This is a new adventure for me, or at least the first in 25 years.
I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 55 years, either working at newspapers, state government or in retirement. There have been few days when I’ve not written something, hopefully worthwhile.
In 1992-93, my last year in the newspaper business, I wrote a weekly column, “On the Farm,” about agricultural news across Virginia. It lasted only 16 months or so before I retired.
Yet, I missed the column experience. Maybe now I can regain that enthusiasm.
Life for me has been reading and writing. A newspaper mentor once told me “the more you read, the better you write,” and I agree. I’d like to share some of what I read — well-written books — with new readers. This column will focus primarily on new books written by Virginians and/or about Virginia. There will be an emphasis on non-fiction, especially history, but some interesting fiction from Virginia authors, such as David Baldacci, will also be included. I also might remind readers of some older books they might have missed.
Best-sellers get most of the attention these days, but books of state, regional and local interest frequently don’t get mentioned — but should!
So, every two weeks or so, I’ll write about books, maybe review some or simply call your attention to ones that simply might be overlooked.
World War II sea adventure
While walking through my favorite bookstore recently, I saw an unusual title, “The Ghost Ships of Archangel: The Arctic Voyage that Defied the Nazis” (Viking, 352 pgs., $28) and wondered, “what the heck, another World War II Navy book.” Then I saw the author’s name, William Geroux, and picked it up. He is very familiar to me.
Many years ago, probably 25, we had worked together on the State Desk of the Richmond Times-Dispatch; he was in Norfolk and I was in Williamsburg. Geroux was a masterful writer who could tell great stories. I knew — no matter the title — the narrative would be superb. It was crisp and clean, and the book is sheer enjoyment.
Earlier in his “retirement career” Geroux, still in Virginia Beach, crafted another World War II saga that captured national attention, “The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War against Hitler’s U-boats.” These men, all from Mathews County, were in the Merchant Marine and there was a story to tell.
This new book also about the Merchant Marine should be equally well received.
It is a riveting saga of four ships from a much larger convoy that played a game of hide and seek in the waters of the Arctic in 1942 to survive on the famed Iceland to Murmansk run to get much needed supplies to the Soviet Union in the early months of World War II. In this case, however, the run was from Iceland to Archangel — another Russian Arctic port.
Like the newspaper reporter he was, Geroux uses his immense research skills and uncovered several memoirs of survivors that helped shape the moving and highly provocative story. It is important to understand that the primary vessels in this convoy were slow-moving merchant marine freighters, not warships. For the German U-boats, once the ships of the convoy were sighted, the prey was as good as dead.
The PQ-17 convoy was trying to hide out amid Arctic cold, fog, and ice sheets that gave them limited protection. Using marvelous accounts from first-person perspectives, Geroux crafted a history to be enjoyed by naval enthusiasts, mariners and World War II fans. This is not one to miss!
New historical guide
Lovers of history and the Old Dominion will find Laura A. Macaluso’s book, “A Guide to Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia” (History Press, 190 pgs., $24.99), a delightful travel companion. Lavishing illustration with color photography, the volume need not be carried across Virginia, but can be just as easily enjoyed within the confines of your home.
Using Jefferson as the overarching theme, Macaluso provides historical vignettes of people, places and things involved in the third president’s life, as well as details involved in visiting the sites today. For example, the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg is included because it was there that Jefferson studied in 1760-1762. Various county courthouses, as well as the Peaks of Otter and Natural Bridge, are also included.
Have a comment or suggestion for Kale? Contact him at Kaleonbooks@gmail.com.