Batgrl: Bookish Hooha

Previously in Western US, now in the East. Winter 2016: Nervously wondering where the snow is. While most of my paper book collection is in storage I'm living via my ereader, where I never get through my TBRs. Further babble about me found under *Batprofile* in the sidebar.

Currently Reading: Crainioklepty, and Reading At Your Own Pace

Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius - Colin Dickey

I used to spend a lot of time beating myself up over not being able to stick to (what I assumed everyone did) the pattern of starting a book, churning all the way through and then finishing it - without stopping to look into/read other books. See, I just did it there - I put "look into" rather than admit that yes, I stop and pick up another book to read at the same time. It's taken me a long time to get used to the fact that not only am I really good at figuring out that I'm just not in the right mood to have fun with a certain topic or writing style, I'm also going to enjoy reading more if I'll actually listen to that and then return to a book in the right mood.

 

Also it's excellent for allowing a book to surprise you.

 

Crainoklepty is a book that most folk who know me - or have seen my apartment (when not all of it was in storage) - would say is definitely up my alley because yes, I love skulls. I have loads of them - er, all decorative and none of them real. (I'm not opposed to real - just requires more upkeep, and also - breakable. I like plastic.) I usually strew them about the place because if they were all placed in one area it would look a bit weird. But in amongst plastic lizards and action figures, it doesn't look as intimidating. (Well, not to me anyway.) So a book all about skulls isn't just something I want to read - if I had shelf space I'd want a nice hardback of it to display on a bookshelf.

 

However I'm the sort of person that likes the variety of skull artwork, and am into the idea of the skull on the medieval scholar's desktop sort of decor (it's what you were to meditate on with thoughts of carpe diem). This is a book about people who are obsessed with the real thing, and (so far as I've read) obtaining the skulls of famous people. 

 

I set this book down after getting burned out during the part where a famous local singer's head was stolen - by people that knew her in order to remove the flesh and keep the skull. And the process was gross, the science was bad, and the result was a skull that didn't "keep" well, shall we say. And at that point I was spending way too much time thinking about "how could you do this to someone you knew, and look at that head as it decomposes and..." - yeah, you can see where this is one of my set aside, more later times. I read horror and such, and when I'm in moods where I fall into this kinda questioning, it's a sign that I'm not going to walk away with happier thoughts. (Oddly, I'm fine with stories of monsters. It's the humans, and historical humans that give me problems.)

 

Anyway, I picked the book up again and have been enjoying the section of phrenology. If you've never heard of phrenology, oh do you have some fun in store - this is one of those weird fads of science that still occur - and can be boiled down to the idea that the bumps on your skull indicate the kind of person you are. And people took it very seriously. Interestingly, it wasn't quite as whacked as it become - the inventor, German doctor Franz Joseph Gall, tried to make that clear apparently:

 

31% in:

"...he was accused by the Viennese authorities in 1802 of attempting to distinguish "the worthless and the useless from the virtuous" by the shape of their skulls, Gall replied that such a thing was impossible "because moral, social, civil and religious conduct, is the result of many and different concomitant causes, and especially many external influences..."

 

However when pherenology was picked up and spread by Scottish lawyer George Comb - well, I'll quote from the same page, discussing the written document (the back and forth between Gall and the Viennese) in the quote above:

 

"In his English translation of the document thirty years later, Comb added the footnote: "This was written in 1802. I consider it quite possible, in the present state of Phrenology, to distinguish the naturally worthless and useless from the virtuous by the shape of their skulls.""

 

You can get an idea of why this was problematic/dangerous - it's along the same lines of "I can tell a person's intelligence by the size of their head and/or how they look." (The fact that you continue to hear this kind of talk today isn't heartening. Thankfully it's now without any reputable science backing it.)

 

The reason I already know a chunk about phrenology is that it comes up all the time in books of the early to mid 1800s, which I had happily read chunks of for high school and college. You might not realize it until confronted with quotes, but once you start seeing them, descriptions of peoples' head shapes are seriously all over the place - Dickens, Bronte sisters, etc. etc. And it was done on purpose, so yup, well worth picking apart.

 

Marian Evans/George Elliot was another fan - she was told many flattering things about her own skull.

 

31% in 

"...In works such as Adam Bede and Middlemarch Eliot created a new mode of depicting the inner consciousness of everyday people. And, particularly in her fiction, phrenology was an important tool for accessing that inner consciousness. ....In the early Scenes of Clerical Life, we are introduced to Lawyer Dempster, who is "weighed down" by "a preponderant occiput and a bulging forehead, between which his closely clipped coronal surface lay like a flat and newly-mown table-lawn." Astute phrenologists would have immediately recognized the selfishness of such a character, a "preponderant occiput" indicating an overdevelopment of the faculties of approbation and self-esteem. Likewise his flat "coronal surface" would indicate a developed intellect but lack of veneration, conscientiousness, and benevolence."

 

It's actually a trend that no one you ever read gush over phrenology was ever told that theirs was a poor example of a skull, and obviously they weren't intelligent or virtuous. The skulls of famous people - talented artists, politicians, etc. etc. - were always shown to have the wonderful properties that you'd expect, knowing their lives and talents. There weren't any experiments along the lines of "here's a skull, tell us about the person." - that I've found anyway. If you see parallels between palm reading, tarot card reading, etc., you're in the right, this is similar.

 

Then again, I could go on a long tangent about the weird areas the field of psychology has drifted into throughout its history, and this post would go on and on. Social sciences are fun like that. (But I would say that, I've got a social science background.) 

 

Anyway, I'm having fun today picking up the books I feel like reading. And remembering how much fun it is - even decades away from school assignments - that I'm free to start and stop reading whenever I feel like it. So weird that I used to long for days like this back when I had to rush to finish a book - and now my problem is forgetting that there's no need to finish or rush if I don't want to, there's no longer an assignment!

Currently Reading: Unknown London, and Discovering The Changes...

Unknown London A completely new edition revised, with additional chapters by E. R. Wethersett - Walter George Bell

Again, this is a free read you can find here:

 

Unknown London by George Walter Bell (1919)

 

At the moment the short version of this is: imagine an older relative rambling on about historic things that no one pays attention to anymore (kids these days, etc) and going off on historical tangents. At the same time patting himself on the back for knowing about these hidden places. It's definitely dull in spots, but I'm amused.

 

Mostly I'm really enjoying finding out what's changed since the 1919 publication date. The book itself was republished - and I think updated? - after 1919, so Bell may have made edits himself. (There's also a sequel that I'm going to read too, also a free-online ebook.)

 

[Trying an experiment here to see if this will link properly - trying to link you directly to the online scanned pages of this book - I'll note it in parentheses after the links. Let me know if it doesn't work.]

 

So far I've enjoyed seeing the photo of the shrine of Edward the Confessor surrounded by protective sandbags. (This page, if I'm linking correctly.) I think I'm so used to thinking about the precautions London had to take during WWII that I forget about the same thing occurring during  the first world war.

 

The chapter on the Domesday book (that's a link to page) alerted me to the fact that the Public Record Office has now merged into The National Archives. And you can actually read as much of the Domesday book as you can stand online - because it's all been digitized. (More on the history of the book.)

 

The chapter An Old City Merchant's Mansion (link to page), has a bit of a sad "where is it now" ending. After searching a bit for No 34 Great Tower Street and coming up empty (and seeing nothing like it on Google maps), I did find a history book noting that this site was bombed and destroyed in the second world war. Same place, because it had this same image of the house: link to page. You'd never guess that particular city house was one of the many built immediately after the great fire of London, would you? It had all of the original woodwork and fireplaces in it as well. Sad.

 

Currently reading Roman's London Baths (link to page), and I'm already sidetracked by another story:

 

Roman Baths, Strand Lane (wikipedia)

"...The baths have a historical reputation of being Roman in origin. Although Roman London lay 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east, antiquarian finds of a Roman coffin and Roman pottery vessels are recorded on the Greater London Historic Environment Record from this part of the Strand. The visible remains, which lie 4 feet 6 inches (1.4 m) below the modern street level, date from a 17th-century refurbishment on the campus of King's College London.

 

...The true origin of the baths is lost in time, but it may be that they were built as cisterns for Arundel House over the spring. They were subsequently lost in the 16th century when the estate was broken up, the area was then built over by row houses, and later rediscovered after a fire in 1774."

 

The old cold bath that’s not that old

‘Roman’ Bath, off Surrey Street, Strand, WC2

(Hidden London, The Guide)

"Victorian Londoners were a gullible lot, though they thought themselves highly sophist­icated. When the owner of a little-​​known plunge pool suddenly began to promote it as dating from the first century ad, almost everyone was taken in.

 

...To be fair, the brickwork does bear a Roman resemblance – and there was little evidence to contradict the story of its ancient origin – but historians are now sure that the bath dates from the early 17th century.

 

Some have suggested that it was constructed as a spring water reservoir for Arundel House, the home of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel. Or perhaps it was created as an ornamental accom­paniment to the ‘Arundel marbles’ – the hundreds of Roman statues, busts, sarcophagi, altars and fragments with which the extra­vagant earl adorned the extensive grounds of his mansion. Thus, right from the start, it could have been intended to look like a Roman bath – so maybe those gullible Victorians could be excused."

 

I've just started this chapter so will see how much depth the author puts into questioning whether the baths are Roman. (First page shows some skepticism.) While wikipedia sort of skims the "Roman or not" bit, it wouldn't be the only famous tourist attraction that wasn't historically what it was claimed to be.

Currently Reading: Unknown London

Unknown London A completely new edition revised, with additional chapters by E. R. Wethersett - Walter George Bell

So remember I was reading Peter Ackroyd's London, A Biography? Well I was about 300 pages shy (it's like 800 pgs) of finishing it and since it's hardback and weighs a ton, it did not return with me on my plane ride home. However I did pick up one of the older books Ackroyd mentioned - yay, public domain ebooks:

 

Unknown London by George Walter Bell (1919)

 

Again, this is yet another book I have to stop and look things up on the internet with - because I can't help but think "hey, wonder what that site looks like now?"

 

Discussing places in London where you can still find parts of the Roman wall (including a post office and a commercial wine cellar), 14% in:

 

"In Roman Wall House, No. 1 Crutched Friars, is an excellent and characteristic length of the wall in a basement office, preserved at the sacrifice of some space by an enlightened builder (London's benedictions be upon all such). I learn that to the Sadlers Company gratitude is due. Its face shows the rows of Roman tiles and Kentish rag stones, so perfect in condition that it is probable an earthen bank was raised against it as soon as it was built. Ages old, the buried wall still does citizen service, for along its line dozens of City houses have been built directly upon it as a foundation - and none better could be desired. ...Pierced at many points for mains, torn up in places for basements, the old wall yields slowly and sullenly."

 

So what's happened to that area since 1919?

 

Historic England website:

 

Location: 

Basement of Roman Wall House, 1-2 Crutched Friars and Emperor House, 35-36 Vine Street, London EC3, centred on NGR TQ33580 81011.

 

...Details:

The monument includes a section of the Roman wall at Crutched Friars which forms part of the property boundary of Emperor House to the east and Roman Wall House to the west and is visible within their basements. It represents part of the eastern side of the London Wall circuit and includes a fragment of walling, 11m in length, with an additional section of its core to the south (located behind C20 party walling) and the remains of a bastion extending from the eastern face of the Wall. The Wall stands on a foundation trench of puddled clay and flint with a capping of ragstone which forms a raft supporting the main body of the Wall.

 

And goes on in more detail than you may be interested in.

 

And it turns out that there are future plans for it in 2018, with artwork so you can see how the wall section will be displayed in the future:

 

Hopkins Architects, Roman Wall House

 

"Located on the eastern fringe of the City of London close to Aldgate and Tower Gateway Stations, this project redevelops an historically-sensitive site into a new landmark structure housing high-quality office and retail spaces.

 

Designed to provide a dynamic sense of place within its neighbourhood, the building creates two new public spaces with active street frontages along Vine Street and Crutched Friars. It enhances historic elements present on the site by making the Roman wall more visible and includes a supplementary exhibition highlighting the location's rich history. A new formal external space directly in front of Sir John Cass College enhances the setting of this listed building and helps form the main entrance to the building itself."

 

While I couldn't find a photo of the exterior house/building now - well, not one that I'm positive is the right address - here's an example of a hidden section of the wall next door (I think? or the same site?) with photos:

 

Emperor House, City Wall

blog: The Commuter Consultant

There are other posts at that blog with other wall areas.

 

Anyway, that may be the same section of the wall in the earlier quote, and possibly the same section the 2018 building will showcase. Not sure.

 

I am continually fascinated with what Londoners live near, only a few feet below their streets. Or in their basements.

 

Also it's great fun reading this book from 1919 about how the author had to get special permission to see these areas (many of which are on private property) and then finding out that now - at least for Emperor House - it's a bit easier to observe this "hidden wall." You still have to make an appointment though, same as back in 1919. And apparently it's still something that's somewhat tricky to locate.

 

Here's info on the Museum of London's Wall Walk, with photos! I've seen some of the above ground sections back in the 1980s, and took a class on Roman Britain back then. Fun stuff.

Amazon US Sale on Random Books

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture - Ross King The Astors - Virginia Cowles The Inkheart Trilogy: Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath (Inkworld, #1-3) - Cornelia Funke We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese - Elizabeth M. Norman Chas Addams Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One - Charles Addams The Rothschilds - Virginia Cowles

I always hate posting this sort of thing because I know it's usually country specific - sorry non US folk. Also I often include books I've been waiting to drop in price but haven't read - so I never know how good a deal these things are! Anyway, passing these along! Sometimes other ebook stores will price match, so keep an eye out.

 

Note that these are on sale as of July 2, 2016 - but that changes fast.

 

Also I'm in a rush - going out for bbq - so no links below, though the book images above should have them.

 

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Ross King

$1.99

 

The Astors Kindle Edition

Virginia Cowles

$.99

 

The Rothschilds

Virginia Cowles

$.99

 

Inkheart (Inkworld series Book 1)

Cornelia Funke

$1.99

 

We Band of Angels, The Untold Story of The Women Trapped on Bataan

Elizabeth M. Norman

$1.99

 

Charles Addams: Happily Ever After

Charles Addams

2.99

50 Questions (I never do this, heh)

I used to stay away from these things like they were radioactive because some of the older ones were perfect fodder for social engineering. As in, hey let's learn about this person and be better able to guess their passwords. This seems less suspect than most, plus I've now already had my info compromised in reality - yay being in broken government databases. So why not.

 

See also:

Chris's Fish Place

Jessica's Book Thoughts

Sock Poppet at Play

Yodamom

 


1. Do you sleep with your closet doors open or closed?
Once would have said closed. But in my current apartment the closet doors are metal and make awful noises when I have to get in and select my clothes - so yeah, they stay open. It's a shallow closet though, and nothing in there to hide behind.

 

2. Do you sleep with your sheets tucked in or out? Tucked in.

 

3. Have you ever stolen a street sign before?
Well, not personally. There was a guy who liked me in college and he went out and stole the sign to Batcave Road. Because of my nickname and all. I still have it because well, of course I do. Somewhere in a box.


I did however once steal a traffic cone. It was out in the rain and needed a home. I then kept it for a decade and eventually used it when I was photographing things alongside the road - ah, grad school. But seriously, people respect you more if you have a cone, you look more official, especially if you have a serious looking camera. These days I'd actually just buy a cone, as you can find them pretty easily. Not so much in the 80s.

 

4. Do you cut out coupons and never use them?
Yes. Always. I rarely remember to use them.

 

5. Would you rather be attacked by bears or bees?
Neither. This is one of those "which level of hell would you prefer to live on" questions.

Oops sorry, meant circles of hell: Dante's Nine Circles of Hell
I keep going into video game mode when I think levels.

 

6. Do you have freckles?  Yes.

 

7. Do you always smile for pictures?

Yes but you can look in my eyes and tell that what's really going on in my mind is: "Are you going to take it now? Hurry and take it now! I'm giving all the smile I can and it's going to give out soon! Also boy do I not enjoy this." I've been on the other side of the camera a lot and am much happier there. When I'm the one getting the photo taken I just can't relax and look happy, I'm too busy thinking about it.

 

8. Do you ever count your steps when you walk?
No and I'm really glad I've never thought of this because I think I might have gotten a bit nutty over it.

 

9. Have you ever peed in the woods?
Oh god I hate peeing in the woods. I had relatives who could pee anywhere and everywhere and would often do so (even if a national park restroom was nearby). I've had drunken friends think nothing of hopping out of the car and peeing in someone's shrubs in the suburbs. I don't get it. It's uncomfortable, messy, and requires that you have tissues and something to clean your hands with. (And then you have to carry those tissues back with you to dispose of them later.) I'm a woman though, and it's just different for us.


There is a subset of folk who pee in the woods and are oddly proud of it, and think anyone that doesn't want to is odd or wimpy. To find these people look for those who 1) are seriously into camping, and/or 2) have seriously odd ideas about being a Wilderness/Nature Person and it being some sort of badge of honor.


I have had to pee in the Narrows, but it was worth it for the view.
 

10. What about pooped in the woods?
No. And it's not fun to come across this when one is hiking in the woods.

 

11. Do you chew your pens and pencils?

I broke myself of the habit decades ago - definitely stress related. It helped me stop when I once chewed my pen until ink leaked out in my mouth and on my sweater and I didn't notice right away. Friends were amused.

 

12. What’s your song of the week? Erm, I am without one atm.


13. Is it okay for guys to wear pink?
Of course. Guys are often forced into buying really dull colors and clothes by the whole "society expects" thing. At least in the US.

 

14. Do you still watch Cartoons?
Yup. It's most of what I watch on Netflix even though I say to myself that I'll start a series of some sort.

 

15. What do you drink with dinner?

Water. Dull but it won't keep me awake like caffeine. I am a caffeinated soda addict.

 

16. What do you dip a chicken nugget in?

BBQ sauce. But I haven't had a nugget in eons. I am not sorry.

 

17. What’s your favourite food?
Pizza. Or lemon meringue pie with a graham cracker crust and a drizzle of raspberry sauce and fresh blackberries. I might have just had that dessert last week. I'm still kinda in love with it.


18. Were you ever a boy/girl scout?

Brownie and then girl scout. The badges are SO much more fun now! There were so many that were difficult or impossible to do on your own when I was in it. I would have adored all the computer and book related ones.

 

19. Would you ever strip or pose naked for a magazine?
Nope. See my feelings about photos in 7. You'd be able to look at me in the photo and know that I was hating every minute of it.

 

20. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?
Yup. Thankfully have only had 2 of them in my life. Random story - there is a speed trap that consists of an entire tiny Texas town where there's a speed limit sign every few miles through out the town - and one major road through the town. The signs are there because the local cops would pounce on you as soon as you sped the slightest bit, and thus they now inform you of exactly where each speed change happens. Everyone local (as in the entire state) knows not to speed in that town - I expect they only stop tourists now. No idea how they fund anything via tickets now.

 

21. Favorite kind of sandwich? Turkey club.


22. Best thing to eat for breakfast?
Bacon and eggs. Or chilaquiles
Sadly I normally just eat breakfast bars.

 

23. What’s your usual bedtime?
I am one of those folk that have to unwind before bed or I won't fall asleep for eons. So I begin my Movement Towards Bed around 8:30 or 9 if I'm being good. After doodling around and getting ready for the next day, I then spend a good 30 min in bed reading something dullish so I'll get sleepy. Seriously, I have multiple books on my kindle that are interesting yet not TOO interesting just for these times. Except now I can't use them since light from ereaders is supposed to wake up your brain. Sigh.


24. Are you lazy?
Well, it depends. I call it resting after using up too much brain energy.

 

25. What is your Chinese astrology sign?
Fire horse. Which I only know thanks to the placemats at an asian restarant I ate at the in 80s.

 

26. How many languages can you speak?
English, and I can read in French. I am rotten at speaking it because I have never been great at verb tenses. If folks speaking it aren't using too much slang I can usually follow a conversation - granted I'll be about a minute behind in comprehending it.

 

27. Do you have any magazine subscriptions?

No. This reminds me that I need to send some to my mom though.

 

28. Are you stubborn?
In some things. With age I'm learning that it's totally ok to give up on some things and not consider it quitting if you're just not enjoying something. Long books for instance.

 

29. Are you afraid of heights?
I have what I call a Forgetful Fear of Heights. Or Fear of Descent. This means that I tend to want to climb up buildings and things because I'm all excited about the view - and then I get to the top and remember "oh crap, I hate climbing down, why why why do I always forget this part?!" Luckily this occurs mostly when I'm traveling to new places in cities, which doesn't happen that offen anymore.


Worse experiences in descending:

Sagrada Familia
There were no handrails or guardrails anywhere, and lots of long plunges down.

St Peter's Basilica
Climbing up to dome was ok - down was in the same narrow corridor stairway with stone steps that had been worn smooth and indented in the center and suddenly was much more slippery and stressful. Also it was crowded with people in front and behind so you had to keep moving. There are over 500 steps for the route we took. I learned that afterwards. We didn't take the elevator. Whee?
You can see a photo of the narrow stairway here.


30. Do you sing in the car? Yes, as long as no one else is there with me.

 

31. Do you ever dance in the car?

This is the moving your upper body around, right? Yes sometimes. But my foot is on the brake at the time.

 

32. Ever used a gun?

Nope. Have loads of friends and family that have them, because we're from Texas. But I can injure myself with hand tools, so a gun is not something I need to have. (I'd also be less worried about people with guns if there were stats that all of these folks are spending lots of time practicing shooting and knowing gun safety - as in where the safety is on the gun - but in the US we don't bother to keep helpful stats of any kind on guns if we can help it. Because reasons.)

 

33. Last time you got a portrait taken by a photographer? About 10 yrs ago.

 

34. Do you think muscles are cheesy?

They are useful for things like walking and lifting and keeping my bones in place? Otherwise I don't think of them much at all.

 

35. Favorite type of fruit pie? Cherry. And peach. But I'll eat any fruit pie really.

 

36. Occupation you wanted to be when you were a kid?

I have a drawing I made for a class speech in 4th grade (I think?) of the book store/publishing house/printing press I wanted to own one day. So I'd have all the books I'd want to read all around me. Aside from that I also wanted to work for Jim Henson.

 

37. Do you believe in ghosts?
I always say that, after extensive reading of ghost stories where the people who stridently claim that there are no such things as ghosts and are almost always the first people to be nabbed by said ghosts/monsters/etc., that it's best just to say that I've never seen one. That I'm aware of, and I'm ok with it. I'm more likely to be scared by what other humans will do to me than ghosts.


38. Ever had a deja-vu feeling? Yup.

 

39. First concert?
Mom took me to Helen Reddy, during the I Am Woman era. Somehow I never knew she's Australian, which seems silly of me.


40. Nike or Adidas?
Um neither? I get whatever fits. These days it's Sketchers or whatever's cheapish.

 

41. Ever take dance lessons?
Ballet for 5 years as a kid, until I was supposed to diet down to 90lbs in 6th grade, which seemed nonfun. But there's a reason you want to be that thin when you're in toe shoes. Also getting to look at other dancers feet with toe shoes off is a great way to make a girl have second thoughts about that form of dance. Short version: your feet are not pretty looking, and it looks as painful as it apparently feels. (According to the other dancers.)


And I took several dance classes in college for PE - ballroom and folk dancing. Lots of fun. Was in the class with friends and now I never know if I remember the steps where you lead or follow.


42. Regularly burn incense? Nope. Whee, allergies!

 

43. Who would you like to see in concert?
The Hoodoo Gurus. For nostalgia's sake. I think I've seen them the most - they used to swing by the colleges on US tours.

 

44. Hot tea or cold tea? Both.

 

45. Tea or Coffee?
Tea. My family is notorious for being caffeine fiends, but I never got the bug. It never tasted as good as it smelled. Probably didn't help that my parents drink it without sugar or milk. So tea it was and is.

 

46. Can you swim well? Fairly well.


47. Are you patient?
I have a 70+ mom that I regularly have to teach how to use computers and smart phones.


48. DJ or band at a wedding? DJ

 

49. Which are better, black or green olives?

Neither, I fear olives. They are slimy. Have had too many slimy olives on pizza to ever like them. I know, I know, they were probably all canned and not "real" olives, but the damage is done and I'll never love olives. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar - totally different thing.

 

I try not to discuss the olive thing - but my "I don't like cheesecake" thing is worse. In the US people are VERY serious about cheesecake. If you don't like it the response is often "but you haven't tried X cheesecake, here I'll make one!" - and it will be tasty, but still cheesecake, and I'll still not be a fan. So I'm now very, very quiet on the whole cheesecake subject. People are way less passionate about the olives thankfully.

 

50. Would you rather live in a fictional world or the real world?
Some fictional worlds can be even worse than reality - though I know sometimes that's hard to believe. I'll go with real world for the same reason I don't want to travel back in time. I note that most folk with medical problems, or vision problems, usually are in agreement on this. Remember, we haven't had decent glasses for a huge chunk of history. I do love being able to see!

 

Actually the real question is: am I in control in that fictional world?

Mary Seacole: Something I Am Reading!

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands - Mary Seacole

As opposed to the Boris Johnson thing I linked - this is the book I went looking for on Amazon. Because I'm lazy and don't want to hook my kindle up to the computer to transfer from Gutenberg - but here's that version. I should note that Gutenberg has illustrations, so I have that on my computer to refer to anyway:

 

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole

 

This is yet another woman I'm studying in my continual project to learn more about women's history - because a single college class in women's studies just didn't complete my education. (Though it focused on African and African American authors, several of which I don't see mentioned most places, so it was epic for that. Someday I should post a list of the reading material - except I think we read some xerox'd bits as well.) 

 

Best thing to do is refer you to her wikipedia page, because she's fascinating: Mary Seacole

 

"She acquired knowledge of herbal medicine in the Caribbean. When the Crimean War broke out, she applied to the War Office to assist but was refused. She travelled independently and set up her hotel and assisted battlefield wounded. She became extremely popular among service personnel who raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war.

 

After her death, she was forgotten for almost a century, but today is celebrated as a woman who successfully combatted racial prejudice. Her biography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman, although some aspects of its accuracy have been questioned. It has been claimed that Seacole's achievements have been exaggerated for political reasons and a plan to erect a statue of her at St Thomas' Hospital, London, describing her as a "pioneer nurse", has generated controversy. Further controversy broke out in the United Kingdom late in 2012 over reports of a proposal to remove her from the country's National Curriculum."

 

My thoughts on this - it's not at all uncommon for books written by women to be heavily edited - or actually any books in that time period. The concept of editors hopping in and changing things up - sometimes dramatically rewriting huge portions - wasn't rare, it was what editors often did. And authors hated it and complained - and we have a lot of fun author letters because of it. (This is a continual source of Shakespearean scholarship, as printers made a lot of edits as well - but of course no Shakespearean complaint letters since he never saw his plays in print. Ah well.) Editing happened a lot (from what I've read anyway) on slave narratives which were published in the 1800s - language/grammar was tidied up, and there were claims that stories were exaggerated for melodramatic effect. (There are also plenty that are use sparce, plain language and are just as dramatic.) Of course some of those claims were from pro-slavery folk, so you have to weigh those sorts of remarks in context. Anyway, if we're going to toss out biographical works due to embellishment, there area LOT of books from the 1800s that're going away. 

 

I should add here that there are always those who pop up to say "she didn't really write that book" (implied: some man wrote it for her) in the whole history of women writing books. So I always look to that sort of claim with skepticism, and see what sort of proof they have. (If a woman happens to be married to a man who's an author, this always happens. See Mary Shelley, Martha Gellhorn, etc. Oddly if a wife or daughter edits or transcribes for their author husband or father, they're only mentioned in an aside, because (snarky voice) of course they didn't write the work.)

 

The thing that fascinates me is the "controversy" in the idea that Seacole is somehow in competition with Florence Nightingale, known for her work in nursing and in the use of statistics to prove how better health care in the field could save lives. (Yes, a heroine of stats usage to prove a point. Cool, eh? I didn't learn that bit until grad school classes.) The two women have such dramatically different stories - saying there's a competition just because they're both nurses?! This is the kind of competition that seems entirely made up. Nightingale has been celebrated for a long time - and unfortunately turned into a meek stereotype of a lady nurse when she was definitely made of fiercer stuff. (They made her "safe." She wasn't. Women didn't try to prove men in power wrong using stats back then.) There's only a competition in this sort of history if you have the weird idea that only so many women's stories get to be told, that some stories are more important than others, and there's only so much space for this history at all. We need both Nightingale and Seacomb. And if there's any greater push to get Seacomb's story out now it's simply because we have a much larger group of white women that we hear/read about - and not as many of the women of color who get biographies and recognition. It's about time we heard more in an area where historical biographies are lacking - we need to have more books, statues, plaques, museum space, portraits on stamps, etc for women like Seacomb, and any women that haven't had their place in history recognized. It's not about comparison or judgement of who's more worthy - the whole "worthy" idea is why it's been a struggle to get any histories of women out there in the first place. 

 

Here's where I add another rant - when you look up many famous women in hopes of finding biographical material and go to Amazon, what you'll often find are elementary/young reader books under 100 pages in length (often mostly taken up with artwork/illustration). I'd classify most of these books as fodder for age 9-12 - the facts are given, but the writing is simplistic. And those are often the only books available. You sometimes have to dig up history books from university presses (pricey, only in paper) or books from the 1800s to get any material at all (thank you Google books project). I don't have any numbers on how often this happens - but for the women I'm looking up it happens often. And this is problem because autobiographical material - and young reader books - need to have factual, well referenced history books that interested readers can turn to next if they want to learn more.

 

Anyway, I've got Seacomb's book next on my reading list, and thought I'd pass it on. It's only 120 pages - so a short read.

Posted For Humourous Reasons Only!

Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World - Boris Johnson

No I am not reading this! However it popped up in an Amazon search for another book and this bit in the blurb just jumped out:

 

"Boris Johnson, the internationally beloved mayor of London, is the best possible guide to these colorful characters and the history in which they played such lively roles. Erudite and entertaining, he narrates the story of London as a kind of relay race. Beginning with the days when “a bunch of pushy Italian immigrants” created Londinium, he passes the torch on down through the famous and the infamous, the brilliant and the bizarre..."

 

And the author blurb - because a second paragraph of the book blurb that natters on about the author isn't enough author info:

 

"Boris Johnson is the popular and internationally known mayor of London and the author of several previous books... "

 

This book was out in 2012. Just posting this because hmm, things have changed a bit and now it's hard to read that without making, well some form of facial expression. (I'm in cringe mode myself.)

 

Again, I'm so not buying/reading this. Just wanted to make that clear. Noting this for now historic reasons. Though it'd be fun to read now what he says about immigration which has been a part of London's history - well, ever since it had a history.

London the Biography: The chapter on Waste Matter - Shit Paintings?!

London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

It's a giggleworthy subject if you're in elementary school, but it's one that social historians find lots of er, material in - how people dealt with waste. And when you have a city the size of London that's a vast issue.

 

I'm afraid this will end up more than one post because wow, such material.

 

p 333

"...London memoranda in Samuel Pepys's words from Seething Lane: "Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar."

 

Londoners are fascinated by excrement. ...in English of the same century [of Thomas More] homage was paid to human excrement with the nickname of "Sir-reverence." In the late twentieth century those quintessentially London artists, "Gilbert and George" of Spitalfields, arranged large exhibitions of their Shit Paintings."

 

And for more on those artists: 

 

Gilbert and George: Everyone Said We Wouldn't Last

Telegraph, 7 Jul 2014

"...Although Gilbert and George may be very clean, their art is not clean at all. Over the years they have made pictures featuring sperm; urine; penises – their own; faeces – again, their own; and pubic lice. It’s odd to think of their collectors – who often pay in excess of £1 million for one of their pictures – sitting in some chichi Manhattan apartment with one of their enormous turd pictures on the wall."

 

Oh and the toilet WAS the trash can for everything - ponder your own trash use with that in mind, especially thinking about what throwing out the weekly trash would mean.

 

p 334

"In the period when Pepys was complaining about the substances in his cellar, the privy was being used in most households for kitchen and domestic as well as human refuse."

 

I always love how this is rarely if ever covered in romance or history novels - the people wearing lovely satins and silks at diner would retire to the next room and pee in a corner. Hopefully in a container - but not always, sometimes literally on the floor in a corner, or in the fireplace. All male groups at dinner would often just use a pot brought in a room while the rest continued to eat and talk. And of course public lavatories were long board benches with holes where you'd sit right next to someone and do what you needed to. It wasn't just a rich/poor thing - the rich weren't really more hygenic or careful.

 

Now that last bit I didn't get just from this book at all - but annoyingly I can't remember which couple of books I culled it from. Sadly there's no big book of poo in history I can recommend - and er, I think I'll wait til after lunch to google...

The Bishop of Hell: Short Stories of a Ghostish Nature

The Bishop of Hell & Other Stories - Marjorie Bowen

First of all I have to note that this isn't the edition I read - I read it via ebook thanks to Gutenberg Australia:

 

The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Marjorie Bowen

On that page it tells you which collection each of the stories are originally printed in.

 

wikipedia: Marjorie Bowen

 

Take a moment to quickly look at Bowen's wiki page and how many books she's written. And some under different names - that was a list that probably took a bit to compile. I now feel weird for not knowing more about her - because I'm pretty sure I've read many of her short stories before - I have a collection of ghost story anthologies and I'll bet she's well represented in them.

 

What's interesting is that I didn't at all guess that she'd been writing on into the 1950s. Bowen's style definitely has some of that "earlier time," old fashioned feel to it - though most of the stories in the book were written between 1900 to 1930s. Note that I've only read her short stories - no idea what her many novels are like. Though one of 

 

If you're looking for something with loads of gore and hack and slash - nope, this is the type with more atmosphere, less blood. Which of course doesn't mean it's not tropey - lots of debauched noblemen types scampering about in here. And some "enjoy this bad person get his/her just desserts" types of stories. (You know anyone who disrespects/mistreats an old woman is In For It.) But then that's what you sign up for in the majority of ghost stories - justified revenge. We don't want to see the clever psychopath get away with his crime - that's a modern twist, playing for antiheroics - no, many of us are pleased to have that psychopath learn the hard way via ghostly vengeance. Though I should add here that there's not always a satisfying revenge-death in all of these - one or two have "wait, that seems unfair" deaths.

 

I can't easily quote without spoilers - but here's a snip from one of the more modern stories where a woman visits someone she thinks is an elderly collector of china - The Crown Derby Plate:

 

"Do you really do everything yourself here and live quite alone?" she asked, and she shivered even in her thick coat and wished that Miss Lefain's energy had risen to a fire, but then probably she lived in the kitchen, as these lonely eccentrics often did.

 

"There was someone," answered Miss Lefain cunningly, "but I had to send her away. I told you she's gone, I can't find her, and I am so glad. Of course," she added wistfully, "it leaves me very lonely, but then I couldn't stand her impertinence any longer. She used to say that it was her house and her collection of china! Would you believe it? She used to try to chase me away from looking at my own things!"

 

"How very disagreeable," said Miss Pym, wondering which of the two women had been crazy. "But hadn't you better get someone else."

 

"Oh, no," was the jealous answer. "I would rather be alone with my things, I daren't leave the house for fear someone takes them away—there was a dreadful time once when an auction sale was held here—"

 

Really Brief Gloria Vanderbilt Autobio

It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir - Gloria Vanderbilt

I'm easily sucked in by book sales - and in this case didn't notice that the book is only 180 pages. However I feel somewhat badly for the star rating, because Gloria Vanderbilt has indeed been through some huge personal traumas. Starting when she was involved in a child custody fight between her parents, which was covered in detail by the media of the 1930s. And it was the usual "how much do any of these people really care about the kid vs them wanting to control her money?" She went on to date well known folk in Hollywood, attempting an acting career, to making (maybe expected?) bad choices of husbands, having her money stolen by her therapist and his lawyer friend, and having her son commit suicide.

 

Vanderbilt does not dwell long on these tragic moments - she explains briefly, and then moves on. She remembers what she wore at all times - which is humorous in that she ended up making her money back by licensing it to various types of fashion. She has many cheerful, optimistic things to say about moving on, recovering from divorce - but doesn't go on for pages and pages. And she never feels sorry for herself. 

 

At the same time there doesn't seem to be much depth here, and the writing is what I'd call, er, fluffy - but I can't really say that I can fault her much in that she's covering a lot of painful topics, and seeming to be honest about them. I don't really feel good about being too critical of that kind of autobiographical material. And on the plus side I think if there was a ghost writer involved they were light handed with the rewriting.

 

Oh she's also Anderson Cooper's mom. I saw clips of an interview sometime recently (for the new book they wrote together) where she was being asked about various things in her life and then it would cut to Cooper who would say things like "mom, how could you trust [con men who stole her money] without question?!" - which is exactly what you want to ask, it's that unthinkable that she'd basically sign away all her money. This is a very trusting and oddly naive woman - but then from this book you get the sense that she's always been that way. Despite things that people do to her she always seems to trust that most people are good and will treat her honestly. Which I can't interpret as sweet because in her position in life, it's been repeatedly dangerous for her to act that way.

 

Anyway, it was interesting. Don't recommend you rush out to read it though.

Another London Quote: I Needed to Share the Odd Details

London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

I griped a bit about the book but now realize that I didn't really share any reasons as to why I'm reading it. Here's a bit of the kind of info that I'm drawn to - and it gives you a sense of the details Ackroyd likes to share:

 

p 164-5:

 

"As long as the city has existed there have been entertainers and entertainments, from the street ventriloquists who cast their voices into their hands to the "man with the telescope" who for twopence would allow you to look at the heavens on a summer's night. Performers balanced on the weathercock of St. Paul's steeple; there were midnight dog shows and duels of rats; there were street jugglers and street conjurors, complete with pipes and drum; there were performing bears and performing monkeys dragged through the streets of London upon long ropes. In the late eighteenth century a pedlar exhibited a hare dancing upon a tambourine, while another entertainer displayed "a curious mask of bees on his head and face."...

 

...There have always been wonders and curiosities. John Stow recorded the minute skills of a blacksmith who exhibited a padlock, key and chain which could be fastened around the neck of a performing flea; John Evelyn reported seeing "the Hairy Woman" whose eyebrows covered her forehead, as well as a Dutch boy who displayed the words "Deus Meus" and "Elohim" on each iris. In the reign of George II, it was announced that "from eight in the morning til nine at night, at the end of the great booth on Blackheath, a West of England woman 38 years of age, alive, with two heads, one above the other... She has had the honor to be seen by Sir Hans Sloane, and several of the Royal Society. Gentlemen and ladies may see her at their own houses as they please." The advertisement has been taken from a pamphlet entitled Merrie England in the Olden Time. So the unfortunate creature was taken to the London houses of the rich to be inspected at closer hand. ...As Trinculo says upon first confronting Caliban, on that enchanted island strangely recalling London, "when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian."

 

It's going to be a while before I lose the mental image of a rabbit dancing on a tambourine and a man wearing a mask of bees.

 

The treatment of so-called "freak show" workers has a long (sad) history - sometimes, if the workers weren't exploited by managers, they could actually make money, save it up, go on to have a better life outside the business. But what they had to put up with to earn that wage... If you are interested in the stories of such folk with LOTS of historical sources referenced, I recommend any/all of the following by author Jan Bondeson:

 

  • A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
  • The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History
  • The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels

 

Bondeson focuses a bit more on the medical conditions and the science history, but the human stories are well described. 

Review: Gellhorn by Caroline Moorehead

Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Moorehead, Caroline (2004) Paperback - Caroline Moorehead

This is the kind of book where I have to wrestle a bit with the star ratings. Well into the book I decided I really did not like a lot of Martha Gellhorn's personality and attitude, but the book is incredibly well written - so I never wanted to stop reading. My dislike is probably a great indication of how well Moorehead gives us all angles of what Gellhorn was like - the interesting, the frustrating and the "thank god no one I know acts like this" moments. She was one of those women who are not easy to be friends with, and if she decided she didn't like you or was bored of you, she'd drop you eventually and you'd never see her again. Short version: she was difficult. (I could go on a tangent here about how soooo many biographies of great authors could be summed up this way!)

 

I was ready to be completely on Gellhorn's side by the way - a woman reporter that was known for going places and getting the stories that the men around her simply weren't writing. Not to mention that it was much, much easier for the men to get to the front lines in many of the wars, when Gellhorn's gender was always something she was either having to talk around or use to get to certain locations. I was also ready to be on her side about Hemingway - she was his third wife. I've read enough of his books and his bios to really dislike if not hate the man. Problem is that in most ways Gellhorn was just as self absorbed and selfish as Hemingway was. Not to mention she kept getting involved with married men which, er, well the excuse that "it just happened blah blah blah love blah blah" doesn't wash when she does this repeatedly. But then chalk that up to me not understanding how someone can repeatedly do that to other women (you know, the wives) and then somehow forget that and become angered when cheated on themselves. And I won't even get into the frustration of how she treats her adopted child - except to say that a war orphan shouldn't be dumped on a nanny and then left for long periods of time - I don't have kids but I can understand that this is a stupid idea, and unfair to a child whose life is repeatedly disrupted. Again, Gellhorn was selfish, and admitted she was, and selfish people don't get this kind of thing.

 

Having said all that, it's definitely worth a read. And excruciating reading it is too - especially the struggles with writing when she has writers block, which she suffers with her entire career. She desperately wanted to write something better than her last work, and she was always her harshest critic. She didn't receive much acclaim for her writing until the end of her career - before then the attitude was roughly "good, for a woman" and "her talent probably all came from Hemingway."

 

Gellhorn reported on the horrors of war that other reporters weren't really getting - the human side of things - the doctors treating the wounded, the war orphans, the widows - the people. In World War 2 most other reporters tended to focus on battles, strategy, and vague mentions of casualties - keeping well away from anything critical or depressing.

 

Gellhorn was constantly enraged at any injustice - of which there are always plenty in war. She fought against anything she saw as unjust throughout her life. Which is where some other problems come in - for instance, the reporter's objectivity is something she never bought into. This sounds nice in that you do want a reporter to care about the actual human beings behind the story - but when it came to Israel vs Palestine Gellhorn was blindly pro-Israel and overtly anti-Palestine and anti-arab in a way that no journalist would publish now except as the most flamebait editorial. This and many other "questionable journalism" examples are what author Moorehead is wonderful at writing about - there are no excuses for Gellhorn's thoughts or actions, none of these sorts of issues are swept under the rug. Moorehead does suggest ideas about what might have been going on in Gellhorn's mind in these incidents - if there isn't a letter or interview to cite. These suggestions are just that - suggested and never writen as factual statements. Moorehead's scholarship includes many interviews with living relatives and friends, reading Gellman's many notebooks full of research, and going through massive amounts of letters by Gellhorn and others - as well as having known Gellhorn herself while she was alive. I'd say Moorehead's theories hold up when she tries to grasp for reasons that Gellhorn behaved and thought the way she did.

 

Not sure how to work this in anywhere so I'll just add this, because there should be a head's up - Gellhorn commits suicide at age 89. She hated relying on others, hated her failing health and growing weakness, and continually hated the fact that men no longer admired her looks once she aged. (I am overtly eyerolling over the "my self worth hinges on the fact that others admire my looks" but then that's me. Gellhorn started moaning over this long before her 80s - and oddly she was someone that didn't tolerate anyone whining or self pitying. Go figure.)

 

Somewhere I had a piece of paper with page numbers I wanted to quote but it's managed to scamper off somewhere. So I'll just share a bit from her World War 2 reporting. Gellhorn was punished by the military with the loss of her papers allowing her to report as a journalist after she managed to board a hospital ship (without leave to) in order to cover D Day. She continued reporting the war anyway. After interviewing Spanish refugees near Toulouse:

 

p. 233

"...Her piece for Collier's ended with her customary ring of hope.

"These people remain intact in spirit. They are armed with a transcendent faith... they have never accepted defeat... and you can believe quite simply that, since they are what they are, there will be a republic across the mountains and that they will live to return to it." A typescript of Martha's article is filed in the archives of Collier's. Across the top, someone has written, "This is not bad for tear jerker sort of stuff."

 

Ever since returning to Europe before D Day, Martha, for all her misgivings, had wanted to fly with the air corps on a mission to Germany. Her requests had been turned down, mainly on the grounds that she was a woman; and once she lost her papers, she had not wanted to draw attention to herself. Now, with nothing to lose, she talked her way on board a P-61 Black Widow on a night flight over Germany, becoming the first woman correspondent to do so. "Terrified beyond belief," she noted that the plane was very beautiful, like a "delicate deadly dragonfly." "The bombed factories and houses, the pitted ground," she wrote in her notebook, once the ordeal of takeoff had been accomplished and she was wedged on a cushion behind the pilot in an agony of discomfort, clutching an ill-fitting oxygen mask over her face. "Burning smoke and the Rhine ugly and flat here and like a sewer river... In this immensity of sky C-47s like plough horses... This land is a desert and these people who loved order and finally insanely wished to impose their order, are now given chaos as a place to live in." At dinner after the mission, the pilots talked about what would happen to them after the war, and about how long babies were when they were first born because one man had just heard that he had become a father. "Seven men down - no one spoke of it. Drinking and singing 'I want to go home.'"

 

London the Biography: Sharing the Online Book Wealth

London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

I mentioned this in the last post, but now I've actually sat down and started looking up old books that are referenced in this book. And I've found a lot. And I'm just starting.

 

Usually when this sort of thing happens I add it to my (huge) bookmark folder for online ebooks and tell myself that I'll eventually share the links. But I'm horrible at getting around to that, so bah, I'll just pop in and share what I've found in the past hour.  

 

First a quote from Ackryod's book:

 

p 114: "Antiquarianism might itself be considered outmoded, therefore, except for one curious ceremony which is conducted every year at the church of St. Andrew Undershaft. Here rests John Stow's tomb, with a memorial figure of the Tudor antiquarian resting upon it. He holds a quill pen in his hand and every year, at the beginning of April, the Lord Mayor of London and a distinguished historian proceed to the memorial where a new quill is placed in Stow's hand. So the city honours one of its greatest citizens, with the changing of the quill a solemn token of the fact that the writing of London's history will never come to and end."

 

And now, some random old books. Am linking Open Library's website because, while all of these have links to read the original book online (you'll see images of the actual scanned book page), they have great links where you can download directly in the format of your choice. I'm hooked on them because I can wirelessly send to my kindle via a link. Down side: often the downloadable versions have scanning errors (wrong letters, garble here and there) - and you'll miss out on the great illustrations or photos that some of the books might have. (I usually read via ereader and check the original for images. So far majority of books with images don't hae them in downloaded version.)

 

Unknown London by George Walter Bell (1919)

Which I am going to read first because there's a chapter on the head of the Duke of Suffolk. And a photo of the mummified-looking head in the frontpiece. Definitely has my attention. [tumblr me: omg guys I bumped into a book with a decapitated head! Score!]

 

Because I understand those of you who just want to cut (grim accidental pun) to the chase, I'll link you to the wikipedia section called: The Head. Note that wikipedia quotes from this particular text. Though it cites the book in reference, you'd never know it was waiting to be read at archive.org, but that's wikipedia for you. (Yes I could link it myself but then I'd have to go look up my password and that'd take up reading time.)

 

Er none of the following have quite the weirdness of Unknown London. Or the promise of weirdness - I've not yet read any of these, remember.

 

London Vanished and Vanishing by Philip Norman (1905)

Illustrations are really nice paintings.

 

Old and New London by Walter Thornbury (1887)

 

Highways and Byways in London by Mrs T E Cook (1920)

Nice to find a woman author amongst all the guys.

 

Curiosities of London Life by W and F G Cash (1857)

 

History of London by Walter Besant (1894)

 

And, again randomly, I bumped into the following on a non London related search, which it is yet again the case that a woman author is mostly ignored because we don't have translations - or at least not of her own writing. So here's a two volume bio - by a gentleman who wrote it in French, but his work was translated. Go figure.

 

The Salon of Madame Necker vol 1, and vol 2.  (1882)

wikipedia link: Susan Curchod, or Madame Necker

When Books Tease!

London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

London is one of those long books that I love but as usual, sends me off to google. There are SO many other books referenced in the text that sound fascinating - and you have to wonder, is this book as interesting as it sounds from this quote? Is the interest aided mainly because Ackroyd loves the subject, or would I find it readable even if this book hadn't made it sound good? And for older books that might be out of copyright and online - well, I always have to go look to see if I can find the book, or at least read an excerpt. Of course finding them is the trick.

 

This often leads to websites which will sell you the books but that have little info about the contents - IF I actually can find any info about them online, that is. And that brings me to one book tease - the review that doesn't tell you anything, just hints at info. I'm not linking because I'm not wanting to spotlight this person, there are SO many people that do this. Example, not an exact quote:

This book contains many stories of this European city that I'd heard before, some that I haven't. It's a fascinating city, and I really want to make time to visit it someday.

I'd have been the slightest bit happier if there'd been mention of at least one or two of the stories this reviewer had heard - or hadn't. A noun, a place name, a person, maybe? Then I'd have something to go on and understand the star rating. As it is I have nothing to glean from that (except that this person wants to travel), and no one else reviewed this particular old book. So...yeah. Set that aside and moving on to other books I can find out more about.

 

The other book tease is done by authors when they cite something in the text, but there's no footnote. Ackroyd has an entire chapter at the end of this book that's an essay on his sources - but there's no way to tell within the text exactly where some of his references come from - unless he cites the book and author. (And then you'll know that much, but not where in the book that quote comes from.) Here's an example of a tease without a source:

 

p 111: "...At the very beginning of the nineteenth century a London journalist known as "Aleph" wandered down Lothbury, recalling its previous "tortuous, dark vista of lofty houses" lit only by oil lamps; since Aelph's journey it has changed many times, yet it still remains unique and identifiable, most particularly with its recurrent "darkness" and loftiness."

 

Yes, I'll get around to googling that. But just from previous reading and knowing how many newspaperfolk in that area used single names (or humorous pseudonyms) - you're not going to find them easily unless the author published multiple articles, in online-accessible papers. Or so I've found from past searches like this. (Will update if I find anything later.)

 

More babble later, am being paged to go help...

 

LATER:

 

Aelph apparently (I think) wrote London Scenes - ah ha, here we go:

 

London Scenes and London People

 

Had to look through several ugly .txt docs before I finally found that link - it's at archive.org. It would have helped to know that Aelph was a pen name of William Henry Harvey, 1811 - 1866. That's if archive.org is correct with that author name/date. I only know that the wikipedia page for him only mentions his botany work. And see, I think it's NOT the same Harvey - because other sources note: "William Harvey, wood-engraver, illustrator and writer of verse for children." Soooo, hmmm.

 

This is now become the mystery of Who is Aelph? Or Which William Harvey?

 

Which is again why I say footnotes: I read them, I love them. If you care enough to cite authors, please footnote so that I may then go read their books too. Don't be a tease about it.

Review: New Arabian Knights by Robert Louis Stevenson

New Arabian Nights - Robert Louis Stevenson

Wikipedia page: New Arabian Knights (1882)

Gutenberg link: New Arabian Knights

 

I've only read some of Stevenson's works (none of the longer novels yet) and this was one that'd been recommended somewhere for the stories about the Suicide Club, the premise of which sounds like something that could easily be transplanted in a modern piece of fiction. (Check out the adaptations listed on the wikipedia page for Suicide Club. One author transformed it into a Holmes tale.) All of these read very much like many magazine short stories of the time - think how Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories read, heavy on action adventure first and characterization a bit later, in small doses if at all. It's mostly all about the action.

 

Aside: It's still kinda weird to have grown up reading Doyle's Holmes and to then bump into people who view them all as one complete thing with an indepth world instead of a world you only learn about in bits and pieces dropped in many stories. Because Holmes didn't hop into life having all that - Doyle was also churning out short stories in bits, like many other authors of the time, most of whom didn't foresee carrying on with the same characters for a series. Of course building a headcannon with Holmes isn't at all a modern thing - decades ago I bought my dad a book of the complete Holmes stories (hardback and insanely heavy) with intricate and detailed footnotes that indicated that whoever was writing them was treating Holmes as a historical figure that did actually exist. Never could tell if that was tongue in cheek or an author who genuinely believed. And yes, there are people that do believe Holmes was a real person - not just influenced by Joseph Bell, etc.

 

Anyway, if you've never read short stories and realized they were all written for separate publication, this is a kind of fun example. The Suicide Club series (really only 2 stories when combined) sort of work well together, even though the whole "I am framing this as written by an Arabian author who told me the story" doesn't really seem fleshed out. Even Stevenson agrees, as in the last tale he gives that up completely:

"As for [character in story], that sublime person, having now served his turn, may go, along with the Arabian Author, topsy-turvy into space."

 

So by the last couple of stories the Arabian Author framing is gone, as is the Suicide Club - so expect that part to be brief. I'll note that for some reason one of the later stories, the Pavilion on the Links, is one that shows up in multiple short story collections - it's action/adventure with an Italian gang in pursuit of revenge, and a love triangle in which you know who's the good guy, because obvious good guy is obvious. But I sort of enjoyed it anyway because Stevenson does have fun writing atmospheric locations.

 

So if the stories of this period interest you this is worth it, especially for the premise of the Suicide Club. You'll totally see why this is definite screenwriter fodder.

 

Because They Were on Sale (My Excuse, As Usual)

The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories - Robert Poole, Robert Poole Triangle: The Fire That Changed America - David von Drehle Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World - David Bodanis Devil at My Heels - Louis Zamperini, David Rensin A People's History of Quebec - Jacques Lacoursiere, Robin Philpot Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe - Bill Bryson The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery - Rick Beyer, Elizabeth Sayles Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary - Anita Anand Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley circle - Janet Todd Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation - Blake J. Harris

Sale on Amazon US of course - sorry anyone who doesn't get those prices due to border annoyances. And since these are from the past three weeks, some might no longer be on sale - the Lancashire Witches isn't, sorry, I would add that first!

 

Usually I'd copy/paste the names into the text area but I am feeling SO lazy (not to mention currently having little free time, sigh) that I'm just gonna whap them into the "add book" area.

 

Also I totally realize I was only recently grumbling about having to remove unread books to free up ereader space so yes, here we go, I again add to my problem. Heh, such fun that no one can actually see how many TBR are on my virtual shelf! Er, unless I share them in here of course.

 

Hmm, only just now realized that I bought two military themed books and military history usually isn't my thing. Both were recommended to me by others though, so there's that.

Currently reading

Their Noble Lordships: How to Tell a Duke From an Earl...And Other Mysteries Solved by Simon Winchester
The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon - The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World by Steven L. Kent
Transformers: Robots in Disguise Vol. 4 by Andrew Griffith, John Barber
Mort by Terry Pratchett
Aftermath: The Remnants of War: From Landmines to Chemical Warfare--The Devastating Effects of Modern Combat (Vintage) by Donovan Webster
Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby by Mary S. Lovell
Progress: 120/371pages
Plutarch's Lives, Volume I by Aubrey Stewart, Plutarch, George Long
Progress: 30%
The Sofa by Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon
Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey
Celebrated Crimes (The Complete Collection) by Burnham I.G., Alexandre Dumas
Progress: 16%