I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, a social-cataloging website for readers. I can scan my books; the books I am reading, want to read, and have read. I can keep track of my reading progress [currently I am at page 74 of 199 (37%) of The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith]. I rate and review the books. I share with my friends, via social media, what I am reading because there is nothing better to make feel super-smart. At the end of the year one can appraise the year’s reading. I admit this makes feel somewhat smug.
This year, so far, I have finished 89 books, a total of 29,566 pages. Back in January I set the goal of reading 90 books in 2013. I will most likely surpass that number by midnight on December 31. The longest book I read this year was the tome-like The Bröntes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters by Juliet Barker at a whopping 1,159 pages. Only 12 books were rated with 5 stars. I highly recommend these books. They are:
1776 by David McCullough
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Shakespeare by Michael Wood
Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker
Crispin’s Day: The Glory of Agincourt by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
John Adams by David McCullough
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis
In 2012 I read 84 books (a total of 31,456 pages). I hope to read 100 books in 2014. If Santa brings me the books on my list I could make a very good start.
I wonder if I could start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my reading. Hmmm? If only I wasn’t so busy reading.Follow @LadyBibliophile
I’ve been very good this year. Especially when it comes to reading, I’ve been reading voraciously all year. And I’ve been especially good because I have tried very hard to save my pennies by borrowing from the library as well as from family and friends rather than buying the books.
So all I want for Christmas this year are the following titles:
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang
The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset
Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge
A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps by Chris West
Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs
Thanks for considering my list.
A Latter-day Bluestocking
PS. Cookies and milk will be left on the table as always. As well as carrots for the reindeer.
Upon Saint Crispin’s Day
Fought was this noble fray
Which fame did not relay
To England to carry.
O when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen?
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry?
Sometimes my passions for history and literature feed one another and ultimately leads to obsession. This is the predicament I find myself in now. It all started with the PBS airing of The Hollow Crown, the three Shakespearian history plays of Richard II; Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; and Henry V. These BBC produced productions have all that one has come to expect from British history/costume drama: spectacular scenery, lavish costumes, and superb acting. This production has the latter in spades with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart, and Tom Hiddleston to name a few. But Tom Hiddleston who plays Prince Hal/Henry V is the one responsible for my current fascination with the Lancasters and their usurpation of the Plantagenet throne, the re-launching of the Hundreds Years’ War with France, and the eventual overthrow of this dynasty by the House of York which would lead to the War of the Roses, a tumultuous period that would only come to an end with the accession of the Tudors in 1485.
But let’s get back to Tom Hiddleston for a moment. This man who has acting talent to match his wonderful aristocratic good looks was able to move me to laughter and then to tears in this version of the plays. He lifted my spirit and made me feel I would do my all for King and country. He truly encapsulated the character of Prince Hal/Henry V. His portrayal of the rapscallion Prince of Wales who hangs out with miscreants and purposefully antagonizes his father is nonetheless charming and fun and sexy but upon the death of his father, Henry IV, leaves his wayward conduct behind him to become one of English history’s greatest warrior kings and the one who, had he not died at the age of 32, would have returned most of France to English dominion. His Henry V is a man with the common touch and an excellent commander and tactician who can rally his men, high and low, to his cause. But, of course, the history plays are not true history and Shakespeare takes artistic license where it suits him in his need to honor the Tudor monarchs who were his patrons.
So even as I sat fantasizing about Tom/Henry going once more unto the breach at Harfleur and rousing his men with the “band of brothers/St. Crispin’s Day” speech at the Battle of Agincourt I began to consider the real history. And so, I began to read about this fascinating man and king. I work in a place that has a terrific library at my disposal so I began with Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s short and straightforward Crispin’s Day: The Glory of Agincourt. I finished it in two days and it left me thirsty for more. I had read years ago The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin which chronicles the undeniably extraordinary and brutal period in British history. Set amongst the backdrop of the Black Death, The Peasants Revolt, the Battle of Agincourt, and the Wars of the Roses were the reigns of exceptional kings, from Edward I to Richard III. It was a time of great turmoil, brutality, as well as great artistic achievements. During this latest obsession I found myself going back to this book again and again.
I knew that Henry V believed his conquest of France was virtuous by divine right but also discovered that he was also opportunistic. He exploited the divisions of the French and used diplomacy to make sure France’s usual allies stayed away. The French believed they would win. They can be excused for such presumptuous feelings for on the morning of October 25, 1415 they outnumbered the English by 4 to 1 (although some historians say 6 to 1), they were healthy, well-fed, and positioned upon their own turf were a majority of France’s great military commanders and royal nobility. In extreme contrast the English army were far from home, exhausted, malnourished, and sick, many still feeling the effects of the dysentery that had killed more men than any actual battle had. Some of the men were barely clothed. A mere four hours later after the battle’s start the field was strewn with the dead, the majority being French with almost all of their nobility wiped out.
It is fascinating stuff and I have several other titles in my reading queue because once the preoccupation grabs me it has to be sustained to the end. So I have borrowed from my public library, Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle that Made England by Juliet Barker (she of the tome-licious The Brontes), History of the Battle of Agincourt, and the expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, to which is added the roll of men at arms, in the English army published in 1832 by Sir Nicholas Harris and An historical account of the reign of Henry the Fifth, intended as a companion to the great historical picture of the memorable battle of Agincourt painted by Robert Ker Porter, Esq. now exhibiting at the Lyceum, Strand published in 1805.
And because I like to share my passions I have suggested to my book club the historical novel, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina. It is a story told as an autobiography with the great man himself describing his tumultuous youth, difficult relationship with his father, his victory at Agincourt, hopes for his own son, and eventual death from dysentery on the battle fields of France in 1422. Hopefully it is a good read but we’ll see. I suspect that I will have to follow-up with Bernard Cornwell’s treatment of this particular episode in history. That guy does his research!!
On this Saint Crispin’s Day, I would personally like to thank Tom Hiddleston for his brilliant performance which inspired me to read up on the real history and learn about the real man who was Henry V.Follow @LadyBibliophile
I picked up The Regal Rules for Girls: How to Find Love, a Life – and maybe even a Lord – in London by Jerramy Fine because I figured it would be a fun book, especially since as a young girl I had fantasies of being whisked off to Balmoral by the Prince of my dreams and even kept pictures of eligible royal bachelors scotch-taped to my bedroom wall: Prince Andrew and Prince Edward of the UK and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain. Yes, I always wanted to be a Princess and truth be told I still do despite the fact that I now know that the fairytale is an illusion and more bother (perhaps) than it’s worth. There’s more to being a Royal than fabulous hats, tiaras, and riding horses.
The cover is cheesy to say the least but includes some amusing tips. Ms. Fine explains how to begin making your dream of meeting the royals and the aristocracy come true. Rule number 1 you need to go to the UK, specifically London, to hang where you are most likely to rub elbows with the Castle Crew. Rule number 2 one must learn their manners and the rules of etiquette. Manners is something which unfortunately gets short-shrift in the US but is absolutely essential in the UK. It goes on about what to do if one is introduced to the Queen, how to dress, how to RSVP to a wedding invitation (hand-written please), where it is appropriate to wear hats, to avoid anything other than the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and the ins and outs of the British Season. Most importantly: Do not fake a British accent!
She advises American girls who want to nab an Englishman, royal or not, that it is good to brush up on one’s history. It’s probably a good idea to know that Queen Victoria is Prince Harry’s great-great-great-grandmother if you plan on walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey. I think that if you don’t even know this commonplace detail you are not worth your Wellies. I found myself giggling over this book and how it brought back memories of all my lovely fantasies of becoming royal. I was amused right up until she answers the question, “Why are Roman Catholics excluded from the line of succession?” I nearly lost it! This book states that this exclusion dates to the time of Henry VIII’s failed attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his eventual establishment of the Church of England when the Pope would not grant what he wanted. This is not true; not by a long-shot. Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tudor reigned after the death of her brother Edward VI and was a Catholic. She was nicknamed “Bloody Mary” for her penchant of persecuting Protestants. Catholics were not formally excluded from the succession until the passing of the Act of Settlement in 1701. Thanks, James II (look it up, it’s riveting history). Up until that time it was preferred that no Catholic ascend the throne but they were not officially excluded. She adds further insult to injury by suggesting that one read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory to gain more insight into Henry’s break from Rome. Really, she actually suggests that an American girl read an historical fiction that takes severe liberties with “actual” events to learn about royal history? This is ghastly advice! We, Americans already have a bad rap when it comes to historical knowledge and this recommendation of the well-meaning author is too much to be borne.
