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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Levine, Paul: Trial & Error | Main | Sagal, Peter: The Book of Vice »

Holland, Barbara: Bingo Night at the Fire Hall

  

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Harcourt Brace © 1997, 210 pages [amazon]
5 stars

When she was in her early 60's author Barbara Holland moved from Philadelphia to Loudon County in Northern Virginia, to a small house in the Blue Ridge Mountains some 60 miles outside of Washington D.C. It might as well have been a different planet. In Bingo Night at the Fire Hall Holland describes the world she came almost by accident to inhabit, a place somehow "unreachably far beyond the headlines and the evening news."  Her house on the mountain overlooks a fertile valley in which the same families have farmed for generations. As she describes it, the people there live (or lived, at least, in the 1990s, when she was writing this book) in a sort of time capsule, a Mayberry-like idyll of 4-H clubs and church picnics. It's a place where nobody locks their doors (locking them would seem unneighborly), where people are defined not by their resumés but by their family ties.

[INSET TEXT: It's a place where nobody locks their doors (locking them would seem unneighborly), where people are defined not by their resumés but by their family ties.] Holland approaches her subject from a number of different angles, with chapters on the area's extensive role in the Civil War, for example, and on the weather and wildlife:

"I was pleased and excited to have a bear, until I followed the tracks to the lower porch and considered the remains of the trash bags. Among the strewn litter of crushed cans and coffee grounds the bear, like a psychotic burglar, had defecated copiously."

But what makes the book stand out is her description of the ethos of this place, where families' lives are intertwined over generations and where one is surrounded by one's family:

"On any given day a person in the supermarket could come across his or her entire extended family, one by one, aisle by aisle, pausing to exchange fragments of news among the canned goods. This would horrify city folk, whose relatives tend to get on their nerves, but we're a low-strung lot around here and our satisfaction with our birthplace spreads to include our kin -- or perhaps we consider them one and the same."

It would horrify me, certainly. But Holland writes about this way of life so well that one not only understands it, one almost pines for it:

"Relatives are more useful here than in the city or suburb. They have tools you can borrow. They're someone to call, in a taxiless world, when you need a ride. Someone to leave the kids with or go hunting with; someone to help get your firewood in or your boat painted. Someone to carry your coffin. From cradle to grave, my neighbors here swing in a hammock of family ties and nobody leaves except for the churchyard. Even the few who fled to Florida get carried home in the end."

The book makes clear how much modern lifestyles differ from the way of life that was natural to so many generations before us: small communities of neighbors living off the land, interdependent, clustered around a handful of public buildings--the bank and post office and general store. Nowadays, Holland writes, people don't need towns. They need highways between their work places and their living spaces, with places to shop in between.

At the same time that Holland is celebrating life in her valley, however, she is also recording its demise. The land that fed armies on both sides during the Civil War is yielding--increasingly, inexorably--to strip malls and housing projects. The fertility of the soil doesn't matter if you're only interested in paving it over. One can see through Holland's eyes how this influx of rootless Others is an affront to the land.

Holland, of course, is herself an immigrant, but unlike the housing developers who are carving the valley into subdivisions, she did not efface her surroundings; she adapted to them. Being an outsider also made her a keen observer of the world around her, which we can only be thankful for. I enjoyed Holland's book enormously. It is charmingly written and wise. I'll be seeking out more from her.

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Comments

1.

Sounds like an interesting book. I've lived in a good handful of places rural, suburban, and urban, and it's always fascinating noting the differences.

2.

It does sound like a good read. And I have lived in a few different places, and the differences between rural and urban are facinating.

3.

I hadn't heard of the author before I saw this book. Turns out she's published widely, and on a lot of different topics. I'm glad I stumbled on her. If either of you get around to reading this one, let us know what you think.




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.