Summer has arrived, or at the very least is peeking through the clouds on occasion. With this burst of fine weather comes the promise of the holiday season and some relaxed reading. Take some inspiration from the best of November’s People & Places picks.
Lives told through novels, houses and adventures. This month’s new biographies offer insight into a wide array of remarkable people.
All in one basket : nest eggs / Deborah Devonshire.
“Entertaining, instructive, thought-provoking and hilarious, the unmistakeable voice of Deborah Devonshire rings out of this volume which combines her two collections of ‘occasional’ writings – Home to Roost and Counting My Chickens. The pieces are broad and eclectic in their subjects, ranging from treasures unearthed while the kitchen was being redecorated, musings about the reason for the reworded town sign, tourism at Chatsworth, a ringside view of both John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and funeral, and the value of deportment. No matter what she’s writing about she is always affectionate, shrewd and uproariously funny.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)
Bligh : master mariner / Rob Mundle.
“It is the eighteenth century, the era when brave mariners took their ships beyond the horizon in search of an unknown world. Those chosen to lead these expeditions were exceptional navigators, men who had shown brilliance as they ascended the ranks in the Royal Navy. They were also bloody good sailors. There’s a lot more to the story of the infamous Captain Bligh than mutiny, rum and convicts – it is also the untold story of one of our greatest sailors.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Virginia Woolf / Alexandra Harris.
“Alexandra Harris’s hugely acclaimed book Romantic Moderns (winner of the 2010 Guardian First Book Award) overturned our picture of modernist culture during the interwar years. In this, her second book, she brings her attention to one of the towering figures of literary modernism. It is an intensely pleasurable read that weaves together the life and work of Virginia Woolf, and serves as an ideal introduction to both. Following the chronology of Woolfs life, it considers each of the novels in context, gives due prominence to her dazzlingly inventive essays, traces the contentious course of her afterlife and shows why, seventy years after her death,Virginia Woolf continues to haunt and inspire us.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)
Blue nights / by Joan Didion.“From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old. Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood — in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. ‘How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?’ Finally, perhaps we all remain unknown to each other. Blue Nights — the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, ‘the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning’ — like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk desription)
Lemon sherbet and dolly blue : the story of an accidental family / Lynn Knight.
“150 Station Road, Wheeldon Mill – a short stride across the Chesterfield Canal in the heart of Derbyshire – was home to the Nash family and their corner shop, which served a small mining community with everything from Brasso and Dolly Blue, to cheap dress rings and bright sugary sweets. But just as this was no ordinary home, theirs was no ordinary family. Lynn Knight tells the remarkable story of the three adoptions within it: of her great-grandfather, a fairground boy, given away when his parents left for America in 1865; of her great-aunt, rescued from an Industrial School in 1909, and of her mother, adopted as a baby in 1930, and brought to Chesterfield from London. Full of light, life and colour, spanning three generations and two world wars, this memoir weaves a rich portrait of a community and of family love and loyalty regardless of blood ties.” – (adapted from Amazon.uk description)
Diamond Queen : Elizabeth II and her people / Andrew Marr.
“With the flair for narrative and the meticulous research that readers have come to expect, Andrew Marr turns his attention to the monarch – and to the monarchy, chronicling the Queen’s pivotal role at the centre of the state, which is largely hidden from the public gaze, and making a strong case for the institution itself. Arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, Marr dissects the Queen’s political relationships, crucially those with her Prime Ministers; he examines her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and her deep commitment to that Commonwealth of nations; he looks at the drastic changes in the media since her accession in 1952 and how the monarchy – and the monarch – have had to change and adapt as a result. Indeed he argues that under her watchful eye, the monarchy has been thoroughly modernized and made as fit for purpose in the twenty-first century as it was when she came to the throne and a ‘new Elizabethan age’ was ushered in.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)
The address book : a memoir about my homes (all 32 of them) / Jane Clifton.
