Remember back in school, when they had those hilarious competitions to see who could read the most books during the summer break? Remember how you always crushed the competition by reading about eleventy skillion more books than they even put rows on the entry form?
Yeah. Man. Those were the days. Talk about easy wins.
Anyway, for various reasons, I’ve been reading a fair bit more non-fiction than usual lately. It certainly isn’t for a lack of great fiction in my life — after all, I came home with a boatload of free books from RWA last month. But I’m up to my eyelashes in revising my own fiction right now, and I try to cut down on same-genre reading when that’s the case.
And then there’s that free-floating anxiety that always seems to creep in on me during summer (one reason why it’s my least favorite season — I might have seasonal affective disorder in reverse, since winter makes me so damn happy and summer tends to bring on the blues), and I always gravitate toward reading biographies when I’m battling fear and anxiety. Something about reading about my favorite historical dudes and ladies going through hard times — and eventually prevailing — always pulls me out of myself and makes me fit to face the world again.
So I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading, and what’s on my To Be Read list, in the spirit of Summer Reading Lists of Yore. Of course now that we’re grownups, we get to decide for ourselves what we want to read, and don’t have to waste our precious time slogging through things like Lord of the Flies and crap like that.
Oh jeez, I probably just lost a bunch of you with that, didn’t I? Well, we can talk another time about Twentieth Century Male Authors Who I Think Are Vastly Overrated. For now, let’s set that topic aside.
Things I Recently Read
I freaking love Ulysses Grant, as you may already know, and this is a very well done biography of a man who has not always been treated fairly by historians in general. What I love about Grant is how he failed at so many different things before he finally found his groove, and then he was off and running. He was also and above all a deeply modest, self-effacing kind of guy who really just put his head down and worked. He didn’t dress up all fancy or put on airs, as they say, he just got to it and let his work speak for itself. Also, he was a devoted husband and father with a devastatingly sentimental hand at letter-writing. Gotta love that in a guy.
This was a re-read, actually. I slammed through this highly entertaining book earlier this year, and recently took the time to really savor it. Even more than a very well done biography of a fascinating and ultimately tragic man, it’s a great social history of his time, filled with priceless details about daily life in Regency London. Highly recommend.
Another re-read. I gobbled this one up when it came out several years ago, and reading it was one of the things that brought me back to my obsession with the Regency period, after a very long spell of being devoted much more ardently to the Victorians. It’s really a stunning book, one that weaves in science, social history, poetry, literature, and philosophy, all in one very compelling, easy-going narrative that keeps its focus on the human beings involved, not on the lofty ideas they ran with. Incidentally, this is also the book that caused me to fall in love with Joseph Banks.
This was something I bought on my Kindle in the middle of the night the other night when I was desperate for something just like this to read. It turned out to be a real score — a super-quick read that filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge of the politics and upheavals of the Regency era. Everything you always wanted to know about Corn Laws, Luddites, and Cato Street Conspirators. I mean, I already knew about them all, but I didn’t really get it — how they all worked together as a whole, how one thing led to another, and what was really going down at the time. At least, not as well as I did after reading this book. Really good stuff.
Things I Plan to Read Next
I think this was one of the books that I stumbled across when I was looking for the instant gratification that I eventually found with the Lord Liverpool book. It looked great and got terrific reviews, so I heaved a deep sigh and ordered it, even though it didn’t come in a Kindle version and would therefore take DAYS to reach me. TWO WHOLE DAYS. Good lord, but I’m spoiled.
How’s that for a title, huh? I think if there’s one thing that I won’t encounter in Pepys’s biography, it’s a crushing lack of self confidence. Humility was not exactly tops on this guy’s agenda, from what I understand. Anyway, I’ve been looking for more first person accounts of roughly this era (yeah, Pepys is a little early for me, but come on. It’s Pepys!) and I’m thinking this will fit the bill nicely.
The classic by Maria Edgeworth, written in about 1805. I promised a couple of friends that I would do a read-along of this with them this summer, and I guess I sort of got distracted. Sorry, friends! I do still hope to read this before, you know, Labor Day. Maybe.
Things I Am Also Secretly Reading in Fits and Starts Because I Can’t Help Myself
Let’s be honest, that list up there is looking just a wee bit suspicious. Am I really that much of an egghead history geek? Well, frankly, yes. But I’ve also got a few more paperbacks piled up under the bed that I’m dipping in to from time to time. I’ve gotta come clean. Mostly, these are from the aforementioned free book bonanza at RWA. Hey, I said I try to stay away from same-genre reading when I’m deep in my own stuff, not that I was ever really successful.
Never a Gentleman by Eileen Dreyer
A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh
Ripe for Pleasure by Isobel Carr
There. Now you know all my dirty little secrets. Well, most of them.
What about you? What’s cluttering up your bookstand these days?