HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is an on-air, online community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains. 

The 2018 Fall Read's theme is Let's Talk—Aging, Death, & Dying.  You'll find the thoughts and ideas about books from Radio Readers through a series of BookBytes posted below. If you'd like to contribute a BookByte, simply contact Kathleen Holt at kholt@hppr.org for more information. 

Become an HPPR Radio Reader today! Click here to join the Book Club—and stay informed by liking our Facebook page!

To download materials from previous seasons of the Book Club, please visit our archive.

________________________________________________________________

HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is made possible in part by a generous contribution from Radio Readers:  Lon Frahm of Colby, KS and Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, KS.  HPPR thanks them for their support!

  

  

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and the task has fallen to me to wrap up this spring’s book club, in which we engaged with three books dedicated to various aspects of World War I. Let’s take a look back at the three books we read this spring, and see what kinds of connections and lessons we might take from them. All three books are of interest, as they manage to view the complications of the Great War from various unexpected distances and angles.

Two Views of a Son at the Front

Apr 6, 2018
Morton / Wikipedia Commons

I’m Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, KS.  Edith Wharton’s WWI novel, A Son at the Front, is packed full of those messages literature teachers call themes or lessons about life.  When we read the book, we learn about the role of art in society, the tragedies of divorce, the importance of standing up for what we believe in, the differences between young people and adults, and more than a little about the horrors of war—even though Wharton never actually takes us to the “front.”

What About The Grieving Parents?

Apr 4, 2018
Harris & Ewing, 1919 / Library of Congress

A society at war tends to privilege the widow and the orphan over the grieving parent. Over the course of nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, those on the “homefront” have grown accustomed to seeing video clips of crisp-uniformed service members handing folded flags to tear-stricken spouses or their eldest children.

U S Army Center of Military History / Library of Congress

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s Radio Readers Book Club read: A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton. The novel concerns an upper-crust American portrait painter in Paris during World War I, who unexpectedly finds his son drafted and sent to the front.

As you might expect, this is not a happy novel. Yet, it is a quiet and contemplative one. Wharton wrote in a realistic style that has largely been lost in American literature, with an intense focus on observations and manners, and on the smallest mechanisms of thought and gesture. In this way, Wharton is like her friend Henry James, though she avoids the endlessly labyrinthine deep-dives into consciousness that can be found in James’s late novels.

Conscientious Objector or Not?

Mar 30, 2018
Sam Willner Collection / Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I’m Kip Wedel from North Newton, Kansas.

Edith Wharton's 1923 novel A Son at the Front is not among her classics, so not being a regular Wharton reader, I didn't know much about it going in. Early in the novel, when her protagonist, John Campton, made dismissive comments about a war that, at that point, seemed imminent, I thought I might be reading an anti-war novel or even a defense of conscientious objection.

My Parents Would Be Terrified

Mar 28, 2018
U S Army Center of Military History / Library of Congress

This is Andrew Taylor, a 17-year-old junior from Wheatland High School coming to you from Grainfield, Kansas.  As a young, somewhat athletic male in the United States of America, I fit the mold of what the military looks for physically in their soldiers. If I were alive 100 years ago, I’d have surely been sent off to fight on the fronts in Europe.  My parents would be terrified for my life when every day the newspaper headlines would tell of especially bloody battle with dozens or hundreds of casualties. They would have to sit at home helpless and praying that the fighting never came too close to their son.

Artist's Attempt To Know Others

Mar 26, 2018
Mars, 1918 / Public Domain

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s Radio Readers Book Club read, A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton. The novel tells the story of John Campton, a celebrated American painter living in Paris.

An Only Son - Poems from Above the Dreamless Dead

Mar 23, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

This is Denise Low, a regular contributor to HPPR and 2nd Poet Laureate of Kansas. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, is one of the selections for this season’s HPPR book club. Today I want to look at some of the fine poems in this illustrated anthology.

Wake Up, Campton!

Mar 21, 2018
Von Holten

What to do with John Campton? The famous painter at the center of Edith Wharton’s novel, A Son at the Front, is a perplexing gent. An American expatriate living in Paris on the eve of World War I, Campton is likeable and sympathetic in many ways—his love for his son is sincere. His confusion about war in such a civilized society is sympathetic. And we see him work to understand George, whose idealism diverges dramatically from his father’s. Campton is soulful, elegant, and sophisticated.

And yet. John Campton is also prickly, small-minded, and vengeful. We learn that he abandoned his family to paint in the countryside. After his wife divorces him, he continues to pursue painting, and not provide for his son, while George’s wealthy—and by all accounts, doting—stepfather supports and raises him. This mercy is met with contempt throughout the novel.

War and the Ruling Class

Mar 19, 2018
Wikipedia

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s book club read, A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton.

The theme for the Radio Readers Book Club this spring is World War I, but Wharton’s novel isn’t your usual war novel. This is no Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front. In fact, there are no scenes of violence or bloodshed at all in Wharton’s book. Instead, Wharton examines the effects of the Great War on those left behind, the parents and aunts and uncles and volunteers in the cities, who are left to helplessly await news of their children at the front.

Family, War and Loss

Mar 16, 2018
Jason Harper / Hays, Kansas

I’m Jason Harper from Hays, Kansas, for HPPR’s Radio Readers Spring Read commemorating the 100-year anniversary of WWI. I’m responding to A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton.

A Son at the Front is about a family and how a boy's parents try to use their social influence to keep their son from the front lines of the First World War. Yet the son secretly joins the infantry and his father's resultant intense reactions are central to the novel's development. 

Indians in WWI

Mar 14, 2018
Wikipedia

The results of World War I on Native peoples in the United States were profound, as the war led to citizenship and, slowly, to a greater participation in constitutional rights. During World War I, Native troops contributed to victory as soldiers and support staff. The Native-language code talkers provided invaluable intelligence services.

National Archives

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s book club read, A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton. The theme for the Radio Readers Book Club this spring is World War I—which means the theme is really war itself. Some military historians consider the American Civil War to be the first “modern war,” as many of the elements of post-Industrial Age warfare were in place during that event. Yet World War I was the first conflict to use mechanized weapons on such a massive scale that the earth itself seemed to shake from the trauma.

Wikimedia

Windhorst, KS is one of those prairie communities that doesn’t exist anymore except for a lonely church and outbuildings.  Oh, there is a brown and white road sign pointing past a steep railroad track embankment over which the spire of the ornate church peeks 

I’m Kathleen Holt of Cimarron, KS and I’ve driven over that track to explore the historic church and outbuildings mostly because I am curious about the lives and dreams of those who built this impressive facility in – well, in the middle of nowhere it would seem.

Setting Fire to Music, Art, & Culture

Mar 7, 2018
Wikipedia

Erik Kirshbaum’s book Burning Beethoven derives its title and its central metaphor from a deeply disturbing image: American nationalists setting fire to Ludwig van Beethoven’s sheet music during World War One. It is an incredibly shocking image for music lovers and book lovers alike.

As Kirshbaum argues in the book, such acts of tomecide (or book burning) were carried out in First World War America explicitly for the purpose of suppressing the people who practiced German culture.

Scared by the Government

Mar 5, 2018
National Archives

In previous comments about Erik Kirschbaum's new book Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I, I considered how wartime Americans were taught to fear one another and how that fear short-circuited their powers of reason. I also spoke of the role the press played in fomenting that hatred.

This time, I want to take a look at the government's role. I have often thought that if a government can scare people enough, they will throw themselves at its feet. World War I provides compelling evidence for that conclusion.

Thoughts from the Author

Mar 2, 2018
Erik Kirschbaum / Used with permission

Hi, my name is Erik Kirschbaum and this is a story about a dark – and forgotten chapter of U.S. history.

Long before Americans ever had a taste of “freedom fries” there was a brief era a century ago when hamburgers were changed into “liberty steaks”, sauerkraut was turned into “liberty cabbage” and Americans got sick with a disease renamed “liberty measles” instead of “German measles”.

The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

Feb 28, 2018
Kansas State University

This is Thomas Fox Averill, Topeka novelist, with one of my favorite Kansas books of WWI:

Over 100 years ago, in 1917, the premier journalist of Kansas, William Allen White, took a trip to Europe.  Along with Henry J. Allen, editor of the Wichita Beacon, who would become the next Governor of the Sunflower State, White was part of a Red Cross inspection team, this in the summer after the United States entered World War I, on April 6, 1917.

Free Press. Free People.

Feb 26, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

What is the purpose of a free press? Is it nothing more than the freedom of journalists to write and say what they want? Or is it to create a "fourth estate" that can act as a watchdog of the powerful? Both of those things are part of the answer, but I believe there is a third purpose, as well.

Legacy, Language, & Culture

Feb 23, 2018
By Louis Dalrymple / Puck magazine, Public Domain

I’m Joan Weaver, a resident of rural Edwards County Kansas, for HPPR’s Radio Readers’ Spring 2018 Read,  commemorating the 100 year anniversary of WWI.   

I have recently read Erik Kierschbaum‘s book, Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I

Reading this book has expanded my knowledge of the war to include a realization of a different kind of battle that went on right here at home.  

Wikipedia

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little about this month’s Radio Readers Book Club selection, Burning Beethoven by Erik Kirschbaum. The book is subtitled The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I, and it contains a multitude of scary echoes for 21st century America.

I recall, back in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, eating at a steak joint out on the Claude Highway near the Palo Duro Canyon. I ordered my New York Strip, but I hesitated about ordering fries. I simply couldn’t bring myself to say the words “freedom fries.”

Beware of Becoming What You Hate

Feb 19, 2018
Harry R Hopps / Wikipedia

I have often suspected that if people aren't careful, they become what they hate. How many times have you seen a hypocrite pontificate about hypocrisy? A bigot complain he or she is the object of someone else's bigotry? Or someone preaching tolerance harbor assumptions that aren't actually that tolerant?

It's hard for people to see themselves as others do -- there's a reason for that which I'll get to in a bit -- and because of that we sometimes wind up acting like the very people we most despise.

Poems from Above the Dreamless Dead

Feb 18, 2018
Ernest Brooks / Wikimedia Commons

This is Denise Low, a regular contributor to HPPR and 2nd Poet Laureate of Kansas. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, is one of the selections for this season’s HPPR book club. Today I want to look at some of the fine poems in this illustrated anthology.

Bound to Repeat It

Feb 14, 2018
Wikicommons

I’m Galen Boehm from Kinsley, Kansas, for HPPR’s Radio Readers Spring Read commemorating the 100th year anniversary of WWI.  I’m covering Kirschbaum’s book Burning Beethoven, noting how fear rather than reason too frequently dictates how we respond to political and personal concerns.

Prior to WWI, German immigrants to the United States established settlements to provide a sense of social and cultural identity.  These immigrants came for religious, political and vocational reasons.  

Freedom. Something We Give?

Feb 12, 2018
Pintrest

Suppose you were plucked from wherever you are now and plopped into a foreign country where you were told you are perfectly free. You are allowed to say anything you want, worship any god you want, speak any language you want, and make your living in any way you can. The only catch is, your neighbors don't agree. In such a scenario, are you really free?

This hypothetical situation is not exactly what German-Americans faced during World War I, but it still may help us understand what their story tells us not only about their freedom but also our own.

Joey Survives

Feb 9, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

Howdy, I am Michael Grauer from Canyon, Texas,

Written in the spirit of Anna Sewell’s masterpiece of animal literature, Black Beauty, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse tells the story of a “spindly half-Thoroughbred” horse, Joey, who is raised on an English farm and is “drafted” into service by the British Army to serve in World War I and his struggles to survive. 

Two Kinds of People

Feb 7, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

When I began Michael Morpurgo's children's book War Horse, I didn't know what to think. Though I love historical fiction, animal stories were never at the top of my reading list, and I haven't read a children's book since ... well, since I was child as far as I can remember. Though the book was much-praised even before Steven Spielberg filmed it in 2011, somehow it had flown under my radar, and frankly, telling the story of World War I from the viewpoint of a horse sounded to me like a cheap gimmick.

From the Mouth of . . .

Feb 5, 2018
Pintrest

Hi, this is Daniel Helbert for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club coming to you today from Canyon, Texas.

For this installment about Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, I want to think a little about one of the more distinguishing features of the novel: namely, that it is narrated by a horse.

The Importance of Chapter 15

Feb 2, 2018
Library of Congress

Hello, my name is Luke Hamilton, I am a junior at Colby High School, and I will be talking about Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse.

In this story, war is narrated by a staunch and wholehearted horse named Joey. Like Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, themes like death, duty, companionship, and war are outlined throughout. But in stark contrast to Hemingway’s downplayed and existential storytelling, War Horse gives a more emotional and positive perspective. Morpurgo wrote this way to show his readers the humanity and hope that can exist in war.

DAH-DI-DI-DIT DAH-DI-DAH-DIT DAH-DIT DI-DI-DAH

Jan 31, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

I’m Kathleen Holt speaking to you from my home in Cimarron, Kansas.  My maternal grandfather was a quiet man who lived several hours away, so I didn’t know him very well. He described himself to us when we were kids:  ”T.I. Spence, sitting on a fence, trying to make a d9llar out of  15 cents.”  

I didn’t know much about WWI either, since we rarely made it that far in the history classes of my childhood.

Pages