A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Tag: World War I

Killing Time…in a bookstore

I found myself with a couple of hours to kill before picking my son up from Chess Team, and not enough time to go home, so I decided to haunt my local (Park Slope, Brooklyn) Barnes and Noble.  This can be a very dangerous thing to do but with no spare cash I decided it would be harmless to peruse the books and snap them on my mobile phone; an easy illustrated want list.

1) I love to eat; therefore I love to cook.  So how can I resist The Great American Cookbook?  It has regional recipes from all 50 states and a must have even if it includes a recipe for “Long Island” Clam Chowder.*

*Most New Englanders (myself included) refuse to believe there is any such thing; to add tomatoes is unholy.  There is only one kind of “chowdah” and the sobriquet “New England Clam Chowder” is superfluous.

2) Since its publication I’ve been dying to read this tome,  The Autobiography of Mark Twain:  Volume 1.   He is the quintessential American humorist and this book demands to be read despite its daunting size.

Now I’ve moved to the History shelves…

3 & 4) 2012 is the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, so both, Mr. and Mrs, Madison’s War:  America’s First Couple and the Second War of Independence and Knights of the Sea:  The True Story of The Boxer and The Enterprise and the War of 1812 are probably necessary reading (at least for me and one other person, Dad).  The War of 1812 is usually glossed over in history classes and needs to be re-examined.  My understanding of this war is weak but it seems to me that this war ended in a stalemate because both the US and Britain were not fully prepared for this conflict; the US being a fledgling nation and Britain’s preoccupation by the shadow of Napoleon’s greater threat to the British Isles.

5, 6, & 7) Of course, this led me right to the section of English history.  Explorers of the Nile:  The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure intrigues me because of the very “English” ideal of exploration and empire.  The romance of Mr. Henry Morton Stanley finding Dr. David Livingstone in their quest to discover the source of the Nile is still potent and one defined by folly, courage, heroism, and endurance.  Ghosts of Empire:  Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World shows the rise and fall of Britain’s once mighty empire and how its policies and its inconsistencies shaped the problems of the modern world from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Hong Kong (to name a few).  And combining American and British history, Tories:  Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War.  This is particularly interesting to me because as a child touring all those [American] historical places (Philadelphia, Williamsburg, Boston) I was intrigued by the loyalists and always felt an affinity for them, so much so that Dad believed I would have been tarred and feathered.

8) Partially because of my Downton Abbey obsession, The Beauty and the Sorrow:  An Intimate History of the First World War.

9) My son’s dentist has been trying to get me to read this for years so I’ve added it to the list:  A Thousand Splendid Suns by the author of the Kite Runner.

10) Any book by Isabel Allende is a treat and a joy to read so Island Beneath the Sea is included.

11 & 12) And full circle back to food again because one cannot live on books alone:  Feeding the Dragon:  A Travelogue Through China with Recipes (I am half Chinese and love Chinese cuisine) and The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame) because how does one cook fennel and braising greens?  A dilemma I’ve brought home because of the vegetables acquired from my farm share.  Although, disappointingly, does not discuss kohlrabi.

I must have realized time was up...time to go.

Downton Abbey Inspired Reading

Downton Abbey

Image via Wikipedia

Today the New York Times published the article, If You’re Mad for ‘Downton,’ Publishers Have Reading List which describes the phenomena of “Downton Fever” and how booksellers and publishers hope to cash in with Downton-related books convinced that viewers of the program are likely to be great book readers as well.

I am one of those mad people who when I become obsessed with something I tend to run out and devour every book I can lay my hands on, whether it be history, fiction, or pictorial.  I enjoy reading the contemporary authors of the time.  The period covered in Downton Abbey is an especially fruitful period in English literature with such authors as Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Ford Madox Ford, James Barrie, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne leading the pack.

