Books I’ve Read This Week: January 8-14, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 2: The Big Books: During week 2 of my Book a Day 2018 project, I searched for books and articles by authors who had also spent  a year reading a book each day. I noticed a common theme: an emphasis on short to medium length books. In  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovich discusses searching for books in the library that were 250-300 pages to allow for time to read each day and write her daily review. A 2012 article in Slate Magazine by Jeff Gray entitled “366 Days, 366 Books” states that “Read Short Books” is rule number 2, after the importance of not allowing the reading challenge to take over all aspects of your life.

“Read Short Books” is not a helpful guideline for my 2018 Book a Day project because there are some enormous books on my to-read shelf. My book club is reading Hamilton, which is more than 700 pages long, for the beginning of February and I have long been interested in reading the 422 page Diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples (Marie Antoinette’s sister). I have tailored my approach to reading a book a day to ensure that I complete the long books as well as short and medium books. After I finish each day’s book, I also read a few chapters of a longer book, to be completed in subsequent weeks. Long books as well as short and medium length books will be reviewed here in the coming months. Here are the books I finished this week:

#8 of 365: Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth Century Europe by Sarah Gristwood

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 351 pages

Read: January 8, 2018

Acquired: Review Copy

Review: I enjoyed Sarah Gristwood’s book about royal women during the Wars of the Roses, Blood Sisters, and looked forward to reading her book about the connections between the ruling queens of sixteenth century Europe, a topic that I address in my Women in Power course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

Game of Queens is an excellent introduction to the powerful women of 16th century Europe. The book will be of interest to readers of biographies of Tudor queens who are interested in learning more about their counterparts in France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Gristwood places Anne Boleyn in a European context, examining the influence of Margaret of Austria and Marguerite of Navarre over Anne’s approach to queenship as the second wife of Henry VIII. The book contains an extensive list of suggestions for further reading, highlighting recent scholarship in the field of queenship in Early Modern Europe.

#9 of 365: The Ring and the Crown by Alison Weir, Tracy Borman, Sarah Gristwood and Kate Williams.

Genre: Royal History

Format, Audiobook, 4 hours and 53 minutes

Listened: January 9, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: The Ring and the Crown was published at the time of Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton in 2011 and readers interested in more recent developments in the history of royal marriage, (such as the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle or the repeal of the Royal Marriages Act) will not find them here.

Nevertheless, The Ring and the Crown, provides a good overview of the history of royal wedding ceremonies and celebrations including the origins of street parties (the Tudors), the white wedding dress (Queen Victoria) and the kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony (Charles and Diana). The book provides a particularly detailed account of the weddings from Princess Patricia of Connaught in 1919 (the first modern royal bride to be married in Westminster Abbey) to Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.

#10 of 365 The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History edited by Charles Beem and Miles Taylor

Genre: Royal History

Format: e-book, 270 pages

Read: January 10, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review: The scope of the scholarly articles in The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History is impressive from the kings consort of medieval Navarre to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh today. Among the highlights of this volume are Elena Woodacre’s thoughtful examination of the different approaches adopted by the husbands of the Queens of Navarre, Michael Bittner’s analysis of the role of Empress Anna Ivanovna of Russia’ favourite, Johann von Biron, in Anglo-Russian relations and the favorable account of Francis Stephen of Lorraine’s role as Empress Maria Theresa’s consort by Derek Beales.

There are two chapters about Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert and a detailed analysis by Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska of Prince Philip’s promotion of athletics and youth leadership during the early years of his marriage. There comparatively few studies available in English about the present day European royal houses and the chapters about the different styles of the consorts of the three successive 20th century Dutch Queens, and the grievances of Queen Margrethe of Denmark’s husband, Prince Henrik are therefore especially interesting. Highly recommended!

#11 of 365: Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

Genre: Non-Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 11 hours and 30 minutes

Listened: January 7-11, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: An engaging history of cooking and kitchen implements from ancient times until today. The book is divided into thematic chapters, examining the changing roles of various aspects of cooking and eating such as cold storage, fire, tableware and weights and measurements. The author, Bee Wilson, is a food writer for the BBC and there is a strong British focus to the book. For example, the section about fire discusses the history of roasting meat in detail as well as the modern phenomenon of chip pan fires. Wilson places British culinary history in a wider global context, however, discussing the reasons why refrigeration was far more prevalent in the United States than the United Kingdom until recently and the impact of forks vs. chopsticks on how meals are prepared and eaten.

#12 of 365: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Genre: Classic Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 4 hours and 27 minutes

Listened: January 11-12, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: The audiobook of Eugene Onegin (translated by James E. Falen and read by Raphael Corkhill) is excellent. Falen captures the rhyme and metre of Pushkin’s original and Corkhill reads with enthusiasm. The famous scenes in the epic poem including Tatiana’s letter, Tatiana’s dream and the duel unfold amidst beautiful descriptions of the Russian winter, (and the boredom experienced by the Russian aristocracy at their country estates during this season), as well as the nature of 19th century Russian literature. Pushkin is critical of how French had supplanted Russian in fashionable society and the poem captures the flavour of his times.

#13 of 365: Victoria: Queen, Matriarch, Empress (Penguin Monarchs Series) by Jane Ridley

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 160 pages

Read: January 13, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review: Jane Ridley, the author of Bertie: A Life of Edward VII, provides a solid overview of Queen Victoria’s life and reign, providing new analysis of the Queen’s restrictive upbringing, her marriage to Prince Albert, her relationship with her children, her attitudes toward her Prime Ministers, and her controversial friendship with John Brown. Ridley is especially critical of the romantic narrative of Queen Victoria’s marriage, popularized in the film The Young Victoria (and now the Victoria series on PBS), noting that Albert undermined Victoria’s self-confidence and that she had to relearn how to reign alone after his death. Victoria’s interest in her own public image is also discussed in the book, including her letters to newspapers that were critical of her extended period of mourning as a widow.

#14 of 365 Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Genre: Memoir

Format: Paperback, 256 pages

Read: January 13, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Chapters/Indigo online

Review: A memoir about finding joy and solace in reading. The author, Nina Sankovitch, read a book a day for a year while grieving the loss of her sister. Her impressions of the books are interwoven in a wider memoir about her family. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair includes a full list of the books she read during her book a day challenge.

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