Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Giovanni and Lusanna: a microcosm of Renaissance Florence

23 March 2010

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

It feels a little strange being a twentieth-century historian in Florence, when the city is imbued everywhere with such a strong sense of a much older past. Walking around the centro storico, everywhere you look you see medieval towers, Renaissance palazzi, piazzas, cathedrals, all crowding around churches, statues… you get the idea. And so, even though I’m spending some time in Florence to do research for a project on 1950s and 1960s Italian history, I realised pretty soon that I was going to have to go a little farther back to really understand the city I was staying in.

As part of this ongoing side-project, I came across a small, slim book in the Uffizi Gallery shop called Giovanni and Lusanna. Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, by American historian Gene Brucker (Berkeley, 2003). First published in 1986, when micro-history was beginning to come into vogue in historical writing – Carlo Ginzburg’s classic study of a sixteenth century miller and his world, The Cheese and the Worms was published in 1976 – the book is a study of a case brought by Lusanna, a widow from a modest background against wealthy banker Giovanni della Casa. According to Lusanna, Giovanni married her in secret. She brought a case against him after learning that he had contracted another marriage with a noblewoman, alleging that his marriage to her made him a bigamist. Read more

Happily Ever After?

17 March 2010

By Christina Morin

With my own nuptials swiftly approaching, I’ve admittedly become a bit wedding-obsessed. In a bid to wean myself off my growing addiction to wedding magazines and wedding discussion forums, as well as to distract myself from the various seating plans, dress swatches, and rsvp cards with which I increasingly find myself surrounded, I popped into Waterstones for a browse. That I thought I could momentarily escape all things wedding related in a book shop was perhaps a little naive, but surely there had to be at least one or two books that I could flick through without reminding myself of the various to-do lists waiting for me on my desk? Realisation and resignation settled in when the first thing my eyes lit upon was Wendy Moore’s compellingly-titled exploration of marriage in eighteenth-century Britain, Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met his Match (2009). Following fast on the heels of Duchess, the 2008 cinematic rendering of the wedded trials of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Wedlock looks at the matrimonial horrors suffered by Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore. The richest heiress in late-eighteenth century England upon the death of her coal magnate father, Mary Eleanor became prey to the mercenary intents of the superficially charming but unscrupulous Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney – tellingly, the root of the contemporary expression still in use today: ‘ston(e)y broke’. Read more

Celebrate the printed word: World Book Day

4 March 2010

Today is World Book Day; the biggest international celebration of books and reading. This is the thirteenth year that World Book Day has been celebrated in Ireland and in conjunction with Bookcrossing.com the Irish branch of World Book Day will leave books in public places throughout Ireland to encourage people to pick up a book and read. The aim is to encourage people to recyle their books and be more eco-friendly and yes- this means giving books away but you can get one in return!

Looking for a book to read? To mark World Book Day today we thought that we would remind you of some of the answers that were given when we asked a range of historians ‘What book do you wish you had written?’ Read more

Vampiric Delights

2 March 2010

By Christina Morin

I began to emerge last week from the enervating fug of research funding applications that has literally engulfed me since early December. Physically, I escaped relatively unscathed; mentally and intellectually, however, I was reduced to a fraction of my former self. In terms of my long abandoned leisure reading, I knew now was not the time to embark on War and Peace. So, instead, I picked up a collection of short stories I’d been meaning to read for a while, The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre (Oxford UP, 1997). An assortment of Gothic short stories published in a variety of British magazines during the first half of the nineteenth century, Tales of the Macabre definitely suited my inert post-funding-application despondency and lack of attention. Short enough to read in a bus journey to town, and dark enough to satisfy the most pessimistic, recession-obsessed mind, the tales in this collection are definitive examples of the Gothic short story tradition in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These short stories often merged with, or later became, full blown novels, suggesting the fluidity of borders during the Romantic period between genres such as the ‘novel’ and the ‘short story’, while also highlighting the continued, cross-generic appeal of the Gothic mode. Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819), originally published in the New Monthly magazine, for instance, was penned alongside Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and, in ‘introduc[ing] the vampire into English fiction’, as the editors, Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick argue, undoubtedly influenced countless novels and short stories to come, including Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Read More

Updating the Classics? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

31 December 2009

Contributed by Christina Morin

About a third of my way through Seth Grahame-Smith’s adaptation of Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice and Zombies – I enthusiastically posted my approval on Facebook. To my surprise, a friend and colleague replied, registering her distaste and disappointment, having just finished the book herself. So much could have been done with this, she complained, but what little was done with it was disappointing. I staunchly defended the book, a bit prematurely considering I hadn’t even gotten half way through: it’s just a bit of fun, I argued, and it really was, for a while. Up until that point, I essentially agreed with Stephanie Merritt who, in her review of the novel earlier this month in The Guardian (6 December 2009), applauded the novel’s seamless merging of old (i.e. original text) and new (i.e. zombies): ‘The success of any pastiche lies in its ability to capture the tone of that original, and in this Grahame-Smith has succeeded admirably. By inserting his zombie battles into Austen’s text in appropriate style, the structure and the bulk of the book’s contents remain hers’.

By the time I finished the novel, however, I had my doubts. Overall, I felt that Grahame-Smith achieved an admirable feat in the way he managed to merge his insertions of ‘ultraviolent zombie mayhem’ into Austen’s original text as well as its social and cultural contexts. But his reverence for the latter faltered on several notable occasions, most of them involving adolescent and puerile humour concerned with Mr. Darcy’s genitalia. If I sound a bit prudish here, you’ll have to excuse me. This is, after all, Austen we’re talking about. Read more

How to turn your PhD into a book: part 2, find a publisher

30 September 2009

By Juliana Adelman

booksThis post assumes you have read part 1 on writing a book proposal.  There are lots of things to consider when looking for a publisher, but probably the most important is whether your book is a match to their list.  First and foremost do your research on who publishes in your particular area, and base your information on RECENT books (not ye olde classics from the 1970s).  In truth, there are probably many publishers which cover your area so once you have a short list you will need to prioritise.  Although I think you can work from the same book proposal, you now need to tailor it to the list of publishers you plan to send it to.  The proposal should look like you are graciously handing them a book which is an ideal match to their list.

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The love song of J. Alfred Proofreader

29 September 2009

Contributed by Myles Dungan

Medieval_writing_deskI’m old enough to have done Latin for the Leaving Certificate at a time when it was de rigeur. I missed out on Greek – I will never know at what cost. Which means I am also old enough to have been taught English grammar and punctuation as an integral part of the learning of that subject. So why have I never managed to quite get the colon or the semi colon, other than in this . . . : ) . . . context? Why am I always confused about words like ‘government’? Do they require a capital letter or should they be represented in lower case? Is it Lord Lieutenant, or lord lieutenant, or even Lord lieutenant, or maybe lord Lieutenant? Perhaps its even Lord LieuTenant. All right, I’m just being silly now. Is it New York Times or New York Times, the Times, or The Times? Well connected or well-connected?  And what do I do about words like ‘sympathise’? I’ve just written the word with a final ‘s’ and my computer programme has changed it to a ‘z’. I will now proceed to creep up on it and catch it unawares, delete the ‘z’ while hollering ‘death to America’ like some crazed Al Qaeda bomber and consign the zed (or is it zee) to my trash. (And yes, I have got English-English as my default but it seems to make no difference) The problem is that if I’m quoting from a 19th century letter, as I am wont to do, the ‘s’ and the ‘z’ seem to be random and interchangeable. Even Gladstone, in personal correspondence, used the form ‘sympathize’  (the computer liked that version). Read More

How to turn your PhD into a book: part 1, prepare a book proposal

17 September 2009

booksBy Juliana Adelman

I should start with some confessions.  First, my only qualification for writing this article is that I have turned my own PhD into a book.  I am not 100% happy with either the PhD or the resulting monograph.  I think probably many first time authors will tell you the same thing.  This is just some advice for people doing solid history research who want to convert several years of effort into an object that others might read.  I reserve the right to give advice which I should have followed, but failed to.  And finally, this is going to be kind of long and probably violate the word limits we’ve set for ourselves.  So if you’re looking for light entertainment, skip to something else.

Deciding your PhD topic

Uh oh, too late for that, eh?  In an ideal world, you would have chosen a PhD topic which was so exciting and interesting that your enthusiasm is undimmed after 3, 4, 5…however many years you’ve been at it.  If you are relatively normal you will be sick of your topic by the time you finish writing the dissertation.  However, you will need to refresh your enthusiasm when you start converting the PhD into a book.  When you defend your PhD you are basically answering the question ‘Why is this work important?’  To sell the book to publishers and readers you also need to answer ‘Why is this work interesting?’  You will need to think of why you thought your topic was interesting in the first place and how it might be made interesting to more than the three people who it was written for.  This sounds simple, but is really quite difficult. To convince a publisher to publish your book you need to offer them a compelling reason and ‘a valuable addition to scholarship’ really isn’t good enough.  You also need to think of your prospective readers and consider what is the most important aspect of your research, what you really want people to take away from reading your book.  Now you are ready to…

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Are you in or out?

1 September 2009

By Juliana Adelman

GutenbergSo Google Book Search inches closer to world domination.  The deadline for authors to opt out of its settlement (made in the US but applicable worldwide) is September 4th.  Is it the best thing to happen to publishing since Gutenberg or a nasty corporation’s way to squeeze authors and libraries?  I’m really not sure myself.  I wrote previously on the settlement on this blog and how it did not seem to be generating significant interest or debate in Ireland despite the fact that all Irish authors and publishers will be affected by it.  And here we are, with only days til the deadline and still with almost no discussion.  In a new and ironic twist, Microsoft and Amazon have joined forces with some author and publishing groups in a class action lawsuit to prevent Google from developing a monopoly.  A recent article in Vanity Fair highlights the legal complexity of the settlement and the confusion of authors over what to do.  I think this could go on for a very very long time.  I don’t have the legal expertise to spell out the consequences for all stakeholders, nor is a blog probably the place to do so.  Since I last posted on this topic I’ve discovered the American Library Association’s ‘Super Simple Summary‘.  Not quite as simple as advertised, but definitely better than the actual document which is, to my tiny mind, impossible.   Read more

Václav Havel, To the Castle and Back (London, 2007)

27 August 2009

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Vaclav Havel - To the Castle and BackBefore a rash of publications appears in the coming months to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the revolutions of 1989, there is one book that you shouldn’t let pass you by: Václav Havel’s excellent personal history, To the Castle and Back. Havel, as you might expect from a playwright turned activist turned political prisoner turned president of democratic Czechoslovakia and its successor the Czech Republic, has written no ordinary memoir. The book’s raw materials – his vast personal experience and undiminished abilities as a writer – provide rich pickings for an extraordinary life story, but it is the structure he imposes that makes this an autobiography unlike any other. Here Havel the artist runs free, his life from 1989 to his retirement from politics in 2003 presented in three subtly intertwined narratives: notes from the author during the period spent writing ‘this strange little book of mine’; extracts from his instructions to the presidential secretariat; and a revealing (and lengthy) interview with Czech journalist Karel Hvížd’ala.

The interplay between them, not least the book’s out-of-sync chronology, has no right to work  smoothly, but it does. One short memo, written to his staff on 21 August 1999 and repeated in three or four different chapters, captures its eccentric brilliance: ‘In the closet where the vacuum cleaner is kept, there also lives a bat. How to get rid of it? The lightbulb has been unscrewed so as not to wake it up and upset it.’

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