Lots of reading; not much blogging….2014/2015 update

Hey, dear readers!  Yes, I just thought I would step away for a few minutes and then, wow!  It has turned into a four month hiatus.

But Livritome was never far from my thoughts.  I love my blog home and I’m now dashing around, opening the windows and brushing off the cobwebs.

I’ll admit that I’ve been struggling through a dry spell in my Guardian list reading.  I was doing well, spending the last part of October and early November finishing up the E.M Forster titles with A Passage to Indiapassagetoindia.  I enjoyed it, but didn’t find it as accessible as a some of his others, especially, Howards End.  I didn’t like many of the characters, and the brutality of the racism and hatred was so oppressive that I couldn’t work out a message I could walk away with.  The point seemed to be the complete random tragedy of stupid people who are careless with others’ lives.  I was lost by the spiritual aspects of the book as well.  So, not really a book for me, though I thought about it for quite a while afterwards.

I immediately jumped into another Guardian title, Riddle of the Sands.  I chose this one randomly from the list and was excited by the possibility of another book I would love that I didn’t know about before following the Guardian list.

mysteryUnfortunately, this didn’t work out.  I’ve been struggling with this book for weeks and have repeatedly crept away to read other, more interesting things….and I think I am about to hoist the white flag and declare surrender and not finish this book.

I know this is supposed to be the first spy novel, and I know this book inspired a young Winston Churchill to do everything he could to build up the English navy, and I’ve even read up on the author, Erskine Childers, who was a pretty fascinating and complex guy.  But every time I open this novel I feel like I am as fogged in as the two main characters out there, snooping-around in their yacht on the German coast.

Sad.  My first DNF for a Guardian title.

So, what else have I been reading?  Tons.

redqueenI lapped up Phillipa Gregory’s the Red Queen.  Phillipa’s always got some sort of trilogy or series or something going on with English royalty — goodness this lady is inexhaustible.  The Red Queen was about Margaret Beaufort, a true nut-case if this book is at all factual and the mother of the Tudor dynasty.  Guilty pleasure stuff — break out the chocolates.

 

I’ve also been feeding my love of medical history with two books, one a relative light weight and the other a superb book —

InfluenzaInfluenza 1918 was a quick read that could have used a better editor — had some repetitions throughout.  Because the 1918 epidemic is a personal obsession, I know that this book was written to accompany the PBS documentary on the same subject.  So, some illusions to individuals that seem strange in a stand alone book work when you know they were highlighted as “personal interest” stories in the documentary.  But if you hadn’t seen the documentary I don’t know how this would work for you.

GhostRegarding another epidemic, this one a cholera outbreak that decimated a London neighborhood in the mid-1800’s was Steven Johnson’s Ghost Map.  This is simply one of the finest books I’ve read in some time.  It’s about a brilliant doctor, John Snow, who makes a connection between cholera and contaminated water — well before germ theory.  Snow was a fantastic, original thinker and maybe the first person who used data and visualization to convince policy makers that action was needed.  His famous “ghost map” (I’ve actually seen a copy at the Walters Gallery in Baltimore Md!!!!) was a depiction of the deaths at each address and their relationship to a local pump.  But this book is about much more — it focuses on cities and what makes them livable or not.  It is also about social networks and what makes one person drink from a pump here (or live here, or have these friends but not others….) or not.  Fascinating stuff.

DissolutionI’ve discovered two mystery writers I’ve enjoyed — one is C. J. Sansom, who writes about Tudor England and whose protagonist is a hunchbacked lawyer who works for Thomas Cromwell.  The first one is about the dissolution of the abbeys and religious houses during Henry VIII’s reign and is called, appropriately, Dissolution.  A bit lengthy but good enough for me to want to check out the next title in the series.

WoodsA good friend turned me onto Tana French and her police procedurals set in present day Dublin.   The first one, In the Woods centers around the killing of a young girl in the same vicinity where two young children disappeared about 15 years earlier.  The investigative team that sets out to solve the murder have as many secrets and mysteries themselves as the murder they are trying to solve.  Very well written, with compelling characters and some dark twists.  Yes, I’ll be back for more.

Ok, that’s it for now.  Thanks for sticking with Livritome!

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Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up The Bodies

Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt & Co.  2012.  410 pgs. with list of characters and genealogical charts.

Book 2 of the Wolf Hall Trilogy:  novels about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s secretary.  The first of the series was Wolf Hall; we’re waiting for the third and last novel.

Other books I’ve read by Mantel:  not enough.  I read the acclaimed Wolf Hall last year (winner of the Man Booker Prize, 2009) and of course I admired it greatly but I found it….a bit dense.  I also started and put down:  A Place of Greater Safety, which is about the French Revolution.  I’m definitely going back and trying that one again at some point.

I know, I know!  At this rate I’m never going to finish the Guardian 1,000 list!  I just keep getting distracted by too many delicious detours and when my mother in law sent me Bring Up the Bodies, I knew I was going to have to go off track again.

Bring Up the Bodies takes place during a very short, but eventful period at the court of the Tudor monarch, Henry VIII:    September, 1535 to May-June, 1536.  Henry waited long and fought hard to marry his second queen, Anne Boleyn.  Unfortunately, Anne has disappointed Henry in many ways.  Despite her promises, she has delivered no heir, her ambitious family has alienated various court factions, she plots and schemes for the French and she exhausts Henry with her incessant hatred of his former wife, Katherine of Aragon and his daughter:  Mary.  The days of Henry’s infatuation with Anne are long-gone and he returns again and again to the quiet, peaceful and somewhat vacuous side of Jane Seymour for comfort.

So….who is there to make sure Anne is removed?  Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s low-born, ambitious and powerful Secretary.  An enigma to many — a focus of jealousy and hatred for some — Cromwell once again takes center stage in Mantel’s brilliant portrayal of policy, strategy and intrigue in a world shaped by the personal desires of a despotic and sick king, and where a queen’s very life depends on the frailties of her own biology.  Within this world, we don’t really know who Cromwell is — is he the abused child of the London slums he came from — a ruthless mercenary — a loving and sympathetic father and uncle — an international intellectual and diplomat — or merely the instrument of Henry’s policies?  In this second book of the trilogy, we know Cromwell thinks sadly and fondly of his former boss and patron, the fallen Cardinal Wolsey.  He effectively and strategically affects the dissolution of religious houses, making Henry a very rich king in the process — but we really don’t know what his own religious views are.

I loved this book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  It reads more quickly and the dialogue is more accessible and somehow, less dense than Wolf Hall.  As Mantel says in the author’s note to Bring up the Bodies:  “This book is of course not about Anne Boleyn or about Henry VIII, but about the career of Thomas Cromwell, who is still in need of attention from biographers.  Mr. Secretary remains sleek, plump and densely inaccessible, like a choice plum in a Christmas pie; but I hope to continue my efforts to dig him out.”

Can’t wait to dig into the third and last book of the trilogy to get a taste of what Mantel will offer us!  Knowing some history, I’m both fearful, and curious — about the ending.

Thomas Cromwell

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein