Tuesday 2 April 2019

A Grab Bag of Reading

A potpourri of bedtime reading I

Hello New Visitors and Welcome! Now that there are a few of you here, squashed up on my virtual sofa to have a bit of a read of My Words, I tossed up whether to divide this post over two days in an attempt to prevent anyone becoming too restless with a long posting or frighten off any New Reader with my Going On, and decided it's a bit much to ask whomever has been relegated to sitting on the pouffe to endure it in its entirety, and so split it I have and Part II shall come tomorrow. 

As ever, a look at what I’ve been reading of late betrays my rather catholic taste. I'm not reading as much as I would wish, but I've been mildly reassured by this stacked half-dozen books that I've not entirely slipped into a Coma when it comes to appreciation of the written word. To be sure there has been the enjoyment of a couple of editions of my only subscription, Slightly Foxed, serving to remind me how I need to pick up the pace if I want to get through the piles of books about the place. But it's been a full six months since my last Reading Roundup, and this blogger's creed doth promise there are books stuffed in her handbag, so I must crack on...

In no particular order, Dear Reader, the Spring Choice, atop the bedside chair:

First up, if you are interested in such things, I can commend to you the recent biography by Australian journalist Julia Baird, Victoria The Queen. Vast amounts of print have already covered this diminutive woman’s life and we, especially in the Commonwealth, are very familiar with her later rotund profile from public statuary and the like, however this intimate glimpse which, in the author's words, hacks through the myths surrounding her life comes courtesy of access to the reams of (doctored*) primary materials archived in Windsor Palace and elsewhere and gives us a level of acquaintance with her that could only ever be dreamt of by one of her Subjects from previous generations. Thank you, Mr P, for the lately read birthday pressie for 2018!

B&W photo of Model of Queen Victoria's statue in George Frampton's studio (before 1902)
Model of Queen Victoria's statue in George Frampton's studio
 Courtesy Henry Moore Archive

Speaking of dreaming, Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, is a fantastic read, if not a bit anxiety-making if you are having some trouble in that department. Sleep and the workings of the brain really are a kind of Final Frontier for science and this is written not as a Guide to Counting Sheep but a summation of the latest scientific findings about Sleep and Why it Matters, by a neuroscientist who readily admits to being obsessed by this mysterious aspect of our lives. It would seem that all of our biological functions benefit from good sleep and its deficit has been linked to all manner of ailments - hence the rather alarming aspect of this book - but it's in the spirit of scientific curiosity (not hypochondria) that I'm about to read it again as I found it so fascinating**. Plus the author says he would only be delighted if one falls asleep whilst reading the book. A Healthful Happenstance!

John Dickson Batten tempera painting, Snowdrop and the seven little men, 1897
Snowdrop and the seven little men, 1897
John Dickson Batten, AGNSW

The remaining non-fiction in this pile is Michael Rosen's Alphabetical. This was snaffled up from the informal book exchange in our building's foyer as I already have a bit of a collection of books on etymology and the linguistic riches of the English language, and this lighthearted little book on the history of the English alphabet is right up my alley. As an English-speaking monolinguist, I feel particularly lucky it should be this which I speak, as it's so quirky and varied and downright interesting. Others may, you knowlike, literally disagree but I need to cram in as much diversity into my vocabulary as my small battish brain allows.

Letter P from Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum by Johann Christian Bierpfaf, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum Collection
P is for Pipistrello, says
C17th Johann Christian Bierpfaf

And so to the fiction, I realised a few pages in that I had indeed recently read Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford, but it's a breezy book and, well, it's a Nancy Mitford, and rereading her books is never a crime. Spoiler alert: the pre-War young singles all pair up and live happily ever after. Enough said. Ditto the Alexander McCall Smith, La's Orchestra saves the World. Set in Suffolk during the Blitz and about a rag-tag orchestra, it's typically AMS-girlish and warm and good bedtime fodder.

JC Leyendecker, 1923 Advertisement for Spring Styles
Thanks, Nancy, for the Happy Endings!
 J.C. Leyendecker ad, 1923

The more interesting of the Spring highlights, and lent to me by Clever L, was The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, the first of her triptych-of-sorts about Renaissance Women. Set in Florence during the quattrocento, with the crackpot Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola filling the power vacuum left by the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, it follows the artistic flourishing of a precocious heroine who has to adapt to survive in the volatile atmosphere of the city. For lovers of Florence and the Renaissance, it has enough detail to keep you up reading beyond Lights-Out but it does fizz out a little at the end. No spoiler alert for this, apart from She-Dies-A-Nun, but that's laid out in the book's opening. Clever L had lent me the second of Dunant's series a while back, In the Company of the Courtesan, which I did prefer, and that one set in Venice follows the adventures of a courtesan and her dwarf pimp who've fled the 1527 Sack of Rome. I know, Bodice-Ripping Stuff!

Contemporary to the story: the Domenican Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, on
the Pipistrello's last Florentine Visit - No Firebrands in sight!

There were some other bits & bobs with regard to my recent reads, which will get their own posting at some point - never let it be said this blog is au courant; I am, after all, a Pisces - so all up, not an entirely misspent Spring!

* Princess Beatrice, Victoria's last child, spent 10 years of her own life rewriting then burning every one of Victoria's diaries and other archives in a great act of censorship, so puzzle pieces were fit with copies and corresponding papers she was unaware of that were in the hands of others or hidden in the Royal Archives.

** An hypothesis raised by Matthew Walker is whether Sleep, given its preeminent Usefulness to Life, is in fact our dominant state and Wakefulness, by extension, the state with the mystery purpose!

End Part I


  1. I haven't read the Matthew Walker book yet but have heard him interviewed a few times and his observations are fascinating.
    I love your rollicking review style.

    1. Hello Taste of France and so nice to see you here!

      I'm glad you don't mind me occasional ruining the ending with my 50-word reviews. I'd never make the cut for the London Review of Books!

      Try to find some time for the Matthew Walker. It's amazing what the sleep scientists have discovered.

  2. The Sarah Dunant novels sound intriguing. And I think I would also enjoy the book about Victoria. She is something of a legend in my mind.

    1. It's a great read! I haven't really done the TV series, Victoria, although I love a good costume drama. I believe the plot has gone a bit off-piste, which is a shame, as her life was plenty interesting enough.

  3. CONTESSA HERE.............ALL your books LOOK INTERESTING TO ME!When I saw the photo of the church at first I thought it was SAN MINIATO AL MONTE!I was MARRIED THERE 33 years ago come JULY!I am especially interested in the BOOK on SLEEP!
    Hope I can get this Comment to PUBLISH going to try ANONYMOUS!!

    1. Bravo, the comment came through! I just googled your church and they do look so similar, but Wow! how gorgeous is it inside?!! And that sweep of stairs outside - Very Romantic. Our 22nd anniversary is coming up on the 1st of July but our venue was only attractive on the outside while the interior was more like your school principal's office - City Hall in New York!!

      If you can lay your hands on the Sleep book, have a look; it is really interesting!



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