Feeds:
Posts
Comments

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Library Loot

A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian – I’ve loved this wartime coming-of-age story since I first read it as a twelve year old but my copy is somewhere deep in storage so I’m reliant on the inter-library loan system to read in right now.  A little bit of patience is required but it’s always rewarded.

Adair of Starlight Peaks by Essie Summers – I am so enjoying tracking down Essie Summers’ light romances.  The stories themselves are pleasantly predictable but the settings – in New Zealand – are so lovingly detailed that they are the biggest draw.

Animal, Vegetable, Junk by Mark Bittman – I’ve been looking forward to this look at human’s relationships with food.

Black Earth City by Charlotte Hobson – a beautifully-written memoir of the year Hobson spent studying abroad in Russia in the early 1990s.

African Europeans by Olivette Otele – The “untold history” of African Europeans (not just Pushkin!), you may have heard this mentioned back in May on Backlisted.

Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford – you’ve read her novels, you’ve read her letters, but have you read Nancy Mitford’s biographies?  I read her Frederick the Great late last year and it was a complete anecdote-filled joy so I’m looking forward to this.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Library Loot

What did you pick up this week?

credit: Pierce and Ward

So many promising things in this room…and then they decided to colour-block the bookshelves.

Late last year, I picked up The Habsburgs by Martyn Rady, found it entirely absorbing and enjoyable, and then said absolutely nothing about it.  But the delight I had reading it hasn’t faded so, more than eight months after finishing it, let me enthuse about it (and give thanks that I took such detailed notes while reading).

Rady has a written a wonderful, accessible introduction to an unwieldy dynasty.  Covering almost a thousand years, he follows the Habsburgs from their roots in Switzerland through to the collapse of the by-then Vienna-based empire in 1918, racing through the centuries with colourful anecdotes and his own strong opinions. 

My grandfather was born in Austria-Hungary under its final ruler.  My grandmother, a few years later in the same region, was born into a democracy that her father and his friends had dreamed and worked towards for years.  To say that family attitudes towards the empire were – and are – complicated is an understatement.  It’s a common story for many Central and Eastern European countries.  Repression allowed for tolerance, peace was bought with violence, power was rewarded with a strange, resentful type of love.  The empire tempered tensions between nations and ethnic groups but left them simmering.  Whatever loyalty there was to Vienna did not extend to the other peoples of the empire, which led to a rather messy last century.

But the story begins long before the glory days of the Habsburg Empire – before they led the Holy Roman Empire, before they ruled Spain and had rich territories spanning the globe, before Maria Theresia wielded enlightened absolutism and used her children as pawns for dynastic marriages.  It begins modestly in Switzerland, with a noble family consolidating and expanding its power and getting some very lucky breaks along the way.  As we pass through each generation, Rady does an excellent job contextualizing their achievements and advancements in relation to others.  The key to success – especially in the early years – seems to be staying alive.  Much easier to consolidate power when rival families simply peter out.

Predictably, things are most exciting once the Habsburgs reach the heights of their extraordinary power.  Rady details their foibles (many) but also their contributions: how their patronage contributed to great advancements in scientific knowledge and in the creation of timeless art. 

Eras of excess also make for the best anecdotes.  There was something ridiculously noteworthy in most chapters (the Habsburg reputation for madness while simplistic is definitely not unfounded – there are some true wackos in that family tree) but I especially enjoyed a few that had nothing to do with the family itself.  For instance, to highlight the waning power of the Catholic church during the 16th Century, Rady shares this gem:

…in the Tyrol discipline collapsed, with the nuns of Sonnenburg drinking and dining in the local taverns and riding out at night to the homes of noblemen.  Even so, the Sonnenburg convent was rated by visiting clergy at the time as ‘not as bad as others’.

And even amidst the other excesses of the 17th Century, the appearance during “the largest cavalry charge in history” of these Poles during the Battle for Vienna must have struck the opposing Ottomans as unnecessarily dramatic:

At the head of eighteen-thousand horsemen rode [King John] Sobieski’s Polish lancers, from whose armour projected wings made of eagle and ostrich feathers that keened in the wind.

What an entrance that must have been!

Rady is unintimidated by his subjects and is free with his criticisms, especially by the time we reach the 19th century.  I’m not convinced they are always fair but they are undoubtedly well-researched and well articulated.  Even when I don’t agree with Rady, I’m intrigued by his opinions and the way he positions things.  But I feel slightly less generous when I consider that this might be the only book that some people read about the Habsburgs.  Rady is particularly harsh towards Franz Josef, with his love of bureaucracy of protocol, and unforgiving of him for losing Lombardy, Venice and the German Confederation in less than 20 years.  This is one point where I would have appreciated Rady contextualizing more as the nationalist sentiment among Germans and Italians at this time surely was a stronger force than a young ruler’s inexperience. 

For all the criticisms of the Habsburgs, for all the resentments of their rule and complexities of their empire, Rady’s conclusion, as he considers the last century without them, is one I cannot argue with:

Over more than nine centuries the Habsburgs produced simpletons and visionaries, dabblers in magic and freemasonry, fanatics in religion, rulers committed to the welfare of their peoples, patrons of art and champions of science, and builders of great palaces and churches.  Some Habsburgs were dedicated to peace, while others embarked upon fruitless wars.  Even so, as the politics of Central Europe continues to sour, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that…a Habsburg would have done no worse.

credit: Stamps and Stamps (via their Instagram)

No better way to use a hallway or a stairwell than as an opportunity for more bookshelves!

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Library Loot

Café Europa Revisited by Slavenka Drakulić – more than thirty years after the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, Drakulić looks at how countries and people have – or haven’t – changed.

The Way of the Gardener by Lyndon Penner – a unique look at the Camino de Santiago from a gardener’s perspective.

Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian – I was in the mood to reread Magorian’s A Little Love Song for the gazillionth time but as this requires a) a complicated search through my books in storage or b) wait for an interlibrary loan, I decided to try this new to me novel about a working-class boy determined to have a career in theatre set following the end of WWII.

Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt – so looking forward to this book about the benefits of lifelong learning.

The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans – continuing my reading/rereading this year of many of Evans’ books.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty – SO many UK-based bloggers, newspapers and podcasts raved about this last year and finally I can read it for myself!

What did you pick up this week?

credit unknown

I’m back to work after taking some time off for health and – more happily – vacation and back to wishing I had a purpose-built home office. Perhaps wisely, my bookshelves are behind me so I can’t stare at them all day but I really love these floating shelves and I adore the little reading day bed.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

It has been insanely hot here recently so the only thing my brain is capable of is very, very light reading. All of my super-light summer reading holds came through at once so I’m well equipped for this:

Library Loot

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I’m taking a little break from work to try and sort out some health issues but, annoyingly, somehow removing work from my schedule hasn’t equated to more reading time.  More appointments – yes.  More worrying – yes.  More time to focus intently on a book and escape for a few hours – no.  My concentration is really suffering through this so it’s mostly light reading for me.  Luckily, I have plenty available:

Library Loot

What did you pick up this week?

via @forestbound on Instagram