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Reading Snapshot: January 18th

January 18, 2015

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Here’s a quick glimpse at my reading this Sunday! They’re all nonfiction: two regular books and an audiobook intent on making photos awkward. Isn’t that a lovely cover though? I’m lucky in that all of the books I’m reading right now have wonderful cover art; it makes me happy to leave the books scattered around my apartment and lets me appreciate them on an aesthetic level. I’m always more drawn to books with stunning covers, although I read a fair share of ones with unfortunate covers. What about you?

four queens by nancy goldstoneI used to only read fiction as audiobooks, but as my audiobook consumption has expanded in the past few months, I’ve tried adding in some nonfiction. I began with history, on the premise that it’s likely to have the most narrative flow (other than memoirs, which I don’t read much of), and I’m happy to report the experiment has been a success! I’m now a happy history audiobook reader, although I do hit the occasional dud (looking at Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror). Currently, I’m in the middle of Four Queens by Nancy Goldstone. It’s a group biography of four 13th century, aristocratic Provencal sisters who went on to marry (in birth order): the king of France, the king of England, the English king’s younger brother, and the French king’s youngest brother. Due to crazy Medieval politics, the younger brothers both eventually become kings of other lands, and their wives are all queens, hence the title. Goldstone does an excellent job of presenting the sometimes complicated relationships and politicking in a straightforward way, as well as in bringing the women and their various courts to life. She does occasionally stray into speculative psychological land, but she always marks this as speculation, and keeps the frequency low enough that I still trust her (aka she keeps it nonfiction. They led truly fascinating lives, complete with crusading trips to the Middle East, and the power jockeying you might expect at the highest political levels. Goldstone is good at explaining how the medieval mindset differed from the modern one, but she also keeps an emphasis on the humanity of the people she’s describing & never descends into ‘dark age’ stereotypes. All in all, this is a wonderfully informative group biography, on the lighter side but solid enough to satisfy. The narrator is good too, with a pleasant voice. My one complaint is that when she quotes direct Middle Eastern sources, she gives them accents, which I find insulting & deeply unfortunate. At least it doesn’t happen too often. I’m sad to only have three hours left (which means I’ve listened to eight hours in the past two days!) in it, but it looks as if Goldstone has a decent backlist. Hopefully some of them are also available as audiobooks!

winter world by bernd heinrichYou might recognise Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World; I put this aside last month but now I’ve picked it back up and am enjoying it immensely. The wintry scenes outside of my window probably help! And I just adore the cover. I must admit Heinrich will never be my favourite natural history author; although I love the themes he chooses for books, and his wonderful illustrations, his writing style doesn’t quite engage me. If I didn’t find the content so interesting on its own, I doubt I’d ever pick up his books. Luckily, he’s an excellent naturalist, and is regularly in awe of the natural world, which is certainly endearing. So I keep turning the pages, although with the secret wish that I could wave a wand and change the style a bit. Just this morning I learned how frogs manage to freeze during the winter and what life is like inside a beaver’s winter lodge. Good stuff.

dancing goddesses by elizabeth wayland barberFinally, yesterday I began my second read of The Dancing Goddesses by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I read this last year for the first time & loved it enough to put it on my Christmas list; it showed up under the tree, and I couldn’t be happier to revisit it. Barber manages to be both a fabulously technical scholar (the bibliography includes titles in multiple languages & this is published by Norton) and full of general appeal. She’s telling stories, but stories based on years of cross-disciplinary research and thought. Her deductions are wonderful to watch, as she leads you through the process, and she manages to capture truths about prehistory & folk culture, neither of which lend themselves to traditional scholarly approach, being outside of the literary tradition. Anyway, this book is about folk dances, particularly in central and Eastern Europe (draw a box from Greece, up to Scandinavia, over to Russia, and that about covers the main geography), and how they arose out of a farming culture that depended on fertility and capricious forces like the weather and the kind of everyday, sympathetic magic that tries to influence those forces. It’s also very much about women and what their roles have been in these cultures. In other words, it’s like catnip to me. If you love folklore or fairy tales or central Europe or history that focuses on everyday people’s everyday life instead of big events or the tiny elite, I’m sure you’ll find it delicious too. Or if you’re just looking for an excellent nonfiction book to sink your teeth into. After this, I want to track down one of her other books: When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth. Who could resist a title like that?

I’m off to make some popcorn and settle back in for the evening, first with the paper books, and then later I’ll turn to Four Queens while I’m knitting. It’s so wonderful to be bookish, isn’t it?

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2015 5:50 pm

    It is indeed wonderful to be bookish!

  2. January 18, 2015 6:29 pm

    I very much agree with you about style vs. content in The Winter World. I really love the way he goes about exploring the world though and how he is constantly out measuring everything, like counting all the items used to make a bird’s nest.

    • January 20, 2015 5:54 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way. I do love his measuring too, except I feel bad for all of the little animals that are sacrificed to his curiousity. Even if they’re ‘just’ caterpillars.

  3. January 18, 2015 6:36 pm

    Oooo, that Four Queens looks tempting! And I have also been thinking of re-reading Dancing Goddesses, a book I love so much. I need to get my own copy. I’ve read Barber’s textiles book, Women’s Work, several times and I know I’m going to do the same with this one.

    • January 20, 2015 5:55 pm

      I received Women’s Work for Christmas too (read that this past year & loved it; it made me take a drop spindle class just for fun) & definitely plan to reread that one too! I think you’d enjoy Four Queens, although I don’t have enough of a background to judge how genuine the history is, if that makes sense.

  4. January 18, 2015 7:01 pm

    All of Elizabeth Wayland Barber books sound really good. I just looked her up!

    • January 20, 2015 5:55 pm

      I’ve read 2 so far & they both more than lived up to their descriptions! Definitely worth reading. :)

  5. queenofthepark permalink
    January 18, 2015 9:17 pm

    Being So bookish led you to blogging, another very good thing. It is so wonderful to have new books to look forward to. Your comments on audiobooks are helpful. Sometimes I lose track when I am listening which is very tedious of me. Not sure which genre works best yet. Looking forward to hearing more of you experiences with audio.

    • January 20, 2015 5:56 pm

      Thank you!

      I’m happy to talk more about audiobooks: any specific topics/themes you’d like me to address?

      • queenofthepark permalink
        January 21, 2015 4:39 am

        Thank YOU Eva for your offer!

        Interested to learn about your sources for acquiring them or do you borrrow from the library? Which genres do you favour for listening rather than reading. And, of course, I will be fascinated to read more of your reviews of both content and the all important presentation.

      • January 21, 2015 6:09 pm

        The first question is easy: the library is my source. :) These days I usually download e-audiobooks via overdrive on to my phone or use hoopla (which some libraries have & some don’t). Occasionally I get a book on CD instead, especially if it’s a book I’m particularly interested in & there isn’t an e-version. But then of course I have to transfer it to my phone, which takes a few more steps, so I usually prefer the electronic format. I’m too cheap to buy audiobooks when I can borrow them for free from the comfort of my home!

        I’ll definitely make a point of mentioning in reviews when I’ve read it as an audiobook & what I think of the narrator. And your second question will get its own post. :)

  6. January 19, 2015 7:30 pm

    I am fond of Bernd Heinrich. I want to read more of his books.

    • January 20, 2015 5:56 pm

      This is the third of his I’ve read I believe (after Summer World and the one about trees).

  7. January 21, 2015 8:53 pm

    Oh I love books with beautiful covers. I can’t resist them. And I am reading all nonfiction at the moment now too, but they somehow do not feel as impressive as yours. I am reading a history of the Plantagenets and a history of Namibia, and neither one has a particularly beautiful cover (alas!). But they are still absolutely lovely to read. I feel ever so happy when I am curled up reading my lovely nonfiction.

    • January 30, 2015 1:22 pm

      How are the Plantagenets & Namibia not impressive? Off to see what the titles are so I can add them to my own TBR nonfic stack!

    • January 30, 2015 1:24 pm

      Um I’m back from your blog and can’t find the books. Evil book teaser that you are! :p

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