Reading list: Tudors, Nazis and Detectives

reading in the showerTime off = reading. Though to be honest, with me, any time = reading. Including in the shower. (Aah, maybe that was an admission too far. Anyway…)

All this time reading, when I should be WRITING, DAMMIT! But hang on. All is not lost. Stephen King is riding to the rescue of my beaten, bedraggled, often ignored but unbowed writer’s conscience.

In his excellent and useful book ON WRITING – A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, Stephen King says this:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. there’s no way round these two things thast I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft: I read because I like to read.

Phew! I’m at least halfway to being a writer. And this is what else I’ve been reading in the past fortnight and recommend to you.

ALONE IN BERLIN, first published in 1947 as JEDER STIRBT FUR SICH ALLEIN by Hans Fallada (real name Rudolph Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen). He died the same year. The story is of a couple who, when their son is killed on the Russian front, begin to write and drop postcards attacking Hitler across the city.

Be This Guy: August Friedrich Landmesser, a worker at the Hamburg shipyard Blohm + Voss, refusing in 1936 to make a Nazi salute at a mass party rally. (However, I can now reveal the true story of his so-called heroic gesture. Too stingy to buy deoderant. Underarm sweat stains. Too embarrassed to raise his arm. This story is really all about personal hygiene. Don't be this guy.)

Be This Guy: August Friedrich Landmesser, a worker at the Hamburg shipyard Blohm + Voss, refusing in 1936 to make a Nazi salute at a mass party rally. (However, I can now reveal the true story of his so-called heroic gesture. Too stingy to buy deoderant. Underarm sweat stains. Too embarrassed to raise his arm. This story is really all about personal hygiene. Don’t be this guy.)

An insignificant gesture of resistance perhaps, but one that provokes a concerted Gestapo campaign to find and kill them. It’s an exciting and moral story and paints a vivid picture of Berlin and Berliners during their days of complacency and then anxiety as the war begins to turn against Germany.

It also addresses those questions like – What would I do? What could anyone do? What did anyone do?

We don’t tend to hear much about the small ordinary acts of heroic resistance by Germans to Nazism. Perhaps because it conflicts with the idea that all Germans were complict – along the lines of Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen. Or perhaps because it undermines the defence that the masses were swept along, ignorant and innocent of the evil deeds of a few – along the lines of the film The Nasty Girl (Das schreckliche Mädchen). People did know – some acted with honour and humanity. Bit like today.

An inspiring read.

I also enjoyed RATLINES by Stuart Neville, who also wrote the ingenious Ghosts of Belfast (published as The Twelve in the UK). I’ve clearly got Nazis on the brain, because this is about Nazis and their fellow travellers who have fled defeat and holed up in the Republic of Ireland. And now someone is hunting them done and killing them. It could wreck the upcoming visit of President John F Kennedy. It’s clever, imaginative and pacey.  The author’s note at the front had me hooked:

These things are known to be true: dozens of Nazis and Axis collaborators sought refuge in Ireland following the Second World War; in 1957, Otto Skorzeny [the German paratroop leader who dramatically rescued Mussolini]  was welcomed to a country club reception by the young politician Charles Haughey; Otto Skorzeny purchased Martinstown House in Kildare in 1959; in 1963, in response to a question by Dr Noel Browne TD, the Minister for Justice Charles Haughey told the Irish parliament that Otto Skorzeny had never been resident in Ireland.

The rest is just a story.

And it’s a good story.

If you like a clever hard bitten crime story – Stuart McBride is a good bet. BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD and CLOSE TO THE BONE both provide vivid characters and emotional twists. (Plot twists too, but it’s the emotional ones that get me these days.)

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

And like the world and his wife, I also read the man Booker prize-winning BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel – in which Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII, takes out a contract on Anne Boleyn. You don’t cross Thomas Cromwell and get away with it. Highly recommended. But read part one first – Wolf Hall – also excellent and will enhance your enjoyment of Thomas v Anne.

But the one book I haven’t been able to finish is Roddy Doyle’s  TWO PINTS. Rambling and sharp short conversations about current events between two middle-aged working class men in a pub. They cover the Queen and Barack Obama visiting Ireland, Katie Taylor winning Olympic boxing gold for Ireland, wives, kids, news, Gadaffi secretly working as a cleaner at Dublin airport. It’s hilarious.

So why haven’t I been able to finish it? The thing is, I gave it to a sister as a Christmas present, and between her unwrapping it and starting to read it herself, I was only able to sneak it away for brief chuckles. But the first opportunity I get to steal it back, I will.

So those are your reading recommendations for today. Read anything good yourself the past week?



Filed under What I'm Reading

22 responses to “Reading list: Tudors, Nazis and Detectives

  1. “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” by Katrina Kenison

  2. I have been reading classics this year. I read Jane Eyre (loved), Emma, (hated) Dracula, (loved) and am currently reading Wuthering Heights. I really want to read Frankenstein next. 🙂

  3. Loved your posts; i read voraciously, too much i sometimes think; nice to hear from you always

    • blackwatertown

      Now you’re just being plain silly. Reading voraciously – fine. Too much? How can that be possible.
      There’s never too much – only not enough.

  4. Hudson Howl

    Have never read a Steven King, I know am scummy aren’t I, but I have been to the site.

    • blackwatertown

      No – I wouldn’t say that. he does write good stories though – perhaps you’ve seen some as films. Misery was arresting.

      • Hudson Howl

        The movies I have seen, well a few. Misery was like nails on a blackboard, which necessarily is not a complaint. Green Mile turned my crank.

        Just last night I finished reading Rockbound written by Frank Parker Day, published in 1928. And as good as any fiction written in that period and probably takes a run at anything written today as far as fiction. I seldom recommend a reading, but this is worth the effort.

  5. I have read some of Steven King’s novels. “The Dead Zone” (made into a movie and TV series) was my favorite.
    Blessings ~ Maxi

  6. I have shelves of BooksTo Be Read. hurrah!

    • blackwatertown

      Hurrah indeed.
      I’ve been shifting mine out of the house and into other people’s garages. Surprisingly sad to move books – though I enjoy the uncovering of old friends.

  7. 29

    A recent read, “The Spanish Holocaust”, exhaustively researched, another example of man’s inhumanity.
    Re Herr Landmesser, what happened to him.
    Re Otto Skorzeny, I did not realize that Charlie Haughey thought highly of him although some British special forces officers did; when there was a question of charging him with war crimes they contended that if that was the case then they also should be charged.

    • blackwatertown

      Haven’t read your suggestion – have heard it’s v good though.

      Landmesser – was engaged to a Jewish woman – which led to them both being persecuted and jailed. She was in various concentration camps – before being killed. He went missing presumed died in action in Croatia (it is thought) as part of a penal infantry battalion. They had two children who survived them.

      There’s an interesting alternative view of Skorzeny’s bravery in the book – with suggestions that he, literally, climbed on the backs of others.

  8. Nigel

    On Saturday evening, Paul, you will be able to hear Frederick Forsyth read the preface to his latest book “The Tracker” at a location near you- with me introducing him. So don’t head for the White Horse that evening, or not furlong anyway!

  9. Well…I’d like to say “The Obituarist” lol! Sadly I have not had opportunity to read anything beyond blogs, blogs and more blogs recently 🙂 I have plenty of reading material lined up…but life is not being generous that way just now 🙂

  10. anti Nazi Konrad Adenauer great story of courage

    • blackwatertown

      Another interesting guy – mayor of Cologne (Koln), where my son is visiting shortly. Both he and Landmesser dallied with the Nazis – despite being opposed to them.
      Landmesser was a Nazi party member. he joined to be able to get a job apparently. Was expelled for becoming engaged to a Jewish woman.
      Adenauer wrote to the Nazi government arguing that he had bent over backwards to accommodate the Nazis – and had spoken of how a strong leader, even Hitler, might be what Germany needed. Though, to be fair to him, he’d been kicked out of his job by the Nazis, had his assets frozen, hidden in a monastery for a year and been imprisoned during the Night of the Long Knives – so he was probably entitled to suck up to them to avoid something more terminal.

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