted, the husband wished me luck on getting Social Security. Apocalypse or not, I'll need that luck.