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.
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 LewisChessmen, 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.
I apologize for my disappearance without a heads-up: the combination of computer problems and travel rendered me postless for a week! I am back with the first of what will be a series of reading lists for the summer, but first some big news: I’ve just received a book contract for the project I’ve been working intermittently but steadily on for the last couple of years, so expect The Practical Renaissance: Information Culture in Early Modern England out next year (or early in 2022) from Bloomsbury! This means that posts on early modern medicine, agriculture, mechanics, and navigation are going to turn up here occasionally, but the blog will also serve as a break from my more-scholarly endeavors: Salem history is still a rich minefield and I will still have a life! As these past few weeks have shown, history in general is as problematic, and public, and current as ever, and here I can indulge, and engage, and weigh in. And in matters more material, I still have my kitchen renovation to show you! (we are in a particularly messy and noisy stage right now).
Though the suffrage centennial has been drowned out by the pandemic and protests of this eventful year, it remains a focus for me. I’m sorry that this notable anniversary is getting lost— along with the bicentennial of my home state of Maine and the 400th anniversary of the passage of the Mayflower. As I am neither an American or modern historian, I really had to read up on the long struggle for suffrage–both in America and Europe–to get the context and perspective I wanted for my #SalemSuffrageSaturdays. The literature on the American and British suffrage movements has grown exponentially over the last few years, and I couldn’t read everything, so in typical academic fashion I started with some key primary sources, read a lot of reviews, narrowed down what I thought might be the essentials, and spread out from there. I was looking for a trans-Atlantic approach, which I didn’t really find, and also more personal stories—and the quest for the latter took me into fictional territory, so I do indeed have a few novels on my top ten (actually eleven) list. I wouldn’t consider these texts sources, of course (although they were certainly well-researched) but they fleshed things out for me. And I have some real suffragist stories too.
How I learned about the Suffrage movements in the UK and US: 1) Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story (1914), because you’ve got to start with the founders; 2) Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up,Women is my favorite British survey—focusing on personal stories (and from Bloomsbury!) 3) here is our trans-Atlantic activist, Kitty Marion, whose extraordinary life is explored in Fern Riddell’s Death in Ten Minutes; 4) images are so important to this movement—on both sides of the Atlantic—and I’m obsessed with the work of British photographer Christina Broom; 5) and 6) I didn’t really find the writings of the founders of the US movement very accessible or enjoyable, so I went for more recent interpretations: Lisa Tetrault’s Myth of Seneca Falls and Faye Dudden’s Fighting Chance were particularly helpful in explaining some of the divisions in the movement; 7) Allison K. Lange’s brand-new Picturing Political Power explores the very important visual projections of Suffragists in the US; 8) in Massachusetts, it’s all about Lucy Stone, who must have visited Salem 100 times: she is the subject of several works, but I found Sally McMillen’s Lucy Stone: an Unapologetic Life the most helpful; 9) Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898) provides classic context, and 10) and 11) two works of fiction in which Suffragettes and the Suffrage Movement play key roles: Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels and Lucy Ribchester’s The Hourglass Factory.
I couldn’t limit my list to 10 and I had to throw in some fiction: happy reading, everyone, and Happy Fourth!