20 January 2016

How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life

I’m a sucker for day-in-the-life books that set down the minutiae of everyday life in times – the more detailed the better. (My teenage discovery and subsequent serial re-readings of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is very much to blame for this).

No surprise then, that I snatched up a copy of Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life as soon as I clapped eyes on it. And it was delightful. For me, it is the perfect bedtime read – right up there with Flora Thompson's trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford -- in that while it is full of fascinating, delicious detail begging to be shared it is nicely broken up so that I can easily put it down and take it back up again without feeling I need to reread previous pages. (Although I do reread, because reading about morning calisthenics is just as good as doing them, right?).

I regret that the continuous desire to share excerpts of How to be a Victorian with The Husband as he lay in bed with me trying to read his book put a strain on our marriage ... but that did not deter me. And he eventually learned to put down his book (with poor grace) and be regaled with the history of public baths and wash houses or the development of marble-stoppered carbonated drinks (Victorian marble soda! Fabulous!).

How to be a Victorian is a delicious blend of research, analysis, and actual experience. Goodman is a British freelance historian who performed/prevented in several historical docudramas (which I now need watch) and as such has tried many of the activities and behaviors she writes about -- giving an already fascinating book an added layer of interest. It’s one thing to read that hair oil could be made of fats like lard or beef-marrow and perfumed, it’s another thing altogether to read that the author had herself created a perfectly functional product using a simple recipe calling for olive oil, alkanet root, and bergamot oil. (Yes, I was half-tempted to go out and try this).

For all that How to be a Victorian is fun and fascinating it does not romanticize the era. Almost everyone was cold and hungry and poor. People believed seemingly improbable things about hygiene and disease. But it’s how the world was and it’s good to know, if only so we can feel smug about the germ theory of disease and modern plumbing. Most likely people living in the twenty-third century, reading about daily life in the United States in the twenty-first, will feel equally smug.

Go, read Goodman's How to be a Victorian. And then come back and talk with me about it!

How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (Norton, 2014)

19 January 2016

Top 10 Tuesday: Most Recently Added TBR

Inspired by Jamie's New to the Queue posts at The Perpetual Page-Turner, this week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the books we have most recently heaped upon our already teetering TBR piles.

  • Among Others by Jo Walton. A Welsh science fiction novel reading protagonist with an absent magic-working mother and dead twin is sent to boarding school in magicless England by her distant father and starts mucking around with magic. It ticks nearly all the boxes needed to make it a book I can’t not add to my TBR.
  • Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ by Pamela Morsi. Two sisters sink all their money into purchasing a twee bed-and-breakfast down in the Ozarks … except it turns out “b & b” stands for “bait and barbecue.” Run-down, roadside rattletrap bait and barbecue. I was looking for something quirky and fun and Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ looks like it fits the bill.
  • Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield. Japanese-American mother and daughter are sent to the Manzanar concentration camp in the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Unsurprisingly, they do not have a good time. Garden of Stones seems like a timely read and is sure to leave me tearful and angry, yet at the same time I know it will be a good story, because Sophie Littlefield knows how to write.
  • The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman. The gay, lesbian, and trans rights in the United States from the 1950s forward. Also a book likely to leave me tearful (and a little angry, because why must we struggle so long?), but I adored Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers and Surpassing the Love of Men so how could I pass this book by?
  • Goddess by Kelly Gardiner. Based on a true story of Julie d'Aubigny, swordswoman, opera star, lover of men and women ... destined to die alone in a convent in her tender 30s ...

  • Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale. I enjoyed Hale’s love letter to Jane Austen, Austenland, when I read it way back when … so much so that I borrowed the film adaptation from my library when I stumbled open it last week. While the film was merely meh, it did inspire me to check out Midnight in Austenland.
  • Owl by William Service. I discovered Owl -- the true story of a family who takes an orphaned fledgling screech owl into their home in the 1960s -- after I’d finished reading Martin Windrow’s The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar and it sounds charming.
  • Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye. Bill. Nye.
  • The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen. A young woman falls in love with a handsome and wealthy young man, who gets her pregnant and then skives of. Feeling it his duty, his brother marries her ... I can’t decide if the story is thoroughly ridiculous or just promising a good time.
  • Recipes for Love & Murder by Sally Andrew. South African recipe and advice columnist, with the help of an ambitious young investigative journalist, looks into the murder of one of her readers. Although the book deals heavily with abuse (and, obviously, murder) Kirkus tells me it is “a delightful debut, tender and funny” so I’m taking the risk.