Category Archives: books

Summer 2020 Reading List: What I Would Have Read

I’m a bit late with this summer reading list: it’s August! And this list is more intentional than actual, so I’m not going to be able to give informed commentary on most of these books. I planned to read all of them, but as soon as the end-of-semester responsibilities were over, intensive gardening began. And as soon as intensive spring gardening ceased, family trips were taken. And then I returned home and BOOM: big book contract! So the last month has been all about writing rather than reading. Yet I have heard from many of you that you like my book lists, so I thought I would offer up one: I did choose these carefully, and many of them are sitting by my bedside, but I usually pass out before I can pick one up! I didn’t even have time to go back and look at my previous book lists but I bet there is a trend of increasing interest in historical fiction over the years: I used to be pretty snobby about that genre, but after reading several titles which were researched meticulously and crafted beautifully—enabling one to really plunge into the world in question—I have changed my tune. I think there are a few of these on this list: you’ll have to forward your assessments, and after my own book is finished I will either return to these books—or I won’t!

So let’s start with fiction. I am dying to read James Meek’s To Calais, in Ordinary Time, which is set in England and France during the Hundred Years’ War and Black Death, and the publication date of Emma Donoghue’s 1918 book was moved up to Corona time. Talk about plunging into the past: I read Andrew Miller’s previous historical novel, Pure, last year and was definitely plunged into the world of an eighteenth-century engineer in Paris; Free is set in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, and I really want to go there. I always want to go to sixteenth-century England, even into the somber Shakespeare household following the death of Hamnet, from the plague, of course. Big jump in terms of both chronology and topics: I’ve been reading my way through Evelyn Waugh and his era over the years, and I loved these new covers so purchased them for my bedside stack (I purchased Martin Green’s Children of the Sun a few years ago for some context and insights into this era, but have read it only in snippets so far). And another favorite era in fiction and fact: the Daphne Du Maurier’s novel is from the 1940s, Nadine Akkerman’s scholarly book on female spies in the seventeenth century is much more recent.

Reading Pandemics

Reading Miller

Reading Hamnet

Reading Waugh collage

REading Untitled - 2020-08-03T132118.632

For the first time every, I think I have more fiction books than nonfiction—-probably because I’m all nonfiction all the time for by work: both writing and teaching. I don’t really have time to indulge my curiosity this year, but if I did, I would move Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, about the medieval Lewis Chessmen, up to the top of my bedside stack: I’ve been curious about these guys forever. The other books are somewhat related to my book so I supposed I can categorize them as research: I’m writing about gardening and cooking right now, in my Chapter Three, so Floud’s and Dawson’s books are right by my side, offering some great insights and context supplementary to my primary sources. Newton is a little late for me, but I’ve got to read all about alchemy for my book as it creeps into several topics (medicine, beauty, even agriculture), so William R. Newman’s Newton the Alchemist will be illuminating, I’m sure.

Reading Chess

Reading Gardens

Reading Food

Reading Newton Collage


The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

knave_7-removebg-preview

Screenshot_20200210-092721_Chrome

knave_5-removebg-preview (2)

Screenshot_20200210-090428_Chrome

Screenshot_20200210-083701_Chrome

Screenshot_20200210-123456_Etsy

Screenshot_20200210-123442_Etsy

knave 10

knave 9

The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

Screenshot_20200210-123845_Chrome

knave 2

Knave 8

M34121-24_3 001

knave_11-removebg-preview

The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


A Portfolio of Prints

This is kind of a housekeeping post: the blog has gotten so big (over 9 years!) that I have lost track of what’s in it, so I’m going to gather together a few portfolios of images for ready reference. Today: some of my favorite Salem prints. I could spend hours going through every one of Frank Cousin’s photographs of Salem (especially now that so many have been digitized) but there’s something about prints that really captures the essence of a structure—or a street—so I’m always seeking them out. Below are some of my favorites: most from the nineteenth century, and most from books; some from the twentieth century and some “stand-alone” imprints. Some are from engravings; some from drawings. I think most have been featured in the blog before, but I’m not sure! In any case, they are all my go-to images when I want to conjur up a time and space in Salem’s history.

Salem Prints John Turner House, Drawing Circa 1899

screenshot_20200105-104810_chrome-1

screenshot_20200105-112954_chrome-2

screenshot_20200105-104412_chrome

screenshot_20200105-104448_chromeMy favorite pre-restoration print of the House of the Seven Gables, 1889; prints by two women artists—Mary Jane Derby (North Salem) & Ellen Day Hale (Corner of Summer, Norman, and Chestnut Streets, where now we have a traffic circle!)–and pioneering lithography firms from the Boston Athenaeum’s Digital Collections.

These next images will seem familiar: they are from John Warner Barber’s Historical Collections of Massachusetts, which was first published in 1839. They have been reprinted many times, but my favorite version of them is in antiquarian George Francis Dow’s Old wood engravings, views and buildings in the county of Essex, a beautiful little volume published in 1908. Dow supplements Barber a bit with information and images he found in the Essex Institute, of course.

screenshot_20200105-125200_chrome

screenshot_20200105-125222_chrome

screenshot_20200105-125207_chrome

screenshot_20200105-125215_chrome

pixlr_20200105141837151

As you can see in the caption for the (Downing-)Bradstreet house above, Joseph Felt’s Annals of Salem, first published in 1844, is the source of some classic Salem printed images, as are the guidebooks published in the later nineteenth century and national publications like Gleason’s/Ballou’s Pictorial and Harper’s. Salem got a lot of press once Hawthorne started selling, and the national Centennial and Bicentennial of the Witch Trials in 1892 also focused attention on “Old” Salem. And another great source for graven images is of course ephemera: the front and back pages of the successive Salem Directories are full of imagery, and many invoices, billheads, and other business paper contain beautiful prints. Fortunately the Salem State Archives is digitizing whatever comes their way.

pixlr_20200104110527441

pixlr_20200104192805026

PEM199330

Salem Print Directory

20170207_145723Prints of the James Emerton Pharmacy in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Directory; Seccomb Oil Works billhead, Salem State Archives and Special Collections.

On the verge of the twentieth century, a lot of the classic images above were started to look a bit dated, so we get new versions of Salem’s most characteristic buildings and streets in periodicals and guidebooks like Moses Sweetser’s Here and There in New England and Canada, first published in 1899. Most architectural publications from this time and after used the photographs of Frank Cousins or (a bit later) Mary Harrod Northend for illustrations, with the notable exception of the measured and drawn renderings of “Colonial Work” contained in the Georgian Period portfolios. I can never get enough of these! More impressionistic, printed illustrations return in architectural books aimed at the general public in the mid-twentieth century: I particular like Ethel Fay Robinson’s Houses in America (1936, with drawings by her husband Thomas.

pixlr_20200105152452048

Salem Prints Georgian Period Details Vol 1 1899

pixlr_20200105165102085Illustrations of Salem architecture from Here and There in New England and Canada, The Georgian Period, and Houses in America.


Colonialesque Christmas

The twentieth-century American artist Walter Ernest Tittle (1883-1966) was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic for his etchings, illustrations, and contemporary portraits. Among his diverse works are magazine covers, presidential portraits, and a whole series of drypoint “international dignatories” rendered in the 1920s, but also two slim volumes—advertised as “gift books”— in which he merged both original and historical texts and images to create a “lost” world of colonial holidays:  The First Nantucket Tea Party (1907) and Colonial Holidays (1910).

screenshot_20191222-214053_chrome

nantucket1-e1447740239263 (2)

screenshot_20191222-212555_chrome-1

These books are gorgeous, even though the images inside are a bit…….overwrought. I’m willing to leaf past some of the colorful colonial “belles” just so I can see Tittle’s fonts and illuminations: everything works together. As its subtitle reveals, Colonial Holidays is a compilation of historical references to Christmas and other holidays, embedded in Tittle’s gilded pages. He wishes the Puritans were more joyous in their celebrations, but “time brings change” and William Pynchon’s diary reveals some holiday merrymaking in Salem during the Revolutionary War. The new Assembly Room seems to have been very busy during the extended Christmas season with concerts and dances; “the elders shake their heads with, What are we coming to?” And so many sleds in the streets of Salem!

