March 24, 2018

My Busman’s Holiday | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardia“Busman’s Holiday” seems like a more seemly title for this column than what I originally planned to use to describe how I’ve been spending my winter vacation: “an orgy of reading.” But that’s really what I’ve been indulging in and am at present very happily drunk on words. Having earned a BS in literature years ago, I tend not to read serious stuff any longer (the second class in which we had to study Sartre’s Nausea cured me of so-called serious literature), and now I mostly read mysteries for fun…but that changed a bit last year because of a library conference.

Driving to the 2012 Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Assessment Conference in Charlottesville, VA, I got excited as I passed a number of Civil War battlefields on my way there: Manassas, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, etc. Like so many others, I’m fascinated by that conflict (The Civil War documentary made me into a Ken Burns and Shelby Foote groupie), so on the return trip I took a detour and went to the Gettysburg National Military Park.

After that, I decided I wanted to read more about the war, and I’ve been doing that off and on over the past year. Last Christmas, I received the three volumes of Shelby Foote’s Civil War: A Narrative on audio disc and listened to it during my daily 100-mile commute (I did temper all that nonfiction with Michael Shaara’s brilliant The Killer Angels, I admit). Needing a major fix for the long holiday this year, I stocked up, checking out some materials from Widener’s collections and requesting others on that indispensable Amazon feature, my wish list.

Here’s a partial record of what I’ve been joyfully consuming over the past ten days:

  • Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendship by Mark Perry (from this I learned the truth about just who wrote Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs and about the genteel battle between Mark Twain and others to publish them; by the way, when I checked out a copy of the Memoirs from Widener a few years ago, I found a bookplate in the front identifying it as from the personal collection of Sarah Orne Jewett—not surprising, since the book was part of so many personal libraries as a result of Twain’s canny marketing system, but I was delighted to be holding her copy in my hands).
  • Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz—if you have not yet read this, boy! do you have a treat in store. Admittedly, I’m interested in the Civil War, but Horwitz’s writing will captivate you even if you’ve never given the war a second thought. And you’ll get to read about Robert Lee Hodge’s super-hard-core brand of Civil War “reenacting” (this latter is too farb, a term to describe Hodge’s approach to living history and wargasms—you’ll need to read the book to get a good interpretation).
  • Michael Kilian’s Harrison Raines Civil War mysteries: Murder at Manassas, A Killing at Ball’s Bluff, The Ironclad Alibi, The Shiloh Sisters, A Grave at Glorieta, and Antietam Assassins (Kilian died young and unfortunately never got farther in the series than Antietam, but these are great combinations of mystery and history).
  • All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, edited by Robert Hunt Rhodes. Ken Burns used numerous excerpts from Rhodes’s diary and letters in his epic film; I was interested to learn in the course of reading this that the editor—Rhodes’s great-grandson—was a librarian at Landmark College in Vermont, a college for students with dyslexia, ADD, and other learning disabilities (Landmark College’s Early Years).
  • Civil Blood: A Civil War Mystery by Ann McMillan. I’m working my way steadily through McMillan’s Civil War mysteries; her characters are particularly interesting but so is the history she includes.
  • South of Shiloh by Chuck Logan, a murder mystery surrounded by present-day Civil War reenacting,

And yet to come:

  • Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood. From what I’ve been reading, Sherman was not despised by Southerners in the 19th century; anti-Sherman sentiment apparently surfaced later, among those who never had encountered him, which is something I want to research further.
  • Company Aytch by Samuel R. Watkins, another memoir Ken Burns used extensively in The Civil War; reviews call Watkins “Twain-like” so I’m looking forward to an engaging read.
  • Listening to Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Volumes 1 and 2, on audio CD (got these for Christmas this year and can hardly wait to hear them. By the way, do take a look at the Mark Twain Project Online if you’re interested in Twain; the site contains both volumes of the Autobiography, others of his books, and an index to over 2,400 letters (with text and facsimiles of some).

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie J.M. Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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