From The Wall Street Journal:
Even the most accomplished readers get stuck in a rut, defaulting to books in a genre they know they’ll enjoy instead of taking a chance on something different.
But publishing professionals and readers who regularly flick between genres say you can find a new groove by looking to reliable sources and closely examining your literary habits.
Not knowing where to start in a new genre is “a classic challenge that most people face,” says Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, co-founder and editor in chief of Goodreads, a website where members record what they’re reading and rate and discuss books. Goodreads compiles lists of top books by genre by considering both a book’s average site rating and the number of members who have read it. ( Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” on the science-fiction list, for instance, recently had a 4.12 rating on the site’s 5-star scale with more than 100,000 readers weighing in.)
Lists like those are a good place to start if you’re looking for something in a new genre, says Ms. Khuri Chandler. But she cautions readers to make sure that a book that is highly rated overall doesn’t also have multiple one-star ratings. “Don’t read something polarizing,” she says. “You want something that has a universal appeal for your first outing in a new genre.”
. . . .
Ms. Khuri Chandler picked up a genre she usually avoids after accepting her husband’s challenge to tackle Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic “Dune.” He, in exchange, read her pick: “Pride and Prejudice.” While her husband plowed through Jane Austen’s love story in a day, she admits she struggled a bit. Still, she says, the experience was positive.
“It does give you insight into other people if you’ve read a book that is one they count as one of their all-time favorite reads, or is something that has really affected them,” Ms. Khuri Chandler says.
. . . .
Readers who want to make sure a book in a new genre speaks to their personal tastes should carefully consider why they love the books they do, says Gwen Glazer, a librarian at New York Public Library who co-hosts the podcast “The Librarian is In.”
“For people who read romance, it’s not that they only like love stories, it’s how it makes them feel,” Ms. Glazer says, noting that those books often evoke cozy or hopeful emotions. “There are lots of books outside that genre that will make you feel that way.”
Ms. Glazer, who trains her colleagues on improving their book recommendations, says she gets into a reader’s mind-set by using the “librarian party trick” of listening to whether a person focuses on language, story, character or setting when describing a favorite book.
If someone begins their description of a novel with its location—“I felt like I was in Alaska in 1952!”—Ms. Glazer says setting might be most important to them. But if someone describing, for instance, Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers” says they appreciate reading about struggles through an unexpected pregnancy and familial loss, that person is likely to care most about story.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal
PG has read a lot of Twentieth Century history and is nearing the end of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, by Victor Davis Hanson. It’s the best and most comprehensive history (720 pages in hardback) he’s read of the Second World War.
PG says if you wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night, aroused by the need for a good WWII history, this is the one to get.
PG has read quite a few histories of the war in Europe on the Eastern Front, primarily fought between Germany and Russia (which was much bloodier by far than the Western Front, where Germany fought primarily the US and UK forces), but Hanson’s review and analysis is the best PG has read about that part of the war that is lesser-known in the West.
While the armed forces engaged in the war were both large and extremely powerful, by far the greatest number of deaths during World War II were civilians. About 20 million civilians died in China during its long war with Japan (with some credible estimates reaching 50 million Chinese civilian deaths) and about 24 million civilians died in Russia.
The largest share of civilian deaths in Russia, Germany, China and Japan were due to starvation instead of being bombed or shot. Through either policy-driven campaigns or as a side-effect of war, food production was totally disrupted around many battlefields and in occupied zones. Quite a large number of military deaths were also due to starvation of prisoners interned in Russian and German POW camps.
Great Britain went through some lean years, but serious consequences from food shortages were rare due to regular shipments of food from North America. On the other hand, at one point, 80% of the children in Belgium suffered from rickets. In German-occupied parts of the USSR, Jews and children were allowed only 500 calories a day. Some of the stories of starvation in China are too gruesome for PG to include here.
In the continental US, the civilian population largely escaped the direct suffering occurring in so many other places. (PG is not forgetting Pearl Harbor, the US-controlled Commonwealth of the Philippines, and several Pacific island groups or the merchant ships that were sunk by German U-boats within sight of Miami and other East Coast cities).
The outsized contributions of the United States during World War II were based upon a huge expansion of the country’s manufacturing sector and substantial increases in US food production. The starvation in Europe and Asia mentioned earlier both during and after the war was partially ameliorated by food produced in America.
Shipments of food supplies, clothing, goods, equipment and weapons manufactured in the United States were delivered to Russia by US and British merchant vessels through the extreme northern (north of the Arctic Circle) ports of Archangel and Murmansk during the 872-day siege of Leningrad and thereafter throughout the remainder of hostilities. By the end of the war, 75% of the trucks operated by the Russian army were manufactured by Detroit automakers.
Here’s an excerpt from a description of Freedom’s Forge (which PG has read and highly recommends):
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
As mentioned, Roosevelt assigned Henry J. Kaiser the task of creating an enormous merchant fleet to carry the huge amounts of armaments, food and other materiel across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to supply the needs of both civilian populations and those who were fighting.
Kaiser’s Liberty ships were mass-produced up and down the Pacific and Atlantic seaboards. The principles of mass-production that characterized American manufacturing of automobiles, trucks, planes and other war supplies were applied to shipbuilding.
In 1936, the American Merchant Marine Act was passed to subsidize the annual construction of 50 commercial merchant vessels which could be used in wartime by the United States Navy as naval auxiliaries. That number was doubled in 1939 and again in 1940, but few ships were actually constructed due to limited industrial capacity.
A new, simpler design – the Liberty ship – was approved and construction responsibilities were given to Kaiser and six of his engineering and construction companies (which had been building huge dams in remote locations prior to the war). Kaiser focused on creating the maritime equivalent of a production line to build sound ships very quickly.
One of Kaiser’s innovations was to weld the Liberty ships together instead of using thousands of rivets, something which had never before been done. This was not only faster, but, unlike the heavy and exhausting work of riveting, welding could be performed quickly and efficiently by female welders
The first Liberty ships required 230 days to build but mass production techniques quickly improved efficiency and one of Kaiser’s shipyards could complete a Liberty ship in 45 days. This was remarkable, but insufficient, so Kaiser and his engineers expanded existing shipyards and built more. Soon, a three Liberty ship were being launched every day. By the end of the war, eighteen American shipyards built 2,710 Liberty ships between 1941 and 1945.
The German and Japanese military forces literally could not sink allied merchant ships faster than Kaiser’s shipyards could build them. Similar production innovations made it possible for other US manufacturers to build aircraft, tanks and trucks faster than they could be destroyed by enemy action.
Visitors to TPV will notice PG’s interest in these topics, but he will try their patience no longer.
But, this is what a Liberty ship looks like: