Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Books,birds and niche interests

Reading lately has been an interesting mix.  I'm finding something intriguing: during Handsome Partner's lifetime, he was the household authority on all things history, being a hugely well read scholar.  This was in his spare time from being an atom scientist, and running bridge clubs, following tennis and golf and playing seriously good badminton.

His reading covered the Maya, the Incas, mucho pre-Columbian work,  masses of Egyptology, then sweeping right up to the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, on which he was a dead keen student, hauling me around to battle sites, of which there are plenty around here -- not far from Gettysburg, in fact, and the battles of Princeton and Monmouth are only a bit down the road. And to southern ones, too, when we were in the vicinity.  And he loved the history of science and astronomy, too. So history kind of became his property, if you follow me.

Now, though, I find I'm developing my own interest in history, though my period is different, mainly English history, either Tudor or nineteenth century.  And I'm more interested in social history than in battles and treaties, though you have to know about them to fathom what's going on in society, anyway.  this is partly a function of having uninterrupted time to read and follow a long thread of argument and description, and partly having recovered my ability to focus on reading more demanding stuff again.

Currently, I just finished The Elizabethans by A.N. Wilson, never knew he was a historian.  He does have a great hand with narrative, just sweeps you along, even among the complications of that age.  And he makes a serious attempt not to take sides in the Reformation.  This book came out in 2012, so it's up to the minute in terms of where England is now, and how the church seems to have lost a lot of its authority, or been secularized in a way that would have surprised its forebears. Some very serious musing on the English blunders in Ireland and why they happened, and where that is now, too. Anyway, this is well worth reading.  In fact, if you like historical fiction of the period, it's great to read a history of this kind to get the hang of  what's going on in the background of the characters' lives.

Then, since all heavy reading is not on, I discovered Anna Dean, whose Victorian amateur sleuth Dido Kent, is a kind of Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, very very funny,very witty, good story, some serious social commentary, too, not just froth.

Out walking today, everywhere is still a lot of evidence of Sandy, massive trees down and hauled off the roads,but not yet cut and chipped down to usable material, very sad to see all those great wodges of earth slammed over.  But here and there something interesting happens. Here's a picture of a place where a big conifer limb was torn off, leaving a kind of niche you could nicely use for a piece of sculpture.  It's a bit high up, but might be a site for a bit of stealth art.



And a swan on the pond, very rare visitor here, possibly blown adrift by Sandy, but bossing the Canada geese around firmly anyway,and taking baths.  Riddle me this: why do swimming birds, who spend most of their lives in the water, need to take baths?  I mean, any lice would have drowned, so why else do they do this?  any knowledgeable blogista who knows, please chime in.  I'm guessing it has to do with maintaining the waterproofing of their feathers, but would like to know more.

1 comment:

ari_1965 said...

Please read

Life in a Noble Household 1641-1700
by Gladys Scott Thomson

The copy I have is a paperback first published in 1959.

She (Gladys) had access to the household account records of the Dukes of Bedford. It is fascinating. Everything from how much it cost to bleed the whole household including the outdoor servants (top of the line preventive health care back then) to what was purchased for the garden and the cellar. She explains the hows and the whys in very readable prose.

This is the book that got me interested in social history, as opposed to the battle dates kind of history. I like to know what people ate and how much of their income it took to buy bread, etc. How much was a quarter pound of tea in a particular era is far more interesting to me than all those battles.

I will keep an eye out for a copy to send you, but if you find it at the library first let me know.