screenshot_20191222-212733_chrome

screenshot_20191222-213215_chrome

screenshot_20191222-213126_chrome

screenshot_20191222-212846_chrome

screenshot_20191222-212903_chrome

screenshot_20191222-213203_chrome

Tory that he is, Pynchon is not interested in George Washington’s Christmas, but patriot that he is, Tittle shows us Mount Vernon at Christmas—-no Valley Forge for his illuminated pages, but rather Christmas with the President and Mrs. Washington in 1795 and another reference to 1799–though Washington would have just died so certainly that was no festive occasion. The First Nantucket Tea Party does not have a Christmas setting per se but is also all about Colonial festivity, on the particular occasion of the return of Captain Nathaniel Starbuck Jr. from his “late long” voyage to China supplied with a chest of Chinese tea. Everyone is very excited about the tea, but for me it’s all about the amazing font used throughout the text. Merry Christmas!

screenshot_20191222-212752_chrome

screenshot_20191222-212814_chrome

Tea Party Text (2)

screenshot_20191222-213343_chrome


My December 2019 Book List

I generally post a book list around this time of year: my favorite books of the past year, books I want for Christmas, books I’m reading or assigning for my spring courses, books I want to read over the holiday break. This list is all of that except for the first category: I haven’t read much this past year because I’ve been working so hard—writing myself, teaching, and reading to teach—and so I really can’t play favorites. This was not a leisurely year and there is very little fiction on this list, and even very little history unrelated to my teaching: very little American history in particular. To a certain extent, this blog has been an exercise in discovering the American history which I avoided from high school: I’ve learned a lot but now I’m kind of done—it seems a bit repetitive to me. Other worlds call, and new books in my own fields are piling up! I’ll never be done with the histories of architecture (structure and landscape) and material culture though—and folklore, though nothing of that genre caught my eye this year. So proceeding in chronological order, here are the books which did.

pixlr-2

book-ralegh

Book Elizabethan Globalism

book-gardens

Picture1

These books are all for my courses and an endless writing project which I hope to bring to fruition in the coming year. Simon de Montfort is one of those guys like Sir Philip Sidney: a glamorous representative of his age, in this case the thirteenth century, who has a very dramatic story which students love and which can also represent the best (anti-absolutism) and worst (antisemitism) of the time. I’ve read everything about de Montfort, and this book, by University of Lancaster Lecturer Sophie Thérèse Ambler, is very good, full of details and analysis which will enhance my teaching. I will be reading Renaissance Futurities and Gardens for Gloriana for pleasure and for context for own work over the break, and I am considering Walter Ralegh and Elizabethan Globalism for sections and courses on European expansion in the early modern era, although the latter is also an absolutely gorgeous book that could double as a more casual coffee-table text. Climate history is absolutely essential right now, as as the periods I teach encompass both the “Medieval Warm Period” and the “Little Ice Age” I’m always on the hunt for fresh environmental perspectives: Nature’s Mutiny is a potential adoption for several of my courses but I have to read it over the break to gauge its accessibility.

Book Boston_edited

screenshot_20191202-202149_chrome

Books Folio Society

Book Sandition IMG_1504

Books

Books 2

House Party

These are all books I WANT or want to read: I think Inventing Boston would inform my understanding of Salem craftsmanship in the same key era, Mark Girouard’s classic Life in the English Country House has been reissued in a stunning edition by the Folio Society this year with photographs from Country Life and a binding illustration by architectural artist John Pumfrey, and I collect Penguin clothbound editions by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I’m not sure I buy into Orlando Figes’ themes of European unity and modernity in the nineteenth century, but that is an era with which I need to engage, again. I’ve always been fascinated with Frank Lloyd Wright’s professional and personal life, and who doesn’t want to read about English Country House parties? Oh, and in addition to Sandition, I did want to read one other novel this year if only for the local reference in its title, but no, I cannot read Lucy Ellman’s 1000-page Ducks, Newburyport at this particular time: I just don’t have the ability (or the time) to dwell on a strung-out sentence of rambling thoughts, as experimental and interesting as it/ they may be. Maybe next year, or the year after.


%d bloggers like this: