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Spring reading choices, medieval moon-watching, and a very bad Easter indeed for Edward III
First up, I hope whatever you believe or practice, or don’t, you have a very nice weekend this Easter-time.
What’s that? This sounds like a trap? No… I’m just in rare cheery mood. I finished writing Wolves of Winter a few days ago. (You can pre-order the UK edition here.) This Is History has been nominated for two Arias. And the sun came out at last. So my heart is filled with the joys of spring and goodwill towards my fellow human being.*
Finishing a book is always a precious moment, for lots of reasons. One of the best is that I am freer to read things that aren’t strictly ‘work’. My TBR pile currently occupies an entire table, so I’ve been sifting through it picking a few things I want to read over the Easter break.
Here’s what I’ve dug out.
A biography of John Donne, which comes with an astonishing array of plaudits. Feels like one I should have read already, so this is ‘guilty catch-up’ reading. Also, I’m about to write my own first biography (of Henry V) and I’m interested in approaches to the form. Two of my favourite biographies of all time are Rich: The Life of Richard Burton by Melvyn Bragg and American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. These are both very traditional in their structure, and that may well be the best way to go with biography. But I am interested to see if Rundell - who strikes me as a very inventive writer - has broken the mould.
When we were recording the first season of This Is History and we did the episode where Richard the Lionheart cosies up to Philip Augustus to such an extent that the chroniclers said they ‘shared a bed’, producer Rosie was adamant that someone ought to write a Gen Z-facing gay medieval love story about these two great princes falling in love. Lo and behold, here is that book: the debut novel from a young London poet. I believe in keeping up with the kids, so I want to see what it’s like.
Another one that comes with mad plaudits and big bestseller chops - here, a young paleobiologist from the University of Birmingham recreates the earth as it was in the eons before our own. Huge waterfalls, giant penguins, mammoths plodding around…sounds a bit like Jurassic Park for adults. The trouble with books about landscapes in particular and non-human history in general is that the authors often tend to strive for the lyrical; I am hopeful that this is not one of those books where I am expected to savour the poise of the prose. Because I promise you, I don’t and I won’t. The good thing is, you can usually tell if that’s what’s going to happen right away, and toss it. Fingers crossed.
FTGPHMOMLP (for short) is a novel imagining a meeting between Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich in 1413. Besides the fact that FTGPHMOMLP sounds like a death metal album (not a criticism) it has the merit of being very short (I like very short books) and sounding like it might even pass the Bechdel Test. Triple yay.
I picked this up because I read a bunch of high profile write-ups about it in mainstream American newspapers and magazines. I noticed that I was surprised to find a niche academic book about medieval monasticism had captured the imagination of so many reviewers. But the book promises to shed light on the twenty-first century curse of the evaporated attention-span through analogy with the mindworld of the early Middle Ages. Sounds like a hell of a trick to pull off. I want to see if and how it has been done.
What are you reading? Put your answers in the comments below and I can stack my TBR table even higher.
‘Her attraction, when invisible…’
Lots of coverage this week for a scientific paper which has managed to date historic volcanic eruptions by cross-referencing existing ice core data with references to the colour of the Moon in medieval chronicles.
You can’t mention the Moon, however, without me immediately launching into a recital of the greatest thing ever written about the Moon.
It’s not medieval. It’s James Joyce, from Ulysses.
“Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.”
Stick that up your isolated dominant resplendent propinquity…
A bad time to be having a bad time
Which Plantagenet had the worst Easter ever?
Here’s one candidate: Edward III in 1360. His troops were on the march through France in the Hundred Years War and thinking about attacking Paris itself. (Insert your own Essex Dogs plug here.) But, on Easter Monday, the very first day of their march, they were hit by the most dreadful storm.
Here’s Jean Froissart:
there happened such a storm and violent tempest of thunder and hail, which fell on the English army, that it seemed as if the world was come to an end. The hailstones were so large as to kill men and beasts, and the boldest were frightened.
It was said that hundreds of men and horses were killed, and the baggage train was badly damaged. In other words: march over. The Treaty of Bretigny followed soon after. And the day was subsequently known as Black Monday or Bad Monday.
Stay safe, carry a brolly, and I’ll see you on the flip.
(*) Almost inevitably, this means I will go to the pub later on today and drink so much lager that I spend the rest of the weekend in a depressive funk. So be it. The older one gets, the more of a comfort it is to know oneself well.