I'm not sure at what point one can say one has "read" a reference book such as this. But I think I've read enough to comment on it. It is quite a subsI'm not sure at what point one can say one has "read" a reference book such as this. But I think I've read enough to comment on it. It is quite a substantial book and comes at quite a substantial price (£25.00), which I didn't have to pay as I borrowed it from the library.
The first part of the book is devoted to twenty articles on various aspects of family and local history. They are by various contributors, and deal with topics such as beginning family history, surnames, researching Afri-Caribbean ancestry, family and society, landscape, industrial and labour history, domestic architecture, historc churches and more.
The second part is arranged alphabetically, like an encyclopedic dictionary, and consists of shorter articles, most of them less than a column in length, on a wide range of topics. A random sampling of entries includes parlour, potatoes, pottery and postcards, lectern, leasehold and leather, contraception, copper and copyhold tenure.
The longer thematic articles are a mixed bag, and generally I found them disappointing. Some were interesting and informative, while others were merely annotated bibliographies that conveyed little actual information. An example from the article on Domestic Architecture is typical (p. 143):
From the very beginning it was recognised that a regional approach was necessary to chronicle the separate development of the smaller house in different parts of the kingdom, where local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials, farming practices and economic prosperity, to create local solutions to the housing needs of the population. The two pioneering studies both came from Yorkshire. In 1898 S.O. Addy, a Sheffield solicitor and prolific antiquary on subjects ranging from dialect to cutlery, published The Evolution of the English House, and in 1916 C.E. Innocent, an architect and another native of Sheffield, published The Development of English Building Construction. Both books drew on local examples and remain invaluable because they record rural houses at a period before the radical alteration demanded by changing perceptions of public hygiene had obliterated much of the evidence of the original forms.
He tells us nothing about the original forms, or the changes - simply that you can find out about them in two out-of-print books that are probably inaccessible to many readers. Nor does he tell us about how local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials etc., he simply mentions that they did so. If you are a family historian, and want to know what kind of houses your ancestors lived in, this kind of article is worse than useless. It tells you nothing, except that you have paid a lot of money for a book that does not give the kind of information you expect to find in it.
Several of the thematic articles take this form, being simply annotated bibliographies, with no real information at all. If the book were advertised as a companion to historiography, rather than to history, that might be acceptable, but as it is it verges on fraudulent advertising. This kind of writing might be all right as a literature survey at the beginning of an academic thesis, or as an article in a scholarly journal. But at least the literature survey is followed by the meat of the thesis; here there is no meat at all. I might have given it four or five stars, were it not for this shortcoming.
The alphabetical section is generally better.
It contains quite a lot of useful information, and I've enjoyed reading it in bed before going to sleep. One can read a couple of short articles and perhaps jump around looking for references to other things. But in view of the shortcomings of some of the longer articles, I'm not sure that the book is worth the price. One can probably find more information on the Web free of charge, like this article on domestic architecture, for example.
The book does make several references to web sites, though as that kind of information can quite quickly become outdated, I'm not sure how useful it will be in a few years time.
Phil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his otherPhil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his other books have characters that appear again, but this one is in a different setting, with different characters.
The characters are not as convincing as those in some of his other books. It is more tinged with horror and dark and evil forces. His later novels, especially in the Merrily Watkins series, turn out to be more like whodunits, and one misses the supernatural chills.
In many ways I should not have liked it as much as I did. And I think the reason I liked it is that I have been in the kind of situations he describes. He gets the relationship between Christianity and paganism better aligned in his later books -- the kind of situation he portrays in The man in the moss has been shown to be historically inaccurate in England. But it is in many ways true to life in parts of Africa. It may be wrong in its setting, but move it to another setting, and it becomes true to life. ...more
This is one of the books that appears on lists of "books you ought to read before you die", and "greatest novels of the 20th century".
I can't remembeThis is one of the books that appears on lists of "books you ought to read before you die", and "greatest novels of the 20th century".
I can't remember where and how I acquired my copy; I've had it for years, and it's been on my "to read sometime" mental list ever since then. As time passed, I became more aware of the possibility of dying without reading it.
Another reason for reading it was that I did English I at the University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) in the 1960s. The English Department at that time was thoroughly Leavisite, and a friend of mine who was doing English Honours (a post-graduate course) was told by a member of the department that he should not read Ulysses because "it will blunt your critical faculties".
The same friend also remarked one day that he had seen a copy of Ulysses on the professor's desk, and we wondered if he had confiscated it from a student to protect his critical faculties.
So I thought that my critical faculties aren't going to be much use to me when I'm dead, so I'll take the risk and try to read it before I die.
I have to say that I was underwhelmed.
I debated whether to give it two stars or three, and eventually decided on three because I admired Joyce's ingenuity, though without really appreciating it. When I think of great novels of the 20th century, I think I agree with the hoi polloi rather than the lit crit crowd, and would give Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings first place.
Ulysses is usually classified as a "modern" novel, and I suppose in a way it is. The height of literary and artistic modernity was after the First World War, and that's when it was written. There was the Bauhaus school of architecture and all that kind of thing.
But it is written about a day in 1904. That was before my marents were born. That was when my grandfather was getting married. So the people in the book are of the vintage of my grandfather's older brother. It was the Edwardian era, which seems altogether remote. Though I didn't live through it, I have the impression that the world before the First World War was utterly different from the world that followed that conflict. It was a different culture, a different landscape. Russia, the largest country on earth, was under Bolshevik rule. Clothes were entirely different. Motor vehicles and aeroplanes were no longer experimental toys for the rich, but became part of everyday life.
So Joyce was remembering a vanished past when he wrote Ulysses, and as I read it, I was trying to imagine it in its setting, the Edwardian clothes and attitudes, and all that went with them. Joyce experimented with new techniques of writing, new ways of describing things. In that his novel marks a break with the past, but one can admire his technical artistry without really appreciating it. For a "modern" novel I prefer Sartre's Nausea. At least it is set in modern times. OK, 1904 isn't exactly premodern, but still. ...more