This month, I admitted defeat. Again. I didn’t finish the book. However, unlike the doomed Road to Oxiana or the massive Middlemarch, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Sadly, this month’s book, Berlin by William L Shirer was just too… long. Maybe if I’d had longer to read it, maybe if I’d stopped working for a month, maybe if I wasn’t watching documentaries about U.S. prisons, maybe then, I would have finished.
In order to prevent this month’s book club from being me just sitting there looking slightly confused, I handed over the questions to the ever-ready, super-smart, Kelly.
Although not that many people actually finished the book (well done to the four or so of you who did), generally, it was well received, scoring a respectable 6.5 (alongside Fried Green Tomatoes and the Reader).
In deference to me, everyone thought the book was insightful.
Oh, ok, yes, people did have their own views on the book too. Some people felt a little deceived – they felt that the book was less of a diary and more of a history. It wasn’t personal enough and lacked emotion. We discussed whether that was a result of Shirer’s journalistic background or the fact that his later books were historical chronicles (maybe he was getting some practice in?) Despite the lack of emotion, it was agreed that the book was more interesting than the dry history books we were made to read at school.
The group found the new point of view interesting. Unlike the holistic view you tend to get from textbooks, this was just one man’s view of the world. Or, as it was memorably described by one member…
A keyhole into a room of drama
The group discussed Shirer’s relationship with his wife and whether his views were edited post-event. Did he really have those impressions of Germans and Hitler. Some members took a little offence at Shirer’s descriptions of the German people.
The role of Shirer as a foreign correspondent was examined. The group agreed that 20/20 hindsight makes things a lot easier. When in the moment, Shirer had no appreciation for the enormity of what was happening. He didn’t realise how destroyed France was. Concentration camps and the persecution of the Jews seemed more of a footnote. We wondered whether his blinkered view was due to his privileged position as a journalist or whether it was simply because it wasn’t happening to him.
There was quite a long conversation about perspective vs fact. It was proffered that truth is a matter of perspective whereas fact is a matter of numbers. Frankly, it got all a bit deep and philosophical at that point and I stopped taking notes.
Random thoughts and notes that came up during the discussions:
Until January, bookclubbers (unless you’re coming along to our Christmas party?)