But the books I really love to read are the books on the history of a certain period.  I religiously buy or borrow books to enhance my experience of a work of fiction or film or to learn more.  For example my shelves are filled with books on the Regency because of my love of Jane Austen and I read any book that crosses my path on Tudor history because of my admiration for Elizabeth I.  Downton Abbey has had a similar effect with one small twist; I already own many books about the period.  Of course, I can always use more and I have recently placed on my “to-get” list:  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey:  The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Dutchess of Carnarvon, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, Parade’s Endby Ford Madox Ford, and The Great Silence:  Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson.

Inspired by the article in the Times I thought it would be fun to share some of the books from my personal library that I think will bring enjoyment and understanding of the society, politics, and history of the period inhabited by the characters of Downton Abbey.

The Proud Tower and The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman are two tome-like volumes which wonderfully describe the world during the years 1890–1914 and the years during World War I.  They are highly readable despite their daunting size and I recommend them highly.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson is a well-written history of the English summer of 1911 before the world changed forever with the advent of World War I.

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781–1997 by Piers Brendon a book which describes how after the loss of the American colonies Britain rebuilt itself to become one of the greatest and most diverse empires the world has ever seen.  It is the Empire that the aristocratic families of the Downton Abbey era would have known and would have believed to be unassailable in world authority and power.

The Long Week-End:  A Social History of Great Britain 1918–1939 by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge is a book describing the social history of Britain between the wars.

The Edwardians by Roy Hattersley is about the brief but golden period during the reign of Edward VII (r. 1901–1910).  It was an era of stellar personalities, social and political change, advances in technology, and flourishing literature and music.  A perfect back-drop to Downton Abbey.

The Polite Tourist:  Four Centuries of Country House Visiting by Adrian Tinniswood recounts the history of tourism to England’s country homes.

The history of housekeeping in a large country house is the topic of Behind the Scenes:  Domestic Arrangements in Historic Houses by Christina Hardyment.  Many of the details in this book would be quite familiar to Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, Anna and the other servants of Downton Abbey.

The conventions of country house lifestyle and culture fill a few very informative chapters in British Tradition and Interior Design by Claudia Piras and Bernhard Roetzel.

And for an enticing smorgasbord of beautiful images and information about Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey and its era The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes is a must!

Happy Reading!

Downton Abbey

Ah, if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.  If there’s a remedy for this, I’ll run from it.  Think about it all the time; never let it out of my mind.  Cause I love Downton Abbey.

For those not familiar with it (have you been under a rock?) it is an English costume drama set on an aristocratic estate and follows the trials and tribulations of the fictitious Grantham family and their servants in the early 20th century.  Season 1 begins in 1912, April 15, 1912, to be precise and the family is shocked to have learned that the male heir to the entailed (all Jane Austen fans will know what this is) estate has died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  This throws the household into a dither because the next in line to inherit is in “trade”.  This is very hard to stomach by the three unmarried daughters who are not entitled to inherit.  The season ends as war is declared against Germany on August 4, 1914.  It has a stellar cast, beautiful clothes, exquisite manners, and a stunning country house.  It spotlights the last hurrah of the British upper classes before the devastation of war.  Right from the start, I was hooked.  I’ve always been a sucker for this type of entertainment and no one does this form of drama like the Brits.

Poor little rich girls

So now I’ve been watching Season 2 on my laptop.  It is not something I do normally and usually am against watching anything on such an inadequate screen.  But for this I made an exception.  It could not be helped; it simply had to be done.  And I have not been disappointed.  Season 2 takes place during the years 1914–1918 when Britain is torn apart  by the brutality of trench warfare and English society, class structure, and way of life changed forever.  I cannot wait for the PBS airing in January so I can watch it properly.

Maggie Smith (a real scene stealer) as the Dowager Duchess, Lady Grantham is delicious!

 It is a soap opera and a well done one despite a few too convenient and shoddy plot lines.  So no, I do not want a cure for this obsession with Downton Abbey.  There are few pleasures in life and this is an extraordinary one. 

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