Late December and January is a key reading time for me: I’ve been teaching a lot in the summers over the past few years and I can seldom read much during the semester, so the next three weeks or so are really crucial to my instinct and ability to consume information for both work and pleasure. I compile a list all year long and this week I start working through it. Often I will read a book a day, but if a particular text doesn’t really capture my attention I will set it aside for later–usually bedtime–and pick up a new one. I want to be absorbed in what I am reading, and if I’m not–if the book is too dry or too abstract or too much of a choppy reference work–I will still finish it, but incrementally. Consequently there’s quite a stack of books beside my bed at this time of year. Only occasionally do I delve into fiction: I wish I could read more stories because their ability to absorb is potentially greater than nonfiction works, but I don’t really care for contemporary characterizations and historical novels often annoy me. That leaves the classics, and I really should put more on my list–something besides Austen and Poe and the usual suspects. But this is what I have for this year.
Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen is definitely a reference work but I saw the companion exhibition at the Boston Public Library and the maps are endlessly interesting and I want them for myself! Plus, this is a work in which the narrative is based on the maps rather than using maps as mere illustrations of the narrative. Another “pick-up” book, but one that I know I will pick up often, is Caroline Seebohm’s Rescuing Eden: Preserving America’s Historic Gardens, with photographs by Curtice Taylor. Andrea Wulf writes accessible books about the history of science and horticulture: The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (a rather ambitious title) is her latest. I’ve got to get back in my world history game, and commodity history does that better than anything, so Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton. A Global History is on my list.
Books to refresh my courses: I’m sure I will enjoy them, but I also need to read them, as I’ve got an undergraduate Tudor-Stuart course to teach next semester and a graduate Elizabethan course in the summer. Two books by Peter Elmer–I’ve always been interested in Valentine Greatrakes, if only for his name.
December 28th, 2015 at 8:30 am
Enjoy your reading experience! 🙂
December 28th, 2015 at 8:34 am
I am inspired!!!
December 28th, 2015 at 10:45 am
At the rate of a book a day, do you take notes? Wondering how a professional historian does that — do you handwrite and then capture them electronically somehow?
December 28th, 2015 at 10:55 am
I always have a pad nearby, but I only take notes if the books I’m reading are related to something I’m teaching or writing. I do keep handwritten research journals if I’m really working on something, but most of these books I’ll just read as ardently as I can.
December 28th, 2015 at 11:58 am
Empire of Cotton is one I’ve been meaning to pick up; I hear it’s quite good. I don’t know a great deal about Humboldt, other than he should be much better known than he is. Thank you for tipping me off to The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Of course, it would appear that any number of books you’re suggested here would make for excellent reading. Good luck with your endeavors.
December 28th, 2015 at 1:06 pm
I seem to be lost in the fairy tales so far.
December 28th, 2015 at 9:10 pm
Both of us in my household enjoyed “The Turnip Princess,” for the notes as much as the stories, though the folklorists’ classification scheme is a bit beyond us.
December 28th, 2015 at 9:52 pm
I know! I just can’t quite grasp that either.
December 29th, 2015 at 8:57 am
And now we know how disciplinary boundaries are drawn in academia.
December 29th, 2015 at 4:32 pm
What a wonderful list!
Because I only have two of them on my shelves waiting to be read (The Empire of Cotton and The Invention of Nature) — I think will select one title from your wonderful list to add to my shelves. I decided on Early Modern Things!
December 29th, 2015 at 4:38 pm
Let us know what you think of of the books as you read them–but, of course, absolutely at your convenience, without undermining that reading absorption you are aiming for! 🙂 We should all go off and be absorbed ourselves!
December 29th, 2015 at 4:53 pm
I’m in bed with a cold so am making great progress! Loved the fairy tales, Humboldt not so much, the map and garden restoration books are more pick-up than read through, but beautiful.
December 29th, 2015 at 4:59 pm
Feel better and enjoy your reading! May start with Empire of Cotton then rather than Wulf first as planned…
January 2nd, 2016 at 10:36 am
Ambitious and excellent choices.