The Super Fun Kids' Graphic Novel Sale

Customer Comments

Eric Romsted has commented on (6) products.

Strange Ways : Of Fremde Vegn
Strange Ways : Of Fremde Vegn

Eric Romsted, December 16, 2008

Strange Ways is the first English translation of a short novel originally written in Yiddish, published in Poland in 1925. It was unusual in its day as a Yiddish novel written by woman.

Faygenberg tells the story of several families in a Jewish shtetl in turn of the Twentieth century Lithuania and their reactions to the coming of modern times embodied by a new local railway station. In Part I of the novel I was constantly reminded of Fiddler on the Roof as the plot centers around a father trying to find suitable matches for his daughters. The focus here is on the elder generation and the description has something of the feel of traditional storytelling.

Part II offers a significant break. The new railroad is in full operation, the focus shifts from the parents to the children and even the writing felt more stylistically modern. The story centers on the love affair between the two main characters of the younger generation, Sheyndel and Borukh. Faygenberg seems rather pessimistic about the benefits of modernity for women. The old ways, as represented by Sheyndel's parents are hardly idyllic, but neither is Sheyndel and Borukh's relationship close to one of equality.

Toward the end, Sheyndel does devise perhaps the most creative response I've ever seen to the problem of being kept as a mistress by a man who never fulfills his endless promises to leave his wife. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the author hurries us into her rather bluntly tragic conclusion.

I enjoyed the style of Strange Ways and the image the author created of life in a Jewish shtetl on the brink of modernity, but in the end the book was simply too short to fully develop all of the interesting ideas that it introduced. Still, it was certainly worth the read.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 (Valley of the Shadow Project) by Edward L Ayers
In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 (Valley of the Shadow Project)

Eric Romsted, October 2, 2006

In the Presence of Mine Enemies is the first of a projected two volume history of the impact of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. This volume begins with John Brown?s raid on Harpers ferry and ends with the first battle of Gettysburg. The central materials on which Ayers bases his account are drawn out of the extensive collection of primary source documents from Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. These materials are available in full online at the University of Virginia?s Valley of Shadow Project, There is also a companion volume and CD-ROM titled The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War.
Men and women from the highlighted counties participated in some of the major events of the approach to war and the campaign in the eastern theater, including: the planning of John Brown?s raid in Franklin, PA, the Republican campaign for Lincoln, the Virginia Secession convention (which although initially reluctant in the end helped to unite the south) and Stonewall Jackson?s Valley Campaign. Jeddidiah Hotchkiss, Jackson?s surveyor, and John Imboden, who led the South?s guerilla campaigns, were from Augusta and Franklin County sent a disproportionate share of its black residents to the initial Negro regiments. But more than the story of the participants, Ayers? account is a record of the reactions to the war of those who remained at home. Joseph Ellis sums up the author?s aims aptly, if somewhat floridly, on the back cover, ?Ayers gives us a raw slice of the Civil War that defies all magisterial and moralistic renditions. Here is what it looked, felt, and smelled like in one bloody corridor of the struggle, before the messy confusion that is war had congealed into more coherent and comfortable categories.?
The material for this ?raw slice of the civil war? is drawn primarily from letters, diaries, local newspaper accounts written by residents of the two counties. The story is well carried and the primary materials do provide new insights and a richer texture than is found in the typical survey. For an experienced reader there is some drag as well warn material is rehearsed, but this ensures that the novice student will not be lost. After the introduction to the region, there is a clear bias in favor of the South in the depth and breadth of source materials covered. A large part of the Northern story is drawn from the competing local newspapers of the Democratic and Republican parties which were bound to over-represent the polemical. Ayers has significantly less material from diaries and letters for the North as for the South. Not that Ayers is by any means a Confederate sympathizer, he simply seems somewhat more interested in the continuities and contradictions in the Southern experience of the war.
Ayers? primary conclusions are as follows. In the border North, Lincoln may have won, and opposition to slavery was real but there were few true abolitionists and a large share of the population were Democrats who had no qualms with slavery as long as it stayed down south. However, once the issue was forced by the Secessionists at Fort Sumter, a strong Northern national feeling developed and there was widespread agreement on the need to defeat the rebels. The Democrats did keep up a raucous political debate, but the primary claim was that they would do a better job of winning the war than the Republicans (shades of the current conflict in Iraq). They also strenuously opposed linking the war to abolition as that would prevent any reconciliation with the south and hordes of unskilled, unwashed ex-slaves would stream into the north disrupting white life and livelihood. In other words, Northern racism was unmistakable.
As the conflict neared in the South, Virginians were strongly unionist, the Augusta representatives voicing some of the strongest anti-seccesion support in the initial stages of the Virginia convention. Once again however, once the die was cast at Fort Sumter (from the South?s perspective it was, of course, Lincoln?s doing). The Virginians too lined up their full support behind the Confederate national cause. Ayers is adamant in pointing out that the initial unionism of the Virginians in no way indicated opposition to slavery. Rather they argued that conflict with the North was the greatest threat to their peculiar institution, a position proved right in the end. The South was far more uniform in their public support for the Confederate administration, but in private many Virginians resented their burden as the fighting ground of the war when the deep south leaders would be prime beneficiaries of a victory.
Probably most interesting in Ayers? account is the speed with which passionate nationalism developed on each side as soon as hostilities broke out. Although no one wanted to be the cause of a battle in which the outcome was so uncertain, once begun there was almost a sense of relief at the chance to settle a conflict which had been brewing for so long. I am reminded of the passion of the young men of Europe marching off to the trenches of WWI. And though in both cases passion soon turned to horror, once begun, no one knew how to stop beyond total victory.
But are these conclusions really so new? Ayers? main target as a ?magisterial and moralistic rendition? is James McPherson?s classic work, The Battle Cry of Freedom. And although Ayers? more detailed review of the source material provides a greater sense of the uncertainty of living through the war, the general conclusions outlined above are little different from those in McPherson?s account.
I do plan to read the second volume when it appears and together these books could make an interesting centerpiece for a college level class on the Civil War, especially considering the pedagogical value of the associated Valley of Shadow Project. However, this is not quite the grand retelling of the Civil War that was advertised.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(4 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)

Swanns Way in Search of Lost Time Volume 1 by Marcel Proust
Swanns Way in Search of Lost Time Volume 1

Eric Romsted, September 14, 2006

Proust?s epic opens with what I can only describe as an extended prose-poem on the subject of memory which will continue to be the most important theme of the novel. The action, such as it is, begins with the description of the childhood vacation?s the narrator (never named) spent in Combray surrounded by his rather eccentric family and neighbors. One senses that many of these characters will appear again as the novel progresses, but from the start it is clear that chief among them is a dilettante bourgeois, friend of the family - one M. Swann, whose chief failing is that he ?married poorly.?
Towards the end of the first section the narrator happens to see Gilberte, Swann?s daughter at a distance during a walk through M. Swann?s property. The memory of this first sighting sparks what might be considered the longest digression in literary history as the narrator proceeds to recount the story of M. Swann?s love affair with Odette de Cr?cy. The book closes, once again, with the narrator in Paris and his childhood friendship there with Gilberte.
For such a long book, there is in fact very little plot. My Modern Library edition includes a synopsis which condenses the 600 pages of text into less than 5. But, after all, plot isn?t really the point. The characters and the actions are merely the starting point for Proust?s descriptive apostrophe on the human condition. Specifically, on the way in which our memory is not a simple record of past events, but is rather in a constant interplay with our emotions. And even in translation, Proust has created in these lush descriptions some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. It is for the language, not the story that one reads Proust.
So why give the novel less than a 5 star rating? For all of the beauty of the writing, I found that I was simply unable to identify with the character of Swann. So throughout the soaring and crashing emotional journey of his affair with Odette I remained at a distance, and this detracted from my experience.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(9 of 18 readers found this comment helpful)

Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement (Women in the Political Economy) by Nancy Whittier

Eric Romsted, August 26, 2006

Whittier tracks, in some detail, the development of the radical women's movement in Colombus, Ohio, centered at Ohio State University, from its beginnings in the late 1960's through the '90s. She seeks to explore how and why the feminist movement changed so radically in both ideology and culture over the years.

Her central conclusion is novel and well supported by her evidence. She argues that the women's movement changed, not because the women grew up and abandoned their radicalism, or because feminism had won all its battles, but because each new group of women that entered the movement found a new political environment and therefore developed an new feminist worldview.

Whittier shows how this process actually occured every few years, with each new group (she refers to them as micro-cohorts) developing a slightly different feminist perspective, while the older activists retained their original views.

On this narrow level her thesis succeads beautifully. However, her concept of movement generations is presented as having more general worth as a sociological theory of social movements. Here she only half succeeds. Her insight that movements alter their own social contexts, and therefore new recruits develop new perspectives should be generalizable. However, the other half of the coin, that activists retain their original worldviews even through changing circumstances, is tainted by the location of her study. College campuses have a naturally high turnover rate and she argues that internal movement dynamics increased this turnover. Seperation from the movement is a simpler explination for static ideologies.

Overall, a solid work in solcial movement sociology.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(4 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)

We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Working Class in American History) by Melvyn Dubofsky
We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Working Class in American History)

Eric Romsted, August 26, 2006

Dubofsky's "We Shall Be All" is the the most extensive general history of the IWW available. The author one-ups the runner up, Volume IV of Philip Foner's "History of the Labor Movement in the United States" by covering a larger period.

Dubofsky begins in the decades leading up the the formation of the IWW in 1905 to show that the "Wobbly" philosophy and practice had distinctly American roots. He finishes by documenting the government repression of the war years and the union's decile through 1924 (Foner left of at 1917).

In his detailed and involving descriptions of the many battles of the IWW the author does a fair job of highlighting the organization's strengths and weeknesses. He helps us to understand how a union with such a chaotic history has had such a mythic impact on the American labor movement.

This is not a book for beginners. If you simply want an introduction, I would recommend Labor's Untold Story by Boyer and Morais, a book which (as its name suggests) tells much of the little known history of radical American labor.

One last note on the new abridged edition: I would have to read it to be sure, but I think that any abridgement of this book would be a shame. I found little fat to cut in my reading and there are other books which can provide an introduction to the IWW. This book was valuable as a complete history (as complete as a history ever is). A simple re-release would have been favorable.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

1-5 of 6next
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at