Monday, May 30, 2011

ramble: research books bought & read, May 2011

This month's list of the non-fiction and classics I've read and bought is somewhat abbreviated, partly because I went mad at last month's book sale and spent all my money, and partly because I was sick for a few weeks and thus capable of doing little more than staring, half-conscious, at the internet.

So, anyway:

Research Books Read, May 2011
  • Blenheim: Biography of a Palace by Marian Fowler (Penguin, 1991) I adore Fowler's voice; she could make a grocery list into a majestic, sweeping, emotional affair. Here she tells the story of Blenheim, one of England's grandest country houses, through several of its masters, while treating the palace like a (very ominous) character itself. The story starts with the first Duke of Marlborough, ends with Winston Churchill, and makes numerous stops in the 18th-20th centuries in between. Couldn't recommend it more.
  • Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz (Basic, 2005) This is easily one of my favourite non-fiction books of the past year, if not ever. It's exactly the style of biography/history-seen-through-individual-eyes crossed with literary criticism that I love, and try to write (see: my thesis... or, uh, don't, it's nowhere near as good), and wish I found more often. Blend that with the Napoleonic wars, fairy tales, feminist theory, and the lives of numerous remarkable storytelling women, and I think it's clear why I've been cradling this book to my heart and cooing at it. Paradiz makes each chapter into a fairy tale of its own, drawing parallels between the contents of particular Grimm tales and the stories of the women who had, in fact, told them to the Grimms in the first place. Truly awesome.
  • Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet (Faber and Faber, 2002) "Delving into such Victorian passions as advertising, interior decoration, sex scandals and serial killers, Matthew Sweet shows us that we are not so far removed from the Victorians as we would like to think." Indeed. Sweet tackles and dismantles all the ridiculous stereotypes we have of the Victorians (they were prudes; they were hypocrites; they were uber-religious; they were boring). Because, well, they weren't. This book is a totally delicious romp.
  • The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin (Penguin, 1992; revised edition) A thoroughly enjoyable biography of the famous proto-feminist (and mother of Mary Shelley). She was even more unconventional than I'd thought, and this book does justice to such an amazing woman. Also, great information on the literary scene in late 18th-century London and Revolutionary politics in Paris.

Research Books Bought, May 2011
  • The Works of P.B. Shelley (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994) These are my favourite poetry anthologies, and I finally found Shelley for my slowly growing collection of them. Need more!
  • Dragons, Elves, and Heroes ed. by Lin Carter (Ballantine, 1969) This is a curious little anthology of excerpts from various ancient and medieval texts on the fantastical and magical. It includes bits of Beowulf, the Volsunga Saga, the Mabinogion, the Grettir Saga, the poems of "Ossian", Le Morte d'Arthur, the Kiev Cycle, the Kalevala, Mandeville's Travels, Shakespeare, The Faerie Queene, and the Gesta Romanorum. I may have missed some. It's an eclectic selection and includes some of my favourite works and some I've not read before.

Previous Lists: April 2011, January-March 2011

* Bookplate image via The Graphics Fairy (modded by me, obviously)

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