I really thought April would be the month I broke my 2 books per month average that I’ve been running so far this year, when I did read I enjoyed all the books I was reading and was getting through them quickly, but taking the time to sit down and read seemed impossible. Watching TV is so much easier, I can multitask, work on this etc. But I weirdly find that I read more in the summer, so I’m hoping it will pick up a bit. But I also want to stop putting pressure on myself to meet goals with my hobbies, reading, needlepointing, they are supposed to be fun, to relieve stress, not cause it.
Book 1: Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
I was interested in reading this book after reading The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull last year, that book is about the Morgan sisters, one of whom was romantically linked to then Prince Edward, Later King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, before Wallis Simpson, and maybe even introduced them during her first marriage. According to that book, Thelma Morgan asked her friend Wallis to look after “Bertie” while she went back to New York to support her sister Gloria Vanderbilt in her custody battle over her daughter Little Gloria, the girl who went on to give birth to Anderson Cooper.
When I read or watch historical fiction, I tend to get very interested and look into it, and that is how I learned that Anderson Cooper was descended from the Vanderbilts, and that he had written a book about them. I bought it last summer and just got around to reading it now. It is very good, exceptionally well-written, and it’s enjoyable. Which is such a treat because it could have easily been been super dry, like so many of these historical family books are. It was also really interesting to read the end chapter when Anderson gets into his life experience, how he doesn’t identify as a Vanderbilt, and how while he is teaching his son about his heritage, he is also making sure that he gains an understanding that being a Vanderbilt doesn’t mean anything.
I highly recommend this, it is fascinating to learn the story of the Vanderbilts in as it is also the story of New York City, not it’s whole story but a large part of it. It goes from the colony of New Amsterdam, to the takeover by the British, from a farm on Staten Island to Manhattan. It is a brief overview of several generations, only focusing on a few family members, but it is informative, enjoyable, and comprehensive.
Book 2: Northern Spy by Flynn Berry
This book should come with a trigger warning for all Northern Irish. It is a fictional story, it seems to be set about now, the two main characters were born at the end of the Troubles, so the late 90s, and are old enough to have proper jobs and a baby, but are still young, so to me that suggest that they are in their 20s or 30s.
We meet Tessa at her job as a politics producer at the BBC’s Belfast branch, she likes her job and is good at it, but Belfast is in turmoil once again. The Troubles have completely returned, worse than ever before. Then one day on the news, she sees her sister and two men don balaclavas and attack a petrol station. She refuses to believe that her sister could be in the IRA, her sister has never been political, she is a paramedic, she has been among those responding to the attacks, and Tessa cannot and will not believe that she could be among those causing the pain and trauma. Until her sister turns up, and Tessa suddenly finds herself playing a dangerous game between the Belfast police, the IRA, and MI5.
I say this should have a trigger warning for everyone from Northern Ireland because our collective worst nightmare is a return to the Troubles, even for those of us who barely remember it. Once I got past the bit where the world-building of modern Belfast in the new Troubles is done I was able to quite enjoy the story. But there was so much I couldn’t get past, if this were to happen today, it would be my people who would be in harm’s way, my places. I do think that we continue to have such a fear of them returning, that the memory of the Troubles is their best prevention, but every once in a while there is a car bombing or some other explosion, and everyone wonders and worries if this is it. The conflict is still there, the persecution of Catholics in the North, the economic issues of the North compared to the UK or Ireland, the conflict between those who want to remain part of the UK and those who want an United Ireland. The Easter Sunday Agreement ended the battles, not the silent war.
This is a good book, and it could be very good book if you lack intergenerational trauma surrounding Northern Ireland and Belfast.
Happy reading in May!