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Bromley House Library

After finishing The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, I idly typed into my search engine of choice, ‘secret library Nottingham’ and was surprised by actually finding one. Bromley House Library is smack bang in the centre of town, its unassuming doorway sandwiched between a charity shop and a newsagent.  It was very much like finding the Book Cemetery in Barcelona á la The Shadow of the Wind.

Arriving for my tour – which can be taken every Wednesday at 2:30pm for the excellent price of £2 – this is the scene that first greets the visitor, from there I knew it was going to be a book lovers dream to wander around in.  I later found out that that staircase is only supported at top and bottom so only one person can ascend or descend at a time.

This magnificent old building, built in 1752 has held the library since 1822, the library was in fact established earlier, in 1816 and has now amassed around 40,000 books, including local author (with a truly awesome last name) Alan Sillitoe’s own personal library (not pictured to due to my shaky hands phone camera work that rendered most of my photos a shocking mess) and the oldest book is Dante’s Opera held, dating from 1578.

Due to Bromley House being a grade II listed building, a lot of original features are still to be seen dotted around the place which makes the feeling of history and the real library reading experience feel more real.  I fell in love with this place as soon as I entered and wandering around the building I saw so much, more of which in an upcoming post.

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Posted by on 15/08/2017 in Architecture, Classics, History, Travel

 

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The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

The Secret Library is a fascinating tour through the curious history of Western civilisation told through its most emblematic invention – the book.

As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.

You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.

Books about books are great, they reaffirm our love for the medium and encourage us to go out and buy more, not to mention the exciting finds of obscure literature that can be shared and kept alive by intrepid reading adventurers.

What drew me to the book originally was the cover. Who can resist looking at a cover that has a bit cut out of it?  Stripping off the cloak, rows and rows of books are seen, as through the key hole.  It’s a nice touch and puts the reader in mind of being close to discovering lots of new books, always a good feeling.

This history of sorts is broken down into eras of Western civilisation and the chronological order is as follows: The Classical Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Romanticism, The Victorians, The Americans, On the Continent, The Modern World.  There is a lot to be enjoyed in each age but it would have been fun to have read about the other continents, but then that was not the remit of the book so hopefully a future book of the sort could grace the shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/07/2017 in Essays, History

 

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Word To Your Mother (tongue)

Sumerian inscriptions circa 26th century BC

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The Language history of the world shows more of the true impacts of past movements and changes of peoples, beyond the heraldic claims of their largely self-appointed leaders.  They reveal a subtle interweave of cultural relations with power politics and economic expediency.

There’s a short glimpse into the book I am currently reading, Empires of the Word:  A Language History of the World, and as you are no doubt wondering, yes it is absolutely fascinating. Thanks to language and the written word we have civilisation, cheap copies of the greatest and most defining texts that have been produced through the human experience and the combined weight of a shared history.  Sadly we also got The Da Vinci Code but it’s a small price to pay.

Now here’s a great bit of music (with lyrics, thereby making it relevant to this post) and a brilliant video to boot.  Also a new episode of Twin Peaks tonight and apologies for the obscure Vanilla Ice lyric title.

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Posted by on 26/06/2017 in History, Languages

 

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Philippine Back A Few Days Now

I am finally back with a tan, photos, great and sometimes – mostly – unexpected experiences, and a whole lot of things to say about my escapades. Whilst I get all the photos and notes sorted for that, not to mention my sleeping pattern and such, I can, to keep up this spirit of the blog’s original intention introduce you to the books I procured whilst over there in the sun.  Also a quick thanks to Dreaming Robot Press who this morning offered me a review future copy of The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide 2018.

First a note on the bookshops, I only visited three surprisingly, one had pretty steep prices for second-hand books but seemed more reasonable for new books oddly; a chain called National Book Store, which was one of those shops that has more gift ideas than books.  It’s always a sad state of affairs seeing the books diminish and the choice was lacking in my opinion, unless you are a fan of bestsellers that is.  My taste for obscure gems I so love to find was reserved for Fully Booked which had the best selection and a sexy set of Penguin Classics that had me caressing the spines with a one track mind.

To the books though and there seems little point in going to a country if you aren’t going to immerse yourself in its past, especially one which isn’t so popular on Western shelves.  Having chosen to start reading José Rizal’s incendiary classic, Noli Me tángere (Touch Me Not) for the journey (of which a review is coming soon),  I nevertheless picked up some books which will give me some insight into this fascinating country, which I can’t wait to visit again. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 16/05/2017 in Lists/Ephemera, The Philippines, Travel

 

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Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/04/2017 in Fiction, Philosophy

 

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Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men – Elliot Liebow

thecornerThe first edition of Tally’s Corner, a sociological classic selling more than one million copies, was the first compelling response to the culture of poverty thesis-that the poor are different and, according to conservatives, morally inferior-and alternative explanations that many African-Americans are caught in a tangle of pathology owing to the absence of black men in families. The debate has raged up to the present day. Yet Liebow’s shadow theory of values-especially the values of poor, urban, black men-remains the single most parsimonious account of the reasons why the behavior of the poor appears to be at odds with the values of the American mainstream.

While Elliot Liebow’s vivid narrative of “street-corner” black men remains unchanged, the new introductions to this long-awaited revised edition bring the book up to date. Wilson and Lemert describe the debates since 1965 and situate Liebow’s classic text in respect to current theories of urban poverty and race. They account for what Liebow might have seen had he studied the street corner today after welfare has been virtually ended and the drug economy had taken its toll. They also take stock of how the new global economy is a source of added strain on the urban poor. Discussion of field methods since the 1960s rounds out the book’s new coverage.

I first became aware of this book through reading the excellent The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood; which would eventually form the bedrock of so many storylines in The Wire.  In many ways that book is the perfect follow-up to Tally’s Corner, which in itself is a dynamic study of relationships in poorer neighbourhoods and their place in wider society.

This seminal work focuses on a cross-section of a Washington DC street corner society (poor African-American men who work only intermittently if at all) and the local environs.  It gives the reader a glimpse into a different world, where the choices both men and women make have come about through the struggle against poverty through generations. It’s a world where different rules apply exclusively to them no matter how absurd some will appear to outsiders.

It is thus, a book that rewards reading and learning not so much with pleasure as with the painful recognition that American race troubles remain so stubbornly at the center of social and economic life.

The above quote underlines the lack of understanding still prevailing all these years on, or perhaps the lack of interest in solving the problems that affect us all in some way.  Focussing on the men – who pass mostly under the radar – and their relationships – both work and family – the reader is given an intimate portrait into the life of the time. The cast is fairly sizeable and diverse and all the stories are equally fascinating of challenging in different ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2017 in Sociology

 

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Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

chernobylprayerThere is no blurb for this one, partly because this copy didn’t come with one – just excerpts from newspaper reviews – and partly because it needs no blurb.  The book speaks for itself and with Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature award, it means it will thankfully never be forgotten.

After a short historical background on the explosion of reactor no. 4 (whose radioactive particles reached as far as China and Africa), the reader is introduced to A lone human voice. This  truly shocking and saddening account sets the scene for this outstanding and powerful chronicle of eyewitness recollections  from those that were involved with the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Often forgotten in the face of overwhelming statistics are the real human lives who have suffered, those forgotten get a voice here.  The cost is not just in lives lost but dreams and hopes shattered, health ruined and families torn apart.  This book focuses on the Belarusians who bore the brunt of the disaster and of those who helped try to contain it and the risks they took.

The beauty of this series of monologues is that Alexievich didn’t ask questions, instead she did the one thing that the people had been wanting for years, she listened. Apart from an essay of her own the author merely adds only the briefest additions to the text such as ‘he looks pensive’, ‘she cries’ and so on.

This allows the people to talk about whatever they need to and follow the direction of their thoughts and there is a surprising amount of philosophical views that come out.  Especially as many still don’t accept the subtle devastation that hit their lands and destroyed them,  who were then shunned by an uneducated public.  What shines through is that they loved their land and animals, most of those living there knew little else and the passion for their lost place is ever present.
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Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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