Juliana Adelman Over Christmas I read The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen which my canny husband somehow knew I had almost bought for myself each time I entered Hodges Figgis. It’s a good read about a twelve-year old map maker and full of concise insights on all kinds of things: the five kinds of boredom (anticipatory, aggressive, ritual, let-down, monotony), history (‘History was only what we conjured it to be. It never just was, like now is.’ p. 203), and the point of maps (‘A map…forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected’, p. 139). A few free things might help the lean month of January pass. I do not have an iPhone but if I did, I would download the Smithsonian Institution’s free MEanderthal app which allows you to turn your image into a likeness of a prehistoric ancestor. Or try a picture of your favourite retiring politician…To enjoy the fruits of historic culture take yourself down to one of the National Museums for a free lecture or special event this month like the mummer’s play at the Museum of Country Life on 9 January, or the behind-the-scenes conservation tour at Decorative Arts and History (Collins Barracks) on 12 January or a tour on the history of the collection of trophy heads in Natural History on 29 January. Finally, those of us worrying about our own futures might take something away from the RIA discourse on the future of the university to be given on 13 January by Professor Michael Burawoy in association with the IRCHSS.
Lisa Marie Griffith The last television interview of the writer John le Carré, real name David John Moore Cornwell, was aired in December. In the interview Le Carré discusses his work at MI5 and MI6 in the late 1950s and first half of the 1960s with Jon Snow. His experience working for the foreign service during the Cold War provides the backdrop for most of his early novels. The interview prompted me to read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold over Christmas which I found fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed. The book is set in Berlin just months after the Berlin wall was completed and follows the story of a spy called Lemass who is facing up to the realisation his network of contacts has fallen a part and he must flee east Berlin. The book was published in 1963 just a year after the book was set and when the author was still working for the British intelligence hence the pseudonym. While I don’t normally read Spy novels, this book has encouraged me to read Le Carré’s back catalogue. Le Carré’s latest book Our Kind of Traitor has just been published.
Christina Morin This month I’m heading over to Oxford for the annual British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) conference, which looks set to be a very stimulating couple of days. Sadly, it’s too late to sign up to attend, but you can find out all about what you’re missing here. While procrastinating writing my paper for the conference, I’ve been reading one of my Christmas presents: Douglas Rogers’ recently published book, The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe. Having travelled to Zimbabwe to visit some of my husband’s family in 2007 and fallen in love with the country and the people, I’ve developed a keen interest in Zimbabwe-related literature and am thoroughly enjoying this book. Written by a Zimbabwean journalist who now lives and works in America, The Last Resort gives a fascinating and surprisingly impartial account of the controversial events that have rocked Zimbabwe over the past several decades. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I definitely recommend it!
Kevin O’Sullivan It’s back to work this week, but I’ve been holding on to that holiday feeling for as long as possible, so why not extend it to our recommendations? You know it’s been a good Christmas when the stack of soon-to-read books grows a little more precarious on the bedside locker. This year the ranks of the unread have been added to by Messrs Hemingway, Judt, O’Riordan, and Schama. Plenty of time, of course, to get through them all, but for starters I had Dave Fanning’s plainly-written but no less intriguing autobiography, and am greatly enjoying the stunning A History of the World in One Hundred Objects, the perfect accompaniment to the BBC Radio 4 series. On the train home on Christmas Eve, I made my way through this year’s festive edition of The Economist – always a treat, this time with articles on the history of the pub, why Ireland should be more like Iceland, and the rise of Nollywood – West Africa’s thriving film industry. Finally, the obligatory time in front of the television renewed my acquaintance with two brilliant portraits of American life at the turn of successive centuries: the manic greed for oil and souls in There Will Be Blood‘s landscape of early twentieth century California; and Juno‘s brilliantly scripted portrayal of family life at the dawn of the twenty-first. It’s all good; honest to blog.
Tags: A History of the World in One Hundred Objects, British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS), Dave Fanning, Douglas Rogers, John le Carré, RIA, The Circus, The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold