Category Archives: Books

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Lisa Tendrich Frank

Lisa Tendrich Frank is a historian who specializes in gender and the American South and Civil War. She is the author of The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers during Sherman’s March (Louisiana State University Press, 2015), which examines how warfare was redefined when the homefront and warfront collided as well as how gender guided both soldiers and civilians in one of the war’s most famous campaigns. She has also published six edited collections and dozens of articles and book chapters. Her most recent collection is Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2020), co-edited with LeeAnn Whites. Dr. Frank is currently working on a book that explores the “domestic warfare” campaigns of U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and William T. Sherman. The book reexamines the forced evacuation of civilians from Atlanta in 1864 as part of a larger campaign to win the war by bringing it directly to the homefront. Dr. Frank’s research has been supported by fellowships and grants from various institutions, including the Huntington Library and the American Historical Association. She received her BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her MA and PhD from the University of Florida. During her career, she has taught at several universities, including Occidental College; University of California, Los Angeles; University of North Florida; Florida Atlantic University; and California State University, Fullerton. She has also worked as a writer and consultant for various non-profits. Most recently, she served as the lead historian for the University System of Georgia’s Naming Advisory Group. For more information, visit www.lisatendrichfrank.com.

What first got you interested in history?

I remember being bored by some history classes, but never by history. Historical fiction initially sparked my interest. I was fascinated with books written in the 20th century about historical events as well as those written in the 19th century (like Louisa May Alcott’s books). I also visited a lot of museums and historic sites around the country with my family as a child. Among other things, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, visited Civil War battlefields, ate gingerbread in Colonial Williamsburg, and walked Boston’s Freedom Trail.

I became interested in becoming a historian when I took a Civil War lecture class with Stephen Oates as a college sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was an amazing lecturer who had us all on the edge of our seats in each class and sometimes elicited applause during lectures. The books he wrote are like that, too—as I read his biography of Abraham Lincoln (With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1977), I practically yelled at Lincoln not to go to Ford’s Theater. I also loved Oates’ classes because he taught history by focusing on the individuals who lived through the events instead of solely on troop movements. His lectures and the books he assigned to the class brought the Civil War and other topics to life for me. After that semester I took some small seminar classes with him—Civil War through Biography and Mari Sandoz’s American West. I knew I wanted to learn about and write about history the way Oates did. When I decided to pursue a graduate degree in history, he helped me narrow down the programs and potential advisors who would best suit my interests.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I was an obsessive and voracious reader. I read every fiction book I could get my hands on as a child, and I read as often and as much as I could. I devoured books (but not literally!). My parents were constantly trying to get me out of the house to do something (anything) else. I used to get in trouble regularly for staying up too late reading with a flashlight (I had several extra books and flashlights stashed under my bed in case I was discovered), and one of my best friends and I would sit together during lunch at school and on weekends each reading a book. My favorite books as a child (I had a lot of them) included Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Little Women, The Count of Monte Cristo, The BFG, The Prince and the Pauper, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, Agatha Christie’s books, everything by Tolkien…. For the record, I still stay up too late reading novels and my best friend and I still talk about books together.

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

I would be happy to never see Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974) ever again. It’s offensive to me in its use of qualitative methods to evaluate the very human and very horrible experience of enslavement. I am still amazed at how widely read it was.

On the other hand, LeeAnn Whites’ The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (University of Georgia Press, 1995) rocked my world. It gave me a model for the kind of history I wanted to do and write. It opened my eyes to how ideas about masculinity and femininity shaped the behavior of nineteenth-century Americans. That book, with Nina Silber’s The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 1993), shaped the kind of history that I do. I had read other books on gender, but never anything that demonstrated to me how I could apply it to the Civil War. I read both as I was preparing for my qualifying exams and they both shaped how I approached my dissertation and everything I’ve written since then.

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

The most recent great fiction book I read was Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2020). I loved it. It’s beautifully written and evocative. I cried a lot. I got completely swept up in the story and didn’t want it to end even though I loved it so much that I read it too quickly.

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

When I’m not reading for “work,” I read fiction. I have a large and always growing pile of books “to be read” and choose the one I’m in the mood for when I finish whatever I’ve been reading. I like books with characters I can imagine being friends with, and I hate books with characters I dislike. I avoid non-fiction and horror. My guilty reading pleasure is reading too many books at once.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I read The New York Times online as well as articles from other newspapers and news magazines to stay informed.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I will seriously read anywhere at any time, but my favorite place to read is sitting in the shade on a breezy beach with my feet in the sand as I listen to the waves. My preferred reading is always fiction in book form, not electronic. I love the feel and smell of a new book.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

When I want to relax, I often read or bake. I have a nice collection of cookbooks, and I absolutely love Sweet Serendipity. I think a lot of people know about the restaurant in New York City, Serendipity 3, but they probably don’t know of this amazing cookbook. In case you’re wondering, the Goddess Diane’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are my personal favorites but everything I’ve made from the cookbook has been delicious.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I think people would be surprised at the breadth of topics and type of books I have on my shelves. In addition to my collection of Civil War and other history books, I have a large and wide-ranging fiction collection. It defies easy categorization. It includes Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Ha Jin’s Waiting, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, all of Gregory Maguire’s books, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, James McBride’s Good Lord Bird, Madeline Miller’s Circe, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, The Riverside Shakespeare, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar….

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I don’t know that my reading tastes have necessarily changed that much but my willingness to put down a book I don’t like has definitely increased. I used to feel like I had to finish every book I started, and I forced myself to do so. I will still finish non-fiction that I’m reading for work or anything that I’m reading for my book club. However, sometime after college I decided that I’d read enough to know what I liked and what I didn’t like and that I no longer needed to read books just because other people thought I should. If I start a book and don’t like it, I put it down and walk away and start another book.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I practically got booed out of my book club for panning Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel (FSG, 2010). I hated everything about it, but especially that none of the characters seemed to have any redeeming qualities. Although I’ve really liked most of Fredrik Backman’s books, I stopped reading Beartown (Atria, 2017) once I realized what it was going to be about.

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

You’re probably looking for a non-fiction book here, but I think fiction is always the best answer. My comfort reading and escape from reality for the past decade has been Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Series (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life) and Time’s Convert. They are my favorite books of all time. I love them and wish I could jump into the books and meet many of the characters (especially Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont). Harkness’s novels stress the importance of diversity, multiculturalism, and cooperation—lessons that I think everyone needs or can appreciate these days.

What do you plan to read next?

I’m currently reading The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper, 2021) and Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin, 2021). They’re both amazing books with complicated and relatable characters. I keep switching between them because I’m wrapped up in both stories.

What is the next book you’re going to write?

I’m working on a book on what I call “domestic warfare” during the American Civil War. I’ve always been interested in exploring the ways that the homefront and warfront connected and how 19th-century Americans understood these connections in ways that modern historians often ignore. This book is exploring how U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan pursued victory with strategies that intentionally brought war to the homefront. It explores how they engaged in military occupations of towns, evictions of civilians, and invasions of homes that upended white southern households and helped end the Civil War.

When and how do you write?

I write best under the pressure of an approaching deadline. I often create artificial deadlines to keep the process moving and use small rewards to push me toward these goals. For the past year and a half, things have been unusually chaotic and unpredictable, which has made it difficult for me to find sustained and regular periods to write. I look forward to life returning to something closer to normal so that I can reestablish a regular schedule for writing.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

The Civil War historian in me definitely wants to meet William T. Sherman and Clara Barton. I’ve spent so many years studying them and trying to figure out their motivations and lives, so I’d love to hear from them personally. Modern-day me would also like to have dinner with Hillary Clinton. I’m not a senator or a former secretary of state, but I feel like we’d have a lot in common and have a lot to talk about.

The Freshest Advices

Item: Back in 2008 I subscribed to the Easton Press list of the “100 Greatest Books Ever Written,” and every month for 8 years and 4 months a handsome, leather-bound volume turned up in my mailbox. I should note here that these are not in fact the greatest books ever written. They’re the 100 books that someone at Easton Press thinks are the greatest ever written; many of them wouldn’t pass muster for being “great,” and needless to say the list is very western- and male-centric.  You will not find on this list Ssu-Ma Ch’ien’s Records of the Grand Historian, The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, or Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji. For that matter, you won’t find Montaigne’s Essays or Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, nor Boswell’s Life of Johnson or The Education of Henry Adams. But you will receive Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, which may be one of the most important books ever written, but it is not, stylistically, a great book. Be that as it may, I dutifully read the first 90 or so on the list as they randomly arrived (they aren’t ranked) before getting distracted with the last 10. I’m finally making my way through those and am currently reading The Republic by Plato. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s certainly one of the foundational texts in western literature, and I would agree with Clifton Fadiman’s assertion that it is an ambitious and rather difficult book. He suggests that those following the Lifetime Reading Plan start with Plato’s other works, beginning with the Apology, the Crito, the Protagoras, the Symposium, then the Phaedo. I’ll continue on with the Republic and learn as much as I can, listening to the dialogue between the fascinating Socrates and his many interlocutors. Even if I absorb only half of what is going on in this book, that’s saying something. More later.

Item: I just finished A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Viking, 2016). It’s the fictional account of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced in 1921 by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, and he spends the next 30+ years there without (hardly) leaving. Doesn’t sound like much of an opportunity for a plot, does it? Just as in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1944 film Lifeboat, however, confining all the action to a small area places tremendous demands on the author and his characters, and the book succeeds and satisfies on many different levels. Highly recommended.

Item: The Atlanta Falcons are two games into the latest NFL season with new coach Arthur Smith and everything seems familiar—and not in a good way. It’s still hard to believe that this team was in the Super Bowl just 5 years ago. Even with a new coach and general manager, they still seem headed in the wrong direction. There are three equally bad teams coming up on the schedule—the New York Giants, the Washington Football Team, and the J-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets—with a combined record right now of 1-5. We’ll find out a lot about the home team over that span, though you may want to avert your eyes.

Item: The Georgia Bulldogs, on the other hand, look mighty good after three games, the first of which was a beat-down of perennial powerhouse Clemson. It’s still hard to know how good or bad Clemson is, however, coming off a slim and unconvincing win over Georgia Tech. That’s the problem with college football—there’s no pre-season, and when you win your first game over a good opponent, you don’t know whether your team is really great or if the good opponent ain’t all that good after all. Georgia will find out quickly, however, if its defense is as great as it seems, with games coming up on the road against Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee, and home matchups against surprisingly good Arkansas and Kentucky. Don’t avert your eyes on this one.

Item: Here in this space back on April 1 I was excited for the start of the Major League Baseball season. The Bravos haven’t disappointed, poised at this juncture to win another National League East title, with 11 games left and a 3-game lead in the loss column (the only place that matters) over the Phillies. After stalling in third place for most of the first half, it’s been a lot of fun to watch the Braves catch and pass the Phils and hated Mets over the past three months, even if they don’t go far in the playoffs. It’s also been great fun to watch the much-vaunted Mets crash and burn again too. Did I mention I hate the Mets? The postseason begins Tuesday, October 5.

Item: Sothebys’s will auction a rare copy of the final printed version of the US Constitution this November, and it’s expected to fetch upwards of  $20 million. It’s one of only 11 in existence, and the only one in private hands, the others being in institutions. The owner bought it in 1988 for $165,000—not a bad investment. You will recall that GHS owns a draft copy of the printed Constitution with Georgia delegate Abraham Baldwin’s hand-written edits. It’s one of only 12 in existence.  

Item: Look out for a short book review essay in the Fall 2021 issue of the Georgia Historical Quarterly by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), and, most recently, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017).

Item: Not surprisingly, the Rolling Stones did not take my advice and call it quits after the death of Charlie Watts, thank goodness. They launch their long-delayed No Filter tour of the US this Sunday, September 26, in St. Louis, and if history is any guide, they’ll sound amazing. They always do. Let’s hope they can dodge both the Delta variant and the Grim Reaper for just a while longer.

Item: In the July 23, 2021 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, in a review of Reid Byers’ book, The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom (Oak Knoll, 2021), A.N. Wilson quotes Leigh Hunt, the English essayist, critic, and poet on the difference between a library and a study: “I entrench myself in my books equally against sorrow and the weather. I like a great library next to my study; but for the study itself, give me a small snug place, almost entirely walled with books. I dislike a grand library to study in. Capital places to go to, but not to sit in. We like a small study, where we are almost in contact with our books.” A small snug place almost entirely walled with books would describe the room in which I’m sitting, and from where I often recorded Dispatches from Off the Deaton path, including this one on libraries. It made me wonder exactly how many books I have crammed into this space, so yesterday I counted: 1,672, plus or minus a few. But there’s always room for more.