“Where do you call home?Performer Jane Clifton had a classic army brat upbringing, constantly on the move as the family followed the postings of her English officer father from Gibraltar to England, Germany to Malaysia and eventually to Australia. Always the new kid in town, Jane became adept at fitting in anywhere. As an adult, living in the fast-moving worlds of anti-war demos, women’s lib, experimental theatre, rock ‘n’ roll, and TV, she kept up the family tradition of changing addresses without so much as a backward glance. But her stiff-upper-lipped father and glamorous, restless mother both died tragically young, and Jane was left with many unanswered questions. Where exactly is home? is it your family? Your memories? Or simply bricks and mortar? One day, Jane decided to go back and visit every house she’d lived in all 32 of them to see if she could piece together the jigsaw of her life. A funny, moving and unexpected story about one woman’s search for home, And The universal desire to find the place you truly belong.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)
Travel stories & guides
In our picks of the new travel books this month: the wide blue skies of the Otago Trail, a book from National Geographic’s ‘Adventurer in Residence’ Steve Backshall (wherein he tries to answer the question in the title of this post), and a look back at how it all started with a book that treats with the first ever Lonely Planet guidebook. Have a browse!
Tell them to get lost : travels with the Lonely Planet guidebook that started it all / Brian Thacker.
When Tony Wheeler wrote Lonely Planet’s first ever guidebook in 1974, Southeast Asia offered ‘cheap and interesting travel without the constantly oppressing misery of some of the less fortunate parts of Asia’. Certain ‘hotspots’ in the region attracted the ‘tourist crowds,’ but there were many ‘untouched places that only the people who are willing to put in a little effort and withstand some discomfort will really appreciate.’ So how much has Southeast Asia changed since Tony ambled around the region in flared pants?” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Machu my Picchu : searching for sex, sanity, and a soul mate in South America / Iris Bahr ; [maps by Piper Verlag].
“…Feeling more alienated than ever, Iris decides to embark on another backpacking adventure, this time through Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Between love affairs with locals, clashes with travel companions, and near-death experiences, Iris discovers her ability to feel lost no matter where she goes. But through her struggle to find that elusive combination of healthy love, great sex, and peace of mind, she finally learns to embrace the joys of the search. The zany humor of Amy Sedaris meets the neurotic self-awareness of Woody Allen in this invigorating mix of hair-raising adventure, poignant reflection, and bawdy humor – it’s one hell of a wild ride.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Trail : [riding the Otago Central rail trail] / Paul Sorrell & Graham Warman.
“For the many thousands who have walked or ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail it holds particular, cherished memories. Some impressions will stick for a lifetime: bouncing over bone-rattling bridges, or sailing through sheer-sided canyons of schist. Or simply barrelling along, mile after mile, with the gravel crunching beneath your tyres under endless wide blue skies. In this vivid, beautifully drawn account, author Paul Sorrell and photographer Graham Warman take you on a 150-kilometre journey across the Otago Central Rail Trail, deep into the heart of the South Island’s spectacular interior.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Looking for adventure / Steve Backshall.
“How do you become an explorer? It’s a question every child has asked. And Steve Backshall was no different. But after a rainy-day visit to an exhibition of artefacts from Papua New Guinea, it was a question that began to obsess the seven-year old Backshall. But surely he’d been born a century too late? And yet through boundless enthusiasm, determination and a refusal to accept defeat. Backshall was soon carrying business cards from National Geographic describing him as their ‘Adventurer in Residence’. The vast, untamed wildness of Papua New Guinea was where Backshall forged his unlikely path.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
In our picks of the new history books this month: narratives that reveal the real Downton Abbey, the lives of the invisible Romans (the Romans that history forgot), and real stories about pirates of the Caribbean. Plus, the story of the rediscovery of the manuscript of Lucretius and its place in the cultural movement of the Renaissance. Have a browse!
Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey : the lost legacy of Highclere Castle / by the Countess of Carnarvon.
“The remarkable story behind the real Downton Abbey. Lady Fiona Carnarvon became the chatelaine of Highclere Castle – the setting of the hit series Downton Abbey – eight years ago. In that time she’s become fascinated by the rich history of Highclere, and by the extraordinary people who lived there over the centuries. One person particularly captured Fiona’s imagination – Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred de Rothschild. She was his only daughter and he doted on her. She married George, the Earl of Carnarvon, at 19 with an enormous dowry. At first, life at Highclere was a dizzying mix of sumptuous banquets for 500 and even the occasional royal visitor. Almina oversaw 80 members of staff – many of whom came from families who had worked at Highclere for generations. But when the First World War broke out, life at Highclere changed forever.” (Global Books In Print)
Spanish Gold : Captain Woodes Rogers and the pirates of the caribbean / David Cordingly.
“Stories of individual pirates in the Caribbean, from Blackbeard to Calico Jack, have been the stuff of legend since the eighteenth century, but in Spanish Gold pirate expert David Cordingly at last gives us the big picture in all its bold and ruthless truth.” (Library Catalogue)
The swerve : how the Renaissance began / Stephen Greenblatt.
“Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late 30s took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. The book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic. This title tells the story of this discovery.” (Library Catalogue)
Invisible Romans : prostitutes, outlaws, slaves, gladiators, ordinary men and woman … the Romans that history forgot / Robert Knapp.
“Knapp finds traces of the invisible Romans in the nooks and crannies of history; he tracks down and pieces together tell-tale bits of evidence cast aside by the visible mass of Roman history and in doing so he recreates a world lost from view for two millennia. He shows how the invisible Romans sought to survive and control their fates under powers that sometimes controlled and sometimes ignored them and before the afflictions of disease, war and violence that could at any time assail them. Devoting a chapter to each of the main groups he reveals the ways in which their worlds are linked in need, dependence, exploitation, hope and fear. Slaves and ex-soldiers seep into the world of the outlaw; slaves become freed men; the sons of freed men enlist as soldiers; and the concerns of women transcend every boundary. We see them all at last in the seething tumult of a great city that shapes their worlds as it reshapes the wider world around them.” (Global Books In Print)
If Rome hadn’t fallen : what might have happened if the Western Empire had survived / Timothy Venning.
“This is a fascinating exploration of how the history of Europe, and indeed the world, might have been different if the Western Roman Empire had survived the crises that pulled it apart in the 4th and 5th centuries. Dr Timothy Venning starts by showing how that survival and recovery might plausibly have happened if several relatively minor things had been different. He then moves on to discuss a series of scenarios which might have altered the course of subsequent history dramatically. Would the survival of a strong Western Empire have assisted the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire in halting the expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa? How would the Western Roman Empire have handled the Viking threat? Could they even have exploited the Viking discovery of America and established successful colonies there? While necessarily speculative, all the scenarios are discussed within the framework of a deep understanding of the major driving forces, tensions and trends that shaped European history and help to shed light upon them. In so doing they help the reader to understand why things panned out as they did, as well as what might have been.” (Global Books In Print)
This months recent picks celebrate the iconic NZ cartoon Footrot Flats. There are also some beautiful new books featuring National parks, scenery and native trees and a travellers guide to birds of New Zealand. The last item is the new book on the Parker – Hulme murder and trial.
The art of Footrot Flats / by Murray Ball. “The Art of Footrot Flats showcases the magnificent body of work of New Zealand’s greatest cartoonist, Murray Ball. This book, however, is not simply a cartoon book. It is, as the title suggests, an art book. The Art of Footrot Flats will be different and very, very special. The cartoons will still be there, but more importantly this book will focus on the art of the strip.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
National parks of New Zealand / photography by Rob Suisted ; text by Alison Dench. “Leading New Zealand photographer Rob Suisted delivers a magnificent portrait of New Zealand’s national parks. Within these treasured parks is diverse wildlife and stunning scenery representing all kinds of unique landscapes from golden sands to snowy mountains, rainforests and rugged coastlines. With five of the parks sitting in World Heritage Areas, this is a celebration of scenic Aotearoa at its best. Alison Dench emphasises the great pride and spiritual connection New Zealanders hold for their land with an introduction to each park.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Trees of New Zealand : stories of beauty and character / Peter Janssen & Mike Hollman. “This is a new kind of tree book, not a guide to species or simply a photographic study, it is a collection of individual portraits of the most remarkable trees in New Zealand. From the 800-year-old pohutukawa that stands at ‘the place of leaping’ at Cape Reinga to the Moriori carved ‘kopi’ (karaka) trees of the Chatham Islands but also trees that have histories that are linked to our own, such as the Gallipoli Pine at Taradale Cemetery, grown as a memorial from the seed of Gallipoli’s Lone Pine Tree.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
So brilliantly clever : Parker, Hulme & the murder that shocked the world / Peter Graham. “In this mesmerising book, lawyer and true crime writer Peter Graham tells the whole story for the first time – giving a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial, dramatic revelations about the fate of Juliete Hulme and Pauline Parker after their release from prison, their strange lives today and a penetrating insight into the crime using modern psychology.” (adapted from back cover)