Listen, young ladies, I am not professing that one stop dreaming of becoming a royal, it is fun to fantasize (I, myself, still have delusions of grandeur) but if you want to become knowledgeable about British and royal history pick up a history book. The real stuff is so much more interesting than the fiction. And even if you don’t bag a Prince you’ll be amazed at how impressed Englishmen can be when a cute American girl is informed about English history. I recommend reading a biography of Henry VIII while practicing your curtsy. Ms. Fine insists that you keep your heels, head, and standards high. I agree but those high standards should also be directed to the books you use to gain knowledge. Trust me, even if Prince Harry is not impressed by your knowledge of his family history you can bet your future father-in-law and Harry’s grandmother will be.Follow @LadyBibliophile
“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.” Barbara W. Tuchman, 1912–1989
May 4th was a lovely spring day, the air was warm, the sun was shining, and the campus of Columbia University was abuzz with activity. I was there to attend the Spring Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and hear the lecture “Emma as a Microcosm of English Society”. The speaker was David M. Shapard who has published the annotated versions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. His The Annotated Northanger Abbey will be released on September 13, 2013. And can one assume that he is hard at work on the annotated Mansfield Park? Let’s hope so! [hint, hint Mr. Shapard]
Emma is my least favorite of all of Jane Austen’s books. I can’t stand the title character, she’s annoying, self-righteous, and a meddler. Austen herself wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” to describe her irritating protagonist. I’ve always wanted to throw this book across the room with violent force but now having heard Mr. Shapard speak, and so passionately about, I am desiring to re-read the book and perhaps re-examine the microcosm of society which Austen presents.
Emma is the only Austen novel named for its main character. Shapard suggests this is by design as she is the novel’s primary focus, Emma is the most flawed of all of Austen’s heroines and her failings affect herself as well as lead to detrimental situations for others. Her missteps, of which she is totally oblivious of, is what drives the plot. “This concentration, and the dominance of the action by a flawed heroine, allows for a superb joining of plot, character, and theme” [Shapard: Introduction The Annotated Emma, page xxv]. Each action within the novel evolves the plot revealing her character and her moral irrationality. And all the while as I read the book, I want to punch Emma in the nose because I see that she is being an idiot as we are meant to. Well, perhaps Austen didn’t envisage her readers wanting to do violence to her heroine but she did intend for us to notice her folly as Emma herself does not.
Mr. Shapard then turned his focus to the main idea of his discussion, the book’s depiction of the society in which Emma lives. Highbury boasts a complex society, its nuances properly understood and accepted by Austen’s contemporary readers: who was genteel, who was not, who has fallen from the refined life and those who have risen to it, those of questionable birth, those who work the land, those in trade, the nouveau riche and those in need. Austen describes a stable society and one in which the social hierarchy is marked and described in detail. There is limited social change and forms the important backdrop for the action of the novel and gives the reader a real sense of place and the day-to-day of country living. Mr. Shapard maintains that the novels dual focus of the individual and the social world reinforces each other “the precise delineations of the world around the heroine make her misjudgments of that world more vivid for the reader.” [Shapard: Introduction The Annotated Emma, page xxix].
It was an informative lecture and one that opened my mind about how I should read Emma. Mr. Shapard has convinced me that, perhaps, I have underestimated Emma, my good judgment clouded by my displeasure of Emma’s lack of insight. I will read it again.
The rest of the meeting was given over to the discussion of a short story “Poor Emma” written by the late Reginald Hill and published in his book There Are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union. I do not know much about Reginald Hill except that his genre was crime writing and he was a purported “Janeite” so I was quite eager to read his sequel to Emma. I have to say I was absolutely horrified by it which my marginalia on the copy I read will greatly attest. As I was reading I could not help think what a travesty it was. And that’s saying something because, as I said earlier, Emma is my least preferred book. My favorite character, Mr. Knightley is now a drunken, obese, slothful, and loutish wretch of a man. In a few years of marriage Mr. Knightley has turned his back on responsibility and become a truly debauched individual, a complete 180° in temperament and character. But as I continued to read I began to take the story for what it was, a parody, and one which was written tongue in cheek. I was even able to laugh at the story and myself for my severe reaction. I am not a fan of Hill’s Mr. Knightley (or his Emma for that matter) but it is clever how he used his crime writing skills to exploit Emma’s habitual convention of scheming and manipulation and using her machinations, for once successful, for the most diabolical (and amusing) of ends.
The meeting ended with lots of catching up and talking Jane with my fellow enthusiasts, cucumber sandwiches and tea, and having David Shapard sign my copy of The Annotated Emma and being totally awkward as I told him that I bought his annotated P&P for my niece. It was the perfect spring day with an abundance of delightful diversion.Follow @LadyBibliophile