Wednesday, 11 January 2017

December Reading

Christopher de Hamel  Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts (2016)  A Christmas present.  Slowly making my way through - each chapter is devoted to a particular ancient manuscript and the library in which it is housed.  The author, Cambridge academic and librarian, is an expert in his subject and creates the impression that the reader is looking over his shoulder as he carefully turns the pages of these manuscript masterpieces and imparts his wisdom about the materials, history of the document and its possible producers and owners, and the iconography.  Lavishly illustrated, although maybe should have been a larger format.  Highly recommended.

Guy Halsall  Worlds of Arthur, Facts & Fictions of the Dark Ages (2013) Written by a professor of history at York University, the title is rather misleading as 'King Arthur' is relegated to a very minor role and pretty much dismissed as a historical figure and the author is more interested in putting forward theories about the 'Dark Ages' and Anglo Saxon invasions.   Also I was disappointed with his promised examination of the 'lunatic fringe' literature, which I feel is often worth examining for some of the insights into the authors' mentalities or the zeitgeist, despite their negligible worth as historical research.  Worth reading together with King Arthur Myth Making and History (2002) by N J Higham, another modern sceptical analysis of the Arthurian legend.

Paul Morley  Earthbound  (2013) One of a series of books commissioned by Penguin themed around the London Underground lines by a variety of authors (I wonder how much they got paid?), this one is ostensibly about the Northern line, but is of course mostly about Paul Morley.  His claim to be possibly the first person in London with a Sony Walkman should be treated with caution, I feel.  Quite entertaining none the less, and can be read in a single sitting.  Clever cover picture.

Leonard Cottrell  The Bull of Minos (1966)  Pan paperback hagiography of 'archaeologists' or maybe that should be 'diggers' Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans, which I imagine has been thoroughly discredited by more recent research.  An easy and stimulating read however.

John Mortimer Rumple Forever   A compilation of stories of Rumple of the Bailey.  I never saw the television series with Leo McKern and have not previously read any Rumple stories, but I needed some relaxing bedtime reading.  Some of the humour is a bit strained, but pleasant enough reading.  At this rate, my middle-aged self may well finally get round - after years of resistance - to Jeeves and Wooster.  Rumpole's first television appearance in the hugely important Play for Today BBC series can be seen here.

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