Here are some summer reading recommendations, light and dark.
The Bloody Chamber is a hair-raising and irreverent take on traditional fairy tales. Angela Carter gives a modern twist to 10 old tales, including “Bluebeard,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The stories are written in vivid prose that brings them to life. They read like cliff-hangers.
Carter’s writing has a bold, sexually suggestive edge that makes explicit the sexual subtext of the originals. The Bloody Chamber is a pulse-racing revision of the Bluebeard legend. “Puss in Boots” had me laughing out loud at the bravado of the randy old cat.
The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz covers all aspects of the making of the classic 1939 MGM film. It’s a must-read for fans.
The first chapter, “The Studio,” lays out the setting of MGM and its place as the premiere Hollywood studio in the 1930s. Subsequent chapters focus on the writers, music composers, directors, actors, Munchkins, costumes, special effects and the smart little Cairn terrier who played Toto, too.
It has a delightful introduction by “Wicked Witch” actress Margaret Hamilton and an appendix with background on L. Frank Baum, author of the bestselling Oz books, who was pretty much a failure at everything else he did.
MGM did not break even financially until the movie was sold to TV networks for repeated airings in the 1950s–80s. It was because of those broadcasts, which drew millions of viewers, that The Wizard of Oz became such a huge cultural phenomenon.
As a World War II buff, I found many fascinating stories in The Bitter Road to Freedom by William Hitchcock. Although Hitchcock views the liberation of Europe as a heroic endeavor overall, this book focuses on the costs of that liberation.
His chapters on Normandy and Belgium reveal that thousands of already traumatized civilians were killed and terrorized by allied bombs aimed at cleaning out the Germans. From the first day Allied troops landed at Normandy, a brisk black-market in goods thrived among the armed forces and the long-deprived citizenry.
Most of Holland was bypassed in the allies’ rush through France and Belgium into Germany, so the Nazis retained control until May 1945. During those many months when liberation was so close at hand, the Nazis systematically starved the people and decimated the Dutch resistance.
There is an excellent chapter on tensions between the military bureaucracy and relief and refugee agencies, which were sometimes at cross-purposes. Another focuses on the suffering of Russia and the terrible revenge the Red Army wreaked on the Germans and their allies, including mass rapes of German women.
The Bitter Road to Freedom chronicles the devastation of war and the costs of liberation.