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New Year, New Book

January 1, 2020

When I was a teenager I started what has now become a decades-long tradition on New Year’s Eve.

Back in Hancock, there would be the annual televised big-band sound of Guy Lombardo on CBS which was upbeat and brassy.  I still have fond memories of that sound and how it made me feel. (In later years I was pumped to broadcast a big-band show each evening on WDOR radio.)  The other event of note as the year closed was the ‘ball drop’ from New York on ABC.  But after those events my parents were tired and fell asleep.   So many a New Year (Central Time) was greeted with a book in my bedroom.  And without my knowing it a tradition started.

At this time of year I always start a new read, one I had placed aside, but really wanted to open.  When in my 20’s, and out for the big night, (first in Door County and then in later years in Madison) I would come home and read a chapter, or at least a few pages, of a new book before bed.  At the age of 57, that tradition continues.  Everything in the larger world may be chaos, and sound reasoning may be in short supply, but there is still a fun tradition that goes back to my teen years.  The New Year begins with a book.

I marvel at how authors can take one event and weave it into a masterful and well-researched book.   That is precisely what Catherine Merridale does in Lenin On The Train.  The book traces the 1917 rail journey from Zurich to Petrograd, where Lenin will ignite the Russian Revolution.  The echoes of that year have never stopped reverberating.

At the time Russian Czar Nicholas II’s had removed himself from power while Europe was mired in World War 1.  Lenin was in exile in Zurich, but when news reached him about the Czar’s move, he at once made the decision to return to Petrograd.  To get there, however, would require the crossing of  Germany, which meant accepting help from the deadliest of Russia’s adversaries.

As with any such book, it is not enough to have a grand story to tell, it also takes the gift of writing.  Merridale’s work (50 pages in) has met and surpassed what I always hope for from a historian and author.

Another year has started, a new book is underway, and a tradition born in a small rural home continues.

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