Books I Read in March 2015

Christmas Truce, by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton — Another book about the 1914 Christmas truces of World War I, full of direct quotations from firsthand accounts. In his book on the same subject, Silent Night, Stanley Weintraub describes Christmas Truce as “seminal”. It is better written than Silent Night. It is perhaps not typical of the truces, but one of the most interesting stories contained in it was told by Vize-Feldwebel Lange of XIX Saxon Corps to the Australian Ethel Cooper (who recorded it in a letter to her sister). At one place where there was a truce, the day after Christmas, the officers demanded that the men fire on the enemy, but the men refused. “We can’t — they are good fellows, and we can’t.” Finally, after much storming about and swearing, the officers told the men, “Fire, or we do — and not at the enemy!” At last the men fired — but not at the enemy. “‘We spent that day and the next’, said Herr Lange, ‘wasting ammunition in trying to shoot the stars down from the sky.’” (Chapter 7, “Boxing Day”)

Cleopatra - John William Waterhouse• Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare — This could be classified as either one of Shakespeare’s History or one of his Tragedy plays. It was one of the few of Shakespeare’s plays which I hadn’t read. I didn’t enjoy it as much some of his other plays, but I must say that Cleopatra certainly could throw a spectacular tantrum!

• The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald — “Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.” (Chapter 1) A novel of people whose materialistic lives end in futility. There was one funny scene where a man with “owl-eyed glasses” insists to Nick Carraway (the narrator) that the books in Gatsby’s library are real, and not cardboard, and solemnly shows the pages in one to prove it.

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Painting is Cleopatra (1888) by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).

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