Tuesday, June 29, 2021

"The Execution Of Admiral John Byng As A Microhistory Of Eighteenth-Century Britain"

In 1757, British Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad after the island of Minorca, in the western Mediterranean, was lost to the French a year earlier at the start of the Seven Years' War. Why did his command fail? Was Byng a coward in battle? Was he treasonous? 

It turns out that Byng, in spite of his distinguished naval career, was executed for the "crime" of, well, not trying hard enough. 

For Navy veteran and Butte College history instructor Joseph Krulder such a fate demands fuller explanation than that offered by conventional military and political accounts. Using "microhistory," he delves into the social, cultural and economic backdrop to the "Byng affair" "with a very small time frame over a very wide region."

The resultant study breaks new ground in showing how cultural forces were manipulated by political elites to cast Byng as "an emblem of cowardice and treason despite the ample evidence that says otherwise...." In short, Byng was the fall guy.

"The Execution Of Admiral John Byng As A Microhistory Of Eighteenth-Century Britain" ($160 in hardcover from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle) is a scholarly work yet highly accessible. 

Chapters explore the shaping of public opinion, such as the use of ballads, by Byng himself as well as his enemies, "to generate and guide public sentiment concerning the political crisis caused by Minorca's loss."

Newspapers presented partisan versions of Byng's story. The monetary costs of processing sea vessels captured by the Royal Navy may have (ironically) prevented Byng's fleet from being fully outfitted. Sailors brought aboard from inland towns spread sickness. 

In a story untold until now, Krulder traces anti-Byng sentiment expressed in sermons. There were food shortages in 1755-1756, anti-Byng "riots" portrayed as violent, and competing trading interests around the world diverting attention and undermining the idea of British nationalism and the empire's purported invincibility. Krulder concludes Parliament's inquiry into Minorca's loss had a "scripted outcome." 

His final chapter notes that political and social machinations are not unknown in the modern U.S. Navy, suggesting that a story seemingly so far removed from us is a cautionary tale for today as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Traveling The World With Hemingway"

When Curtis DeBerg retired from Chico State as a business professor in 2020, he had already been bitten by the Hemingway bug. It was less about Illinois-born Ernest Hemingway the Nobel laureate in literature (he was awarded the prize in 1954) and more, much more, about the places he lived that shaped him even as he shaped them.

"I tracked, trudged, limped, drank and slept at the places that were meaningful in his life--from Oak Park to Petoskey, from Paris to Pamplona, from Madrid to Venice, from Bimini to Uganda, from Montreux to Schruns, from Rapallo to Santiago de Compostela." DeBerg adds: "I wanted to 'feel' where he lived, read, wrote, ate, drank, fished, hunted, fought, loved and died."

Drawing on archival and contemporary photographs, and partnering with publisher Tom Pero, who provided images from previous visits to the Hemingway residence outside Havana, Cuba when travel became impossible because of the pandemic, DeBerg has created a feast for the eyes--and food for thought.

"Traveling The World With Hemingway" ($75 in hardcover from Wild River Press, wildriverpress.com) is a spatial, not chronological guide, to Hemingway places, including Ketchum, Idaho, with his fourth wife, Mary, where, paranoid, drinking excessively, Hemingway killed himself with a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun on July 2, 1961. He was 61.

DeBerg's book is not hagiography; early on, as an ambulance driver at the Italian Front in World War I, Hemingway "wasn't yet 19 years old, and he was dying to be a hero, even if it was of his own fiction." A serial womanizer, emotionally abusive to his wives, he always seemed to have someone new in the wings when his marriages deteriorated. He cultivated the larger-than-life masculine image portrayed in press accounts. He popularized bullfighting, though "Hemingway came to regret how he, almost singlehandedly, brought Pamplona to world fame." (Too many tourists.)

DeBerg mixes history with travelogue, and each page in his gorgeous coffee-table book is a wonder, unpacking details of Hemingway's life (like the series of concussions he suffered and his insatiable appetite for alcohol) that dig beneath the hype to show a very troubled man, searching for happiness, who changed the shape of American literature.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat"

Chicoan Sarah Downs is a cat rescuer, co-founder of the Neighborhood Cat Advocates (catadvocatestnr.org) which focuses on trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats or cats with no owner (with a caretaker assigned to feed them). 

Her children's book, begun as a tribute to her father, is now part of a fundraising effort to make it possible for her to relocate sixteen or seventeen feral cats living on the Marigold side of the Pleasant Valley High School campus (see @pvcatrelocationproject on Facebook for details).

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat" ($15.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is a sweet story with full-color illustrations by the inimitable Steve Ferchaud. (Search for "Clyde's Happy Tails by Sarah Downs" on Amazon to avoid being directed to books with "happy trails" in their titles.)

Clyde, we are told, "was found as a wee little kitten, lost and alone in a field." But a caring family brought him home, and when the tuxedo cat was old enough "he started his life full of adventure." That means he went outside.

"One day, Clyde was patrolling the neighborhood, you know, to make sure there was no riff-raff going on. Clyde hopped a fence a found he had a new neighbor. A dog!! But, the dog was tied up to a tree."

Ever inquisitive, Clyde wants to know the dog's name, but all he gets in return is a gruff "leave me alone!" He adds, menacingly, "Can't you see I'm a bad dog?" After all, he tells Clyde, he barks at strangers and was taken outside and tied to a tree. He must be bad, right?

"Clyde replied, 'Well, I don't think you're a Bad Dog. You didn't bark at me, and I'm a stranger!" That sets the dog (whose name is Petey) to thinking he's not so bad after all, and sets Clyde to thinking of a way to free Petey. It involves all the neighborhood cats working together, but they get the job done.

Clyde isn't finished. He introduces Petey to Joey, a neighborhood boy, who in turn takes Petey to meet Grandpa Tom. 

It's a perfect match.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

"Able To Be Otherwise"

"Now, when I drive through Paradise with my family nearly two years after the fire," Anna Lenaker writes in her compelling memoir, "I see the charred marks the fire left in its wake all around. But I also see the frames of new houses being built...." Yes, "life is returning ... but it is a slow and painful effort--just as it is with grieving."

Lenaker faces great grief in her own life, enough almost to still her breath permanently. Yet through others' compassion, especially from her older brother Jay and his wife Teressa, girded with an inner tenacity, she is not only the homeless kid who sold her toys on the streets of Tijuana, which helped her mom buy drugs, but the adult who graduated from Brown University by way of Chico's Inspire School of Arts and Sciences and Chico State. Mind-blowing.

"Able To Be Otherwise" ($17.99 in paperback from New Degree Press; also for Amazon Kindle) weaves Lenaker's personal story with a vision of a world better addressing the triple crises of poverty, opioid addiction and climate change. "Each time we dare to acknowledge that things are able to be otherwise," she writes, "we move toward a world where everyone can breathe deeper." 

Haunted by "imposter syndrome" at Brown ("what am I doing here among all these smart people?"), her interest in philosophy, theology and public policy blossoms. After a year abroad in England studying at Pembroke College in Oxford, she graduates with a BA in Religious Studies and a Master's in Public Affairs. 

Her love of learning hearkens back to fifth grade as she settles in with Jay and Teressa (eventually moving to Magalia).

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard's notion of a "leap of faith" shapes her life's mission of removing the stigmas around what seem to be intractable challenges, "to be willing to imagine radical alternatives to the present moment.... Believing in the possibility of change is sufficient justification for continuing to take on problems as daunting as poverty, addiction, and climate change." 

Lenaker invites the reader to "take the leap" as well; one day it will enable the world to breathe, even as her story takes your breath away.