Reading from a Late Winter into Spring
I was going through the books I’ve read recently and I realized that I have posted about only two-fifths of them. To rectify this situation, I give you this post featuring once more the historically meandering stylings of Edward Rutherfurd (including my horrified realization that I’ve been misspelling his name for most of my life), the famous David McCullough (including my first reading of anything by him) and the relatively unknown writings of Helen Castor about the relatively unknown Paston family.
The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
I can only imagine the grimace with which LT die-hards are greeting this one, which is why I chose not to make our Transgressors sit through yet another full post about my dear Mr. Rutherfurd. Therefore I shall be brief (unlike Mr. Rutherfurd)!
Princes was my attempt to get up on my Irish history prior to a jaunt over there and it served beautifully. Unlike other Rutherfurd books, his books about Ireland are much more languorous and cover a much shorter amount of time. This is possible because Rutherfurd seems to have comfortably wormed himself into Irish history with great content and the intent to write as many books as are necessary to get his readers from the birth of Christ to today. Thus far, there are two in the series of unarticulated length and Princes is the first. It moves with graceful slowness, devoting multiple chapters to one time period, which is unusual for Rutherfurd, and allowing the reader to really get in depth with a time period. It was an excellent introduction to Irish history and I was deeply grateful for the slower pace!
Brave Companions by David McCullough
When Tom Hanks gives you a shout-out at the Golden Globes, you know you’re hot stuff and that is just what happened to David McCullough this past year. With that recommendation and my dad’s abiding affection for McCullough, I embarked on his Brave Companions, a book that is comprised of a few essays McCullough has written over the course of his career, giving the biographies of “brave companions”, a.k.a. “exceptional men and women past and present who have not only shaped the course of history of changed how we see the world but whose stories express much that is timeless about the human condition” (back cover). Not to go overboard or anything.
In fact, it is this absurd hyperbole throughout the book (which is somewhat forgivable on a back cover but quickly tiresome in a book) that really started to frustrate me as I went on. The first half was much more enjoyable, but by the second half and I had to read about McCullough’s “discovery” of the Library of Congress as if no one else had ever heard of this place, I was about ready to shoot the book.
If you are one of those people who is capable of putting down a book halfway through and being okay with abandoning it, this might just be the book for you! The first few “portraits,” including Alexander von Humboldt and Louis Agassiz, were quite enjoyable. So if you’re able to stop yourself there, read this book!
Blood and Roses: One Family’s Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses by Helen Castor
This book was an unqualified delight. Castor takes the little-known Paston family as her source material and the Pastons are remarkable, if not because of what they actually did, but because their letters are that extremely rare item: personal letters that have survived from the 1400s. It’s delightful to hear from them and Castor masterfully intertwines the Pastons letters and experiences with the broader political movements of the day and really proves how much the political turmoil did affect the daily lives of the people out in the realm. It’s a fascinating read with an excellent afterword about how the letters came to survive at all and what happened to the family after the Wars.
(And on a random note, a search for “blood and roses” revealed that this title is also a French vampire film from the 1960s and a song by the rock group the Smithereens. Nothing like a little vampires and rock and roll to bring a LT post to life, eh?)