Archive for the ‘History’ Category


You Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Nina Sankovitch

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen

In her previous book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch took the reader along on her year-long project of reading one book a day, explaining what emotions the books triggered and how they related to her own life. Signed, Sealed, Delivered has the same spirit: this book is again a personal tale. After the discovery of an old box of letters, Sankovitch is inspired to look for the significance of written correspondence. Her findings result in a book, that like its predecessor, mixes the genres of non-fiction and memoir. Unfortunately, I found both of these aspects a bit disappointing.

Concerning the author’s personal reflections, I found that the initial story of the discovery of the old letters was a nice introduction to the book’s subject. However, after a while the author’s sentiments became a bit irksome to me. For example, Sankovitch often expresses how she wishes that her children will write to her once they leave for college so that she will have a memento of their love for her. Although touching, after a few times these motherly sentiments started to become repetitive and did not have any added value to the main subject of the book.

At times, I found that this melodramatic tone made me wish that Sankovitch had tried to approach the subject from a more theoretical perspective, which brings me to my second concern. When I started the book, I had expected something along the lines of an essay explaining the appeal of letter writing. Instead, the majority of the book consists of examples of both famous and non-famous letter writers and receivers.

This is not to say that the book was not entertaining. On the contrary: the example stories are often compelling and sometimes even taught me a thing or two (like the history of Heloise and Abelard and how letter writing played a role in their lives). Still, I felt like the author missed out on the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of written correspondence, especially in this digital age. Each chapter centers around a particular function that letters may fulfill, and in between the stories, Sankovitch sometimes drops a line that summarizes the effects that reading or writing a letter can have. I think I would have liked it better if these reflective parts had taken up more space in the book.

To summarize, I have mixed feelings about this book. Being an avid letter writer myself, I have enjoyed the numerous tales that illustrate the appeal of letters. On the other hand, readers who are expecting a philosophical or psychological account of letter writing should realize that Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not intended as such. Instead, it should be seen as a compilation of the most romantic or otherwise touching stories in the history of the handwritten letter.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

No ebook available for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but there is one of her earlier book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2014

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Congratulation to everyone who won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize last night!  The full list can be found here; the winners in the Letters and Drama categories are:

Fiction: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt *
Drama: The Flick – Annie Baker
History:  The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 – Alan Taylor
Biography or Autobiography:  Margaret Fuller: A New American Life – Megan Marshall
Poetry: 3 Sections – Vijay Seshadri
General Nonfiction: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation – Dan Fagin

* True story:  I saw my very first goldfinch yesterday morning as I was on a run!  I should have kept running to the nearest bookie, obviously.  :-)  Very pretty and quick bird, and very striking, too.

You Review: Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History – Catherine Merridale

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Reviewed by Maarten Zwiers

In her book Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History, historian Catherine Merridale analyzes the Kremlin as a text. Such a methodology became increasingly popular among cultural historians during the 1970s, after the so-called linguistic turn, when all sorts of cultural expressions (festivals, rituals, flags, you name it) were subjected to “thick” descriptions.

Merridale argues that the Kremlin is not only the residence of Russia’s leaders, but can also be regarded as a theater and a script, a reflection of what the country was and what it wants to be. With every changing of the guard, the Kremlin changed too, sometimes dramatically. It was “a gallery that displays and embodies the current governing idea,” because Russian potentates have the tendency – like many rulers, by the way – to rewrite history in order to legitimize their reign. This rewriting occurred through the construction of new buildings on the Kremlin grounds (especially churches), the destruction of buildings (in the case of the communist take-over, especially churches), and the adding of symbolic iconography (saints, hammers and sickles, red stars). The development of the architectural layout of the Kremlin thus tells the story of Russia’s political elite, from the days of Genghis Khan until Vladimir Putin.

The result of this approach is an impressive and thorough book that can be considered the definitive history of the Kremlin, at least for now. The idea of studying an iconic building as a historical text is original and convincing. If you are a Kremlin aficionado, you are going to love the meticulous details Merridale explores throughout the narrative. But it is also a very big book, which often drowns in streams of exhaustive information. I strongly advise readers to write down all the Vladimirs, Dmitrys, and Ivans that make their appearance, otherwise you will lose track of them, especially in the first part of the book. There are better general histories of Russia available, but if you are a patient reader and want an inside perspective on the power games inside the Kremlin during the last 850 (!) years, I heartily recommend Red Fortress.

(Blogmistress’s note: my apologies for the delay in posting. The Gift Ideas took over most of my time in October and November.)

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebooks available for Red Fortress and Ivan’s War.

ABC’s Gift Ideas: Manga, Military History, Music, Mysteries/Thrillers

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

The gift-giving season is upon us – hooray!

The ABC Staff has rummaged through their sections and order lists, and come up with another year’s worth of wonderful gift ideas for you: from fiction to history to cookbooks to children’s books to travel to non-books and onwards.

In a series of blog posts and recommendation lists throughout the coming month, you will find what we think will make great gifts, whether you celebrate Sinterklaas, Christmas or just like giving books to people. And since we’re a bookstore, these posts will be alphabetical by subject. :-)

Today you’ll find gift ideas for Manga, Military History, Music and Mysteries & Thrillers as picked out by section buyers Ester, Sophie, RonG, Pleun and Jouke. Bear in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg – come to either one of our stores to browse many, many more titles in any of these subjects.

We are ready as ever to be your personal shoppers again this year, and hope you will find our selections useful and inspiring!

You can find our gift ideas from previous years here (scroll down a bit pas 2013), and be sure to have a look at our ABC Favorites, too.

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ABC’s Gift Ideas: History/Politics, Horror, Humor, Local Interest/Living Abroad

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The gift-giving season is upon us – hooray!

The ABC Staff has rummaged through their sections and order lists, and come up with another year’s worth of wonderful gift ideas for you: from fiction to history to cookbooks to children’s books to travel to non-books and onwards.

In a series of blog posts and recommendation lists throughout the coming month, you will find what we think will make great gifts, whether you celebrate Sinterklaas, Christmas or just like giving books to people. And since we’re a bookstore, these posts will be alphabetical by subject. :-)

Today you’ll find gift ideas for History/Politics, Horror, Humor and Local Interest/Living Abroad as picked out by section buyers Maarten, Barry, Ester, Luke, Martijn, Tom and Agnes. Bear in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg – come to either one of our stores to browse many, many more titles in any of these subjects.

We are ready as ever to be your personal shoppers again this year, and hope you will find our selections useful and inspiring!

You can find our gift ideas from previous years here (scroll down a bit pas 2013), and be sure to have a look at our ABC Favorites, too.

(more…)