Old Favorites: Ambrose Bierce

I was going to substitute this feature with something else about the Great American Read, but then I realized that Ambrose Bierce’s birthday was this coming Sunday and, well, I just had to pen an ode to one of my favorite writers, AKA Bitter Bierce, The Diabolical Bierce, The Wickedest Man in San Francisco, The Rascal with the Sorrel Hair, The Laughing Devil, and (last but not least) The Devil’s Lexicographer. (I think I hit all the high points and included all the nicknames.)

Now, these nicknames make Bierce seem like evil incarnate, but he wasn’t. Honest!

He was just really, really, really, really grouchy, even by 19th century standards. And according to biographers, he was a crotchety, eccentric kid, so maybe when he entered this world on June 24, 1842, in rural Ohio, he was already destined to be one of the world’s best known literary misanthropes. (Though certain life events certainly did help him along that path.)

If you know of Bierce, it is likely because his two most famous works: his delightfully mean Devil’s Dictionary and his haunting, surreal Civil War short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” These are both great, but there’s a lot more to Bierce than meets the eye. . . .

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Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels

the-killer-angels

Call me what you will but I LOVE historical fiction. It’s one of my favorite genres.

However, I am one of the first to admit that a lot of historical fiction novelists are much better at writing either the historical aspect or the fictional aspect, but not both. So when I find a work that manages to integrate history and fiction seamlessly and handles both effectively, I consider it a gem. Michael Shaara’s classic The Killer Angels about the Battle of Gettysburg is just such a gem (and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize – maybe I should be a judge?)

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T.J. Stiles’s Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

custers-trials

George Armstrong Custer is one of the most controversial figures in American history.

Don’t believe me?

Pick up any book about him or the American West or the American Civil War and see what the authors have to say about him. Some will praise him as a brave but misunderstood genius, some will denigrate him as an egotistical moron, and some will eulogize him as a tragic figure.

I’ve personally always found Custer a fascinating but relatively unsympathetic historical figure, but reading T.J. Stiles’s excellent, Pulitzer-Prize winning Custer’s Trials forced me to  re-evaluate some of my assumptions about him.

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Ask the Blogger: Enemy Women

Enemy Women

A couple of months ago at Books in Bloom, I was accepting suggestions for books/movies/topics to blog about, and I received a lot of intriguing suggestions. One of the recommendations was for Paulette Jiles’s Enemy Women. The woman who recommended it told me it was set during Civil War-era Missouri and that the author was a poet and her resulting writing style was lovely and evocative. We got so distracted discussing the book that I didn’t even think to ask her for her name until after she had left, but I recently read Enemy Women and really enjoyed it. (I really hope the lady who suggested it chimes in with a comment, so I can thank her properly. Until then, thanks so much for the great book recommendation!)

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