Libraries are wonderful places where it is easy to get lost – similarly it is the case with bookshops – at least in my experience. Though, this is not the danger that it is meant in the title: the borough libraries have a great policy of selling withdrawn copies, which means that each time I attend the library there is the risk of me bringing back some purchased books. Usually it’s not much, but today – it was a while I hadn’t gone – there seemed to be more interesting titles than usual and six curious books joined me on my way home… honestly, I can’t tell how that happened! Neither am I able to tell where these will be placed, as there is hardly any inch free on the bookshelves…
“The hare with amber eyes: a hidden inheritance”, Edmund de Waal
Trying to forget these little troubles, I would like to introduce the latest members joining our family. All of them have an historic theme, be it perhaps due to my curiosity? Anyhow, we can divide them broadly into two sub-sections: the first related to British history and the latter to international topics.
Proceeding in order we start with a small tome, “A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany” by Aubrey Burl. It appears to contain a comprehensive register of prehistoric human-made stone arrangements and some black and white photographs, subdivided in four main regions, from Northern Scotland to the North-West of France. Past visits to stone circles in England were a deeply fascinating experience and so, in the hope of using it in future travels, I took the book.
The second title is “How we used to live in Victorian Times” by Freda Kelsall, which is an educational book presenting different aspects of life in that age, like work and living conditions, different social classes, technology, law, education and various others. It contains interesting pictures from various sources of the time, which well depict life in the second half of the 19th century. The presentation is concise but fairly informative and pleasant to follow. While this chronicle is not something that I would use every day, it nevertheless constitutes a good reading to learn more about the past culture of Great Britain.
The last book of the national section is “Blood of the Isles” by Bryan Sykes, which explores the genetic roots of the populations of Britain and Ireland, based on a major research programme that the author and his team at Oxford University carried out on DNA of over 10,000 people from these areas. Such work sought to investigate the relation between the modern genetic composition and that of the tribes and populations – Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans, to name a few – that inhabited these isles. The outcome would appear to challenge common beliefs and conventional historical accounts, and may help improve our understanding of the successive waves of settlers and the traces they left behind.
The international section starts with “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal, a memoir on the journey of a Japanese collection of netsuke (and the family who owned them) across continents and time. A thorough description of the story is presented in this editorial in the Indian’s Telegraph. I had many reasons to buy the book: I recurrently read about it, the title remained impressed in my memory (I loves hares) and also found the cover to be aesthetically interesting.
I picked up the next book because recently the (American) Civil War has been quite popular in the media, following Spielberg’s latest film “Lincoln“. The title is “Freedom’s Soldiers – The Black Military Experience in the Civil War” and is edited by Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland. All editors are professors of history and brought out various related volumes. This work includes many illustrations and a documentary history (letters and other sources from the records of the National Archives) and I thought it may be a good background read on this era.
The last in this post is not exactly a book to be read… it’s an old French copy of the “Mignon” opera libretto. I neither play an instrument nor sing, but I occasionally go to the opera (if you are in London I recommend visiting the Royal Opera House). And this old print (19th-early 20th century?) was not to be left unloved on that metal bookshelf – it looked so lonely among all the other modern books.
And what is the strangest book in your collection – or perhaps the one that you like the most?