Introducing: Reading America

In the beginning of the iconic novel ‘Americanah’, the protagonist, Ifemelu, declares that her favorite thing about Princeton, New Jersey, is that it smells of nothing. Ifemelu goes on to describe how other cities she has lived in all had distinctive smells. Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, had ‘the musty scent of history’; New Haven, in Connecticut ‘smelled of neglect’; Baltimore, in Maryland, had the smell ‘of brine’ and Brooklyn, in New York, had the distinction of smelling like ‘sun-warmed garbage’.

Although not always the most pleasant of descriptions, these categorizations of some of America’s most well-known locales do make an important point: America is a big country, made up of 50 different states, each with their own distinct ethos. Not only does every state have its own representative bird, tree, motto, flag, and government, all states have their own particular culture and feel.

It is in order to try to introduce people to the culture of each of those 50 states (plus the District of Columbia!) that we are starting a new project at the American library. Every week, starting this Friday, we’re going to release digital recommendations of books where the plot is focused on or takes place in a particular state. In a short video that will be posted to Twitter and Facebook, an American Library staff member will talk about a book, about the state it is associated with, and why you might enjoy giving it a read.

While we may not be able to travel, we still hope these books will help to take you on a journey around the U.S.A.

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The end was near – April and May 1945

Though the war is wrapping up in April 1945, and there are only a couple combat missions with most flight activity being supply hauling, the light-heartedness of the memoirs in the 2nd Air Division Archive is a story in itself. A story of how, for many people, the war became part of every day life and wasn’t even at the forefronts of people’s minds. April 1945 seemed almost more abuzz with excitement for Easter.

Does this light-heartedness represent the quickness with which people can become desensitised so that even something as dramatic as a world war becomes normal? Or is some of this perhaps a self-preservative sort of denial of the worst of the war and trying to focus on normality as people are known to do as a coping mechanism with duress?

The archive is full of fond recollections of experiencing a new country and the privileges and kindnesses afforded to service personnel.

This cheery attitude in England is contrasted to the experiences on missions. Their tribulations in the air were threatening and tragic and demanding of courage.

Of the 355th, on April 7th attacked Duneberg and Krummel and on the way home, a Mills and Plowman were seen to disappear while penetrating cloud cover and never heard from again. Surely such harrowing events stuck with men even when they enjoyed times on the Broads.

The 2nd Air Division made a significant impact on weakening the enemy, harassing their industrial bases and modes of transportation, causing great difficult in movements of men and material and forcing relocation to only semi-prepared bases. This constant strafing decreased the morale of German fighters significantly and undercut their will and ability to launch effective offensives against Allies.

Throughout April, and especially by the middle of the month, raids such as at Esterwerda, Brandenburg and Munich by USAAF proved that the enemy had little to offer in resistance. The war was coming to a close. This of course meant little to servicemen as until they received surrender, they would continue to put themselves in danger of injury and death. High command saw the war as wrapping up but this would not be felt by the 2nd until later that month.

In the desperation of the waning of the Third Reich, the pilots of the Sonderkommando Elbe were instructed to ram allied planes should conventional attacks fail and this was followed on the 7th of April by one Bf109, causing the deaths of fifteen American airmen.

Casualties continued throughout this last month, poignantly, some not even being in combat but due to accidents in Britain and engine failures on the return home.

The last combat sortie was on April 25th when the marshalling yards of Salzberg, Bad Reichenhall and Hallstein as well as an electrical transformer plant at Traunstein were targeted.  Thankfully this mission passed without losses due to the ruinous state of the Reich at this point.

In the end the Americans departure from East Anglia was almost as rapid as their arrival. They did leave behind an incredible legacy which we celebrate particularly now as we join with other nations around the world to commemorate Victory 75. For many of the American service personnel of course VE Day was not the end, August saw Victory in Japan Day and the long Second World War finally came to an end in September 1945.

This blog was compiled by a guest blogger who completed work experience with the American Library in 2020 and edited by the library team. 

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Light reading recommendations

I was thirteen when my grandmother snuck me my first romance novel.

Up until that point my mother (a librarian) and her mother (a librarian) and her father (a librarian) had raised me nearly exclusively on classics. While I had read plenty of George Elliot, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, Shelley (both Mary and Percy), and Ernest Hemingway, the closest I had gotten to a romance novel was Anna Karenina.

The book my grandmother snuck me — sandwiched between the folds of the New York Times — was about as far from the classics as you could get. The plot revolved around a young woman sneaking into the British navy in the early 1800s to avoid marrying a man she didn’t love. Eventually, of course, she fell for the captain and he for her and the two of them ended up together, but the wrenches thrown in the way of their eventual happiness kept me entertained for days.

Discovering romance novels didn’t mean I gave up reading highbrow literature. I still love literary fiction. It’s just that now I intersperse those readings with more… fluffy books. What can I say? Sometimes it’s nice to know you can disappear into a world where a ridiculously wealthy heiress and an only-pretending-to-be-poor-actually-he’s-a- Duke can make a go of it, despite those seemingly overwhelming odds.

As we find ourselves increasingly indoors, barraged by the news, and probably in need of a healthy dose of escapism, I thought I would recommend some of my favorite pieces of lighthearted literature. In the spirit of maintaining the American-British connection (even while isolating) I’ve chosen works by authors from both countries. Everyone in these stories lives happily ever after, but it’s still fun to follow them on their (frequently winding) road to eventual bliss.

 

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1. Night Hawk – Beverly Jenkins
An iconic author of historical romances, in 2017 Jenkins was awarded the Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts lifetime achievement award. Check out ‘Night Hawk’ — the story of a hardened bounty hunter who rescues a gorgeous spitfire in 1884 Wyoming — to see why.

 

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2. The Right Swipe – Alisha Rai
In 2015, Rai became the first author to have a self-published book listed on The Washington Post’s best romance novel list, and followed it up by making Entertainment Weekly’s list of 10 best romance novels in 2017. ‘The Right Swipe’, the first in her latest series, is a contemporary romance about a CEO who hooks up with a former football player in what is definitely just a casual fling. Right?

 

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3. Faro’s Daughter – Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is the undisputed queen of the Regency Romance; in fact, she pretty much invented the genre. Heyer’s books are always impeccably well-researched, which makes them even more fun to read. Set in 1795, ‘Faro’s Daughter’ follows the plucky Deborah Grantham, a penniless orphan who has taken to working in her aunt’s gambling house. Sparks fly when she crosses paths with stubborn Max Ravenscar, the richest man in London. With such wide differences in their social status the two can never have a future… or can they?

 

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4. Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
The surprise hit of 2019, ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ follows the romance between first son Alex Claremont-Diaz and British Prince Henry. Initially rivals, Alex and Henry are forced to spend time together to ease diplomatic tensions between their two nations. But when what started as a fake truce turns into something real and deep, how will their families — not to mention their nations — react?

 

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5. Deception – Selena Montgomery (Stacey Abrams)
Selena Montgomery is the pen name for Stacey Abrams, the 2018 democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia and the first African-American woman to give a response to the State of the Union address. In her spare time, Abrams writes romance novels like ‘Deception’, where protagonist Fin Borders tries to help an innocent woman accused of murder. In the process, Fin meets FBI Special Agent Caleb Matthews. Caleb is deep undercover and hiding a desperate history, but he can’t hide the passion he feels for Fin.

 

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6. Darkness Calls – Caridad Pineiro
If you’ve had enough of vampires, then this book is not for you. If you take the same attitude towards vampires that most people do toward chocolate (what do you mean ‘too much?’) then The Calling series, by best-selling author Caridad Pineiro, is definitely up your alley. In this first book, FBI Agent Diana Reyes finds her world turned upside down when her father is killed in a drive-by shooting. Her endeavors to catch her father’s killer throw her in with Ryder Latimer, who is dark, dangerous, and has maybe possibly been alive since the Civil War.

 

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7. Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
Now a blockbuster movie, Kwan’s satire about a professor discovering her boyfriend’s family is part of Singapore’s one percent is a fun foray into completely over the top wealth. The plot is fast-paced, the characters engaging, and following people who can do literally anything they want right now is especially fun. There are significant differences between the book and the movie, so even if you’ve seen the plot on the big screen, it’s worth checking the book out.

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Exploring the role of women in the War effort

By Danielle Prostrollo

Women played an important part of World War II. It is easy to get behind this idea, but it was difficult for me to get a clear image of what that effort really looked like. Everyone knows how important women were as nurses throughout the War effort, but there were many more who worked outside the hospitals, such as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). This group was formed through the 1943 merger of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and trained over 1,000 women.

These civilian women freed male pilots to be ready for combat. The WASPs were trained pilots who were utilised in all manner of non-combat flying. Without these women, combat pilots would not have had aircraft to fly. Women flew eighty percent of all ferrying missions, delivering over 12,000 aircraft in just over two years. They estimate it that this freed up over 900 male pilots for combat missions. When a ferrying mission came in, the WASPs would go to the factory, take the plane on a test mission, and then deliver it to the air base. They flew almost every type of aircraft used by the USAAF, including the notable B-29 Super Fortress.

In 1943, the WASPs also assisted in combat training, towing shooting targets at Camp Davis. This proved to be a dangerous task. On more than one occasion, the women were shot down because the men mistakenly thought they should shoot the airplane rather than the target they were towing. Eleven WASPs lost their lives during training programs across the US, including Mabel Virginia Rawlinson. Rawlinson had been flying with an instructor when her plane malfunctioned and ultimately crashed. The instructor was thrown from the aircraft, but she was stuck inside the pilot’s seat. It was later discovered that her plane, among others used for towing shooting practice, had not been adequately maintained and the Army Air Corps had been using the wrong octane fuel in them.

As civilians, the WASPs were not considered part of the military and therefore did not receive military benefits. Besides not being considered veterans, this had very real financial implications for those who served as WASPs. Each woman had to pay for their own uniform as well as room and board. Additionally, from the group’s inception in 1943 until it was dissolved in late 1944, 38 WASPs lost their lives (and one disappeared). The bodies of these women were shipped home and buried at the expense of their families rather than receiving a military funeral.

It wasn’t until 1977 that they were retroactively granted veteran’s benefits which allowed them to partake in the programs administered by the Veterans Association. In 2009, WASP received the Congressional Gold Medal, which is on display at Boeing in Chantilly, Virginia. These were just some of the women of World War II who answered the call to protect their country, but knowing about their efforts has helped me to paint a better picture of what role women played at that time.

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