Tag Archive for History

Book Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen

Interesting at first, but it wasn’t quite the food memoir I was expecting from the descriptions. It was nice to have the historical context, but this often overtook the more interesting stuff about food and the author’s experiences and family, and I felt like I had to slog through a lot of dull history to get to the (dwindling) good stuff.

Article: How true should historical fiction be?

How true should historical fiction be?

“From Hilary Mantel to Andrew Miller to Philippa Gregory, historical fiction is enjoying a boom. But novelists are storytellers, not history teachers, argues Stephanie Merritt”

(From The Guardian Books Blog, March 19, 2014)

Personally, I think historical fiction should aim to be as accurate as is reasonable within the format, and that authors writing in this genre should do some research into the era and/or people portrayed.

Obviously, I don’t expect a perfect representation of actual historical events, like an exact transcript, and I do expect some embellishment and poetic license. But making the setting, characters, and even language true to the time period help paint the picture and keep you in the story.

Link: San Francisco: The Literary City

San Francisco: The Literary City

(From San Francisco Chronicle, March 2014)

An interactive map of San Francisco Bay Area literary references, history, and places.

I wonder if there are similar maps for other major cities, like Chicago or New York or London. Though some of them might get a bit crowded, given all the possible content.

Public Library of Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1874

Public Library of Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1874

Retronaut.com has some great photos of the interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati, circa 1874, including the one above.

I’m not sure I could take the heights in those upstairs stacks though, especially with such short railings on each landing. Yikes!

Book Review: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Newell Clark, Jr.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of the Clark family history was pretty interesting, but most of the focus on Huguette’s adult life was not so much. I felt a bit sad for this woman, who clearly did not cope with change (or life in general) in a very healthy way. Eventually it felt like I was just reading lists of high-end transactions (and all such a waste of money), and the court battle over her estate was bothersome, to say the least. Perhaps the book was just too long for what it covered; had it been shorter, it might have been more enjoyable.

Book Review: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe I’m not really sure why this book caught my eye at the library, given its somber subject, the horrific plague that struck London in 1665. I was browsing nearby and decided to pull it out and take a look. I think I had 1600s England in mind, having just watched part of The Tudors on New Year’s Day, and wanting to read something from around that time period, so it seemed of interest.

Now, this book is categorized as fiction, but it certainly doesn’t read like a typical novel. It does read like someone’s journal, and does include a mixture of personal experiences, charts of numbers (mostly of how many died when and where), and occasional stories passed on from others. It does get a bit dry in parts, especially with the charts, and it’s also somewhat repetitive, with multiple mentions on certain topics, either to reintroduce them or add further detail.

That said, I thought it was also fascinating, considering this was written by someone who lived in London and actually survived the plague (and went on to write several famous novels as well!). I found some of the theories about how the plague spread really interesting, because some of them weren’t entirely off. Although some physicians thought the disease was passed by smell or breath, others theorized that it must have gotten into people’s blood, due to cases where some people may have passed it on to others, while not appearing sick themselves. They just didn’t understand fully how this worked, but they were right in some ways.

It did take me awhile to read this book, and I admit to skimming a bit at the end, but it was still interesting. Don’t expect it to be a typical work of fiction though, or you’ll be pretty disappointed.