Till next time.

Podcast S4 E10: We Salute You, and Farewell

This week Stan remembers the birth and death of two iconic musicians from the 20th century, and the recent deaths of five historians whose work over the past 60 years helped redefine several eras of American history.

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Holly Goldstein

Holly Goldstein is a Professor of Art History at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, where she has taught since 2010. She taught previously at the University of Hartford, Boston University, Suffolk University, and the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico. She also served as a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photographs at the Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums. Dr. Goldstein earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in Art History from Boston University and an A.B. in Art from Princeton. She received the Dean’s Award for Teaching Effectiveness and the Ambassador’s Choice Award for Teaching Excellence at SCAD in 2014. Dr. Goldstein has collaborated with her students since 2014 on “Hidden Histories,” an ongoing online publication produced in partnership with the Georgia Historical Society. She is the co-author, with Christy Crisp, of “Savannah’s Hidden Histories: Using Art and Historical Markers to Explore Local History,” in The Art of Public History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

Holly Goldstein, Ph.D.

What first got you interested in art history?

Art history is learning about the world through the objects humans have crafted.  I’ve always been interested in the creative ways we communicate. My mom was the greatest early influence for my love of art and culture—she took me to museums, collected art, and could paint and draw in a way that made me want to do the same. Growing up, my family traveled constantly, and I was lucky to be introduced to museums and art objects as far back as I can remember. My childhood home was full of wacky and wonderful contemporary art, and our family travels inspired my love of deciphering visual storytelling. As a senior in high school, I took an AP Art History class, which set me on the path to pursuing art history professionally. Actually, my first job after college was teaching high school AP Art History, along with photography and fine art foundations.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I remember reading as much as I could, always trying to keep up with my older sister. I loved the Ramona books [by Beverly Cleary, 1955-1999], From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler [by E.L. Konigsburg, 1967], A Wrinkle in Time [by Madeleine L’Engle, 1962], The Phantom Tollbooth [by Norton Juster, 1961], The Babysitter’s Club [by Ann M. Martin, 1986-2000], Encyclopedia Brown [by Donald J. Sobol, 1963], Nancy Drew, and I went through a memorable Agatha Christie phase. The Little House books inspired my fascination with the American landscape. For the past few years my daughters have begun discovering these same books and introducing me to new ones, so now I’m a big Harry Potter fan, too (and proud Hufflepuff).

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

The grad school books I never want to see again were not from my art history classes, I loved every one of those. But German for Reading Knowledge does not remain on my bookshelf—I passed my required language exams and that was the end of that book for me. I have to say, though, that I still appreciate and use my “reading knowledge” of German! The most influential book was perhaps Mary Warner Marien’s Photography: A Cultural History [Harry N. Abrams, 2002]. This rich contextual history opened my eyes to viewing photography as a key to understanding diverse multi-cultural value systems, and I use it as a textbook for my undergraduate students. Additionally, the insightful scholarship of photo-historian Martha Sandweiss provided a formative inspiration for me in graduate school; in particular, Print the Legend: Photography and the American West [Yale University Press, 2002] has influenced my own writing and teaching on landscape photography. 

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

This is the happy moment where I get to praise a brand-new work of brilliant fiction by my friend Katie Kitamura. Katie and I went to college together at Princeton, and I was dazzled then (as now) by her wit and humor. She is an extraordinary novelist, and I just finished her recent book Intimacies (published by Riverhead Books in July 2021). Katie uses spare descriptive language to conjure emotionally searing moments of incongruous wonder. Her previous novel, A Separation [Riverhead, 2018] is equally excellent. A few years ago, Katie visited Savannah as an honoree of our fabulous Book Festival, and I was lucky to escort her to Leopold’s where they served her a special ice cream concoction inspired by her book.   

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

I like historical and contemporary fiction. This past summer I read a ton of books; I finally felt I had the time to read stacks of novels for pleasure. I found recommendations by joining an app called “Book of the Month” that sends me a hardcover book in the mail each month (it’s great—check it out!), visiting my favorite local Savannah bookseller E. Shaver, and using a Kindle while traveling. Recent favorites have included Kristen Hannah’s The Great Alone [St. Martin’s Press, 2018] and Charlotte McConaghy’s Once There Were Wolves [Flatiron Books, 2021]. And I adore anything by Ann Patchett—I just finished The Dutch House [Harper, 2019]. My guilty pleasure is online celebrity gossip. There, I said it. I grew up in LA; it’s in my blood.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I read the New Yorker every week as my way to keep up with current cultural and political happenings, and I love the feel and familiarity of the paper magazine. Online, I read the New York Times daily. I like to assign articles from current newspapers to my students since I teach contemporary art, so I’m constantly reading a variety of newspapers and art journals online. I’m always looking for new publications about the coastal South to inform my “Hidden Histories of Savannah” class. My recent favorite is the anthology Coastal Nature, Coastal Culture: Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast [edited by Paul Sutter and Paul Pressly, University of Georgia Press, 2018] for an insightful compendium of articles examining issues of race, ecology, and history.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how)

Celebrity gossip, on my iPhone, under my covers. And I tend to do a lot of reading while I’m waiting for my kids—in the carpool line, waiting at a tennis lesson—and I love the few stolen minutes of pleasure here and there with my latest hardcover or New Yorker throughout each day. 

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Well, people have definitely heard of it, but it could certainly use as much vocal praise as possible:  Lost and Wanted: A Novel by Nell Freudenberger [Knopf, 2019] is exceptional. And, I love maps. The book You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon [Princeton Architectural Press, 2003] inspired me to examine the links between maps and art, truth and fiction.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have a lot of books, mostly in the academic genres of landscape photography, cultural geography, and local Savannah history. But I also have an interesting selection of cookbooks, which is surprising because I (almost) never follow directions when I cook. I cook constantly and love it, but I don’t seem to be able to follow recipe directions!

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

Growing up, I always loved reading the books that were assigned in English and literature classes. Everything from Island of the Blue Dolphins [by Scott O’Dell, 1960] to Jane Eyre to Beowulf made an impression on me. Once I stopped being a formal student, I realized I had missed out on many literary classics. So now, I’m trying to make a list and start reading some important and beloved books I (embarrassingly) have never actually read, including Moby Dick and some of the Jane Austen novels.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

In my quest to make up for lost time reading classics, I started The Brothers Karamazov—I didn’t get very far. It’s a really, really long book. Maybe I’ll return to it someday!

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

I recently read the novel The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett [Riverhead Books, 2020]. It’s a meandering story of sisters that confronts issues of race and class, linking past and present, and I couldn’t put it down.

What do you plan to read next?

A classic! Moby Dick? It’s time.

What is the next book or article you’re going to write? When and how do you write?

These days, most of my writing occurs in collaboration with my undergraduate and graduate students. Each year I work with SCAD students to create entries for our “Hidden Histories” online exhibition which is hosted by the Georgia Historical Society website. The students research and write about Savannah’s lesser-known historical narratives, and I coach and collaborate with them in order to publish our work. Topics researched have included the history of Georgia-based soybean farming, the production by enslaved workers of Savannah gray brick, an examination of Savannah-based duels, an exploration of Revolutionary war hero Casimir Pulaski’s gender identity, and the ecological history of Ossabaw Island.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

Georgia O’Keeffe, landscape painter, Meret Oppenheim, feminist Surrealist, and Mary Musgrove, Native American interpreter during the founding of the Georgia colony. If I get a fourth, Dr. Jill Biden is invited, too. And I would love to cook dinner with them, without following a recipe.

Podcast S4E9: Elvis, Napoleon, and the Bakersfield Sound

This week Stan revisits the death of the King, the birth of the phonograph, Buck Owens, the Aztec empire, Alfred Hitchcock, Napoleon, Margaret Mitchell, and one of the darkest episodes in Georgia history. He also remembers Rosalyn Carter’s birthday, a hero from Iwo Jima, and shares new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf.