Today we have for your enjoyment two books that look back at the past. One celebrates what has been and how it has changed, flourished, dipped and held on, the other is, in a way, trying to hold on to the past, even though it claims it isn’t. Intrigued? Read on. While you’re reading on, you will notice some book confessions at the end. Oh dear, and so much for my claim that I wasn’t likely to acquire many books this month (three isn’t “many”, is it?) – but you’ll see that none of it is My Fault …
Adam Nicolson – “The Gentry”
(22 Nov 2012)
A spectacular and amazing book that did not deserve to be in the remaindered bookshop. What were people thinking, not buying this? I see that there is a paperback edition now, but I’m glad that I’ve got the hardback, as it’s definitely one to keep.
Nicolson takes the stories of various gentry families (the gentry being defined, loosely, as the squire and MP class, below the aristocrats with their safe money, just above but dipping into the professional class, and clinging to this often precarious position) that have been active during various times from the 1410s to the present day and uses a combination of meticulous research, beautiful writing and the ability to tell a jolly good story to bring their lives, relationships and concerns vividly to life, capturing small details and personal testimonies and seeming to revel in the process himself.
Some of the 17th century stories were told in his TV series, “The Century that Wrote Itself”, but it’s so nice to have them written down on paper, although with fewer images, obviously (more of these can be found on the book’s website), and without Nicolson’s energetic stile-leaping and bicycle riding. That took a slightly different angle: while the written documents are still highlighted as an amazing source of information, perfectly preserved in all its details, the families are placed much more within their context and social history. The book as a whole is moving, honest, not extrapolating past the sources into “must have felt” this and “should have done that”, and letting the voices of the subject shine through – the best kind of history writing, in my opinion. Flexible like the families about notions of gentry, but also looking at how that term has been defined over the centuries. It brings us right up to date in the last chapters, skillfully weaving the experiences of the modern-day gentry into their context and history. Magnificent.
There is a good website to back up the book and provide more information on its contents – what a good idea!
Adam Nicolson is one of those authors whose books I will ALWAYS buy, no matter what the subject. Others include Hunter Davies and Andrew Marr. Whose books will you always pick up, whatever the topic?
James Cochrane – “Between You and I”
(25 December 2012)
Drawn from columns in The Times, fulminations on incorrect usage, etc. While the previous book is flexible and accepting of change, this one is a little reactionary, although it does claim to understand about descriptive rather than prescriptive description of language. Many of the topics are valid, with just a few being very old-fashioned. Many of the Troublesome Pairs that I’ve blogged about were there, and I made a few notes on new ones to include, and it was an amusing and interesting read.
My friend Verity, who is very good at book parcels, sent me a parcel with some great socks and these two books, which she thought I might fancy. And, indeed, I do. The first is a history of the London Underground through the voices of people involved and using it, just my sort of thing, and the second is a novel involving vigorous exercise: I don’t read much that looks as chick-litty as this but I do let books with running and the sort through, and this looks like a light and fun read, which is always a useful thing to have around the place. These two will need to languish in the TBR pile for a bit while I Re-Read in July …
This one will need to be read soon, though, as it was kindly sent to me by the publishers and is out today! It’s the second in a pony book trilogy featuring a male central character, Joe, written by modern pony book author, Victoria Eveleigh. I very much enjoyed the first volume in the trilogy, which I reviewed back in May, and I can’t wait to start this one! Thank you, Orion Children’s Books!
I’m currently deep into my Month of Re-Reading, which is always fun! I’ve got a biography of Barbara Pym and Stuart Maconie’s autobiography on the go at the moment, although I have lots of novels to dip into, too. Don’t forget to tell me which authors’ names on the front of a book will always make you pick up that book!