Sunday Sum-Up: January 30, 2022

It’s been another dry week around here. The National Weather Service predicted zero precipitation, and that was what we got. Except on Thursday evening, when the sky clouded over and it suddenly started snowing. It didn’t last long, and it didn’t collect. Really all it did was get the ground wet, but after three weeks without precipitation, even that little bit was nice.

As I drove home, after the snow ended, and while the roads were still glistening, the city lights– white, blue, green, yellow, red– were reflected in the streets, and it made an average intersection in my ordinary hometown look extraordinary. It only takes a small shift in perspective to bring an extra touch of beauty into life. I always enjoy looking for it.

And speaking of beauty, I got out of work late last night and almost missed the sunset. Fortunately, the clouds were in just the right place, and the evening’s last light hung in the sky longer than I anticipated, so I made it to the park and onto the ice just in time to catch a few shots of a remarkable sunset.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

This kid naps with the best of them

I have never had a cat that liked to snuggle very much. Not the cat my family had when I was a child, and not the two I have had as an adult. Snuggly cats are very much lacking in my life. But over the past week or so, in the morning when I am wearing my fuzzy blue bathrobe over my pajamas (on account of it being cold), I will pick Mina up, and she will knead my arm through my sleeve. ‘Making biscuits’, as cat people like to say.

I’ve taken it a step farther and laid down with her on the couch, where she will happily snuggle with me (as long as I have the fuzzy blue bathrobe on), for a few minutes before she decides that there are windows that need to be sat in, because the neighborhood isn’t going to watch itself.

Given that we have gone from thirty seconds of snuggles to a whole three minutes, I am happy to take this ten-fold increase.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

In Sacrilege, the philosopher and scientist Giordano Bruno is drawn to Canterbury by an old acquaintance who fled there after being accused of murder. Upon his arrival, Bruno finds that there is more to the murder than anyone suspects, for conspiracy thrives almost everywhere in England, and though one plot has been stopped, there are others who would happily overthrow Queen Elizabeth to put her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. When a second body is discovered, Bruno must act quickly to find the culprit and uncover a conspiracy, for Canterbury is a town full of secrets, and an outsider like him will find no friends. Sacrilege is my favorite of the Giordano Bruno novels so far, as I couldn’t predict the twists and turns and I had no idea who the culprit was until Bruno figured it out himself. While I missed the setting of Elizabethan London that we saw in the previous novel, the small town setting proved to be a bigger problem for Bruno than the city did. It was interesting to see how Bruno managed without any of his usual friends or resources. I’m disappointed that my library doesn’t have the final three books on audio, as John Lee is a great narrator who does a fantastic job with all the different accents. I’ll just have to rely on the available ebooks to read the rest of the series.

I finally got through The Forgotten Kingdom! It’s as beautifully written as the first book in the trilogy, The Lost Queen, but it’s a bleaker book and follows three points of view, not just one. The story jumps around in time as it follows the three characters while they deal with the fallout from the shifting alliances of war. Langoureth’s husband’s family have made war on Langoureth’s childhood friends and family, and it threatens to tear her marriage apart. But while her husband is away, she decides she will take power in whatever way that she can, for her enemies will not get the upper hand any longer. This trilogy is an Arthurian retelling based on some of the oldest Arthurian stories (and stories that led to the early Arthurian legends) from Wales and southern Scotland. It’s interesting to see the familiar characters in different roles, as it means that you know generally how the story will go, but it’s different enough from what you’re accustomed to that you don’t know how the characters will grow into the legends they will become. I’m looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, which will hopefully come out later this year.

The Anglo-Saxons provides an overview of Anglo-Saxon history and culture, beginning with the departure of Rome in the late fourth century and the Anglo-Saxon migrations beginning in the late fifth century right up to the death of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Anglo-Saxons were conquered by William the Bastard of Normandy. I was already familiar with these stories thanks to The British History Podcast, but it’s not a bad idea to get a refresher now and then, and I like having a different perspective on the historical record. Marc Morris and Jamie Jeffers’ stories generally agree, but sometimes they draw different conclusions from the available historical narratives. If you’re interested in early Medieval history in the British Isles, The Anglo-Saxons is a great place to start.

African Europeans is another book that provides an overview of a history that has long been overlooked or ignored, as it deals with the experiences of Black people (whether from Africa or not) in Europe from the early modern period to now. Olivette Otélé is a history professor, and so has a firm grasp on the historical details of her chosen subject, though she often refers to essays and studies by other authors, most of whom I had never heard of. This didn’t help clarify things for me- at least in the sections dealing with earlier time periods. But once the narrative moved into the nineteenth- through twentieth centuries, it grew more and more compelling. It was fascinating to learn about Afroeuropean experiences in the past century or so, and to see how modern countries are dealing with (or not, or not acknowledging) racism and discrimination in their own societies. If you’re interested in European history, I would definitely recommend this book.

2022 is apparently the year when I will finish a bunch of the historical mystery series I’ve been very slowly working my way through, as I’m halfway through the Giordano Bruno books now, and I’ve finished the third of the Matthew Shardlake books, which are set in England as well, but a few decades earlier. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer working in the latter part of Henry VIII’s reign. He is smart and observant, but he has a hunched back, which makes him self-conscious (especially in an age when deformities are seen as a sign of God’s disfavor) and causes him pain if he doesn’t take care of himself. In this installment, Shardlake is sent to York to settle legal matters before the king arrives in the north on his long progress. Rumors abound of plots and pregnancies, and Shardlake stumbles into deep matters when he is the first on the scene of a murder. He is commanded to look into the matter, then just as quickly taken off the cast. But his curiosity and desire for proper justice won’t allow him to let things lie, and so he continues to investigate, and soon finds himself entangled in matters that could get him executed if he doesn’t step carefully. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (the third of a series seems to be my favorite), and while it did go a little longer than I thought it needed to at times, and while I guessed the culprit well before Shardlake did, I still enjoyed the mood and atmosphere, as Sansom nails the sense of time and place. I’ve already downloaded the next audiobook from the library, and hope to finish it this week.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I’m about halfway through Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, and so far, so meh. de Hamel has a hard time sticking to the manuscripts themselves, as he’s keen to talk about the monastery, museum, or library a book is located in, and he’s perfectly happy to whine about security measures or other conservation protocols that inconvenience him in the slightest. For example, he goes to New York to visit a museum and is baffled by the notion of washing his hands before handling precious documents (this is pre-Covid, and other places have him wear gloves, but still) and by the basic security procedures in place. I mean, these Medieval books are priceless. Of course, there should be security around them? Duh? Perhaps I’m just salty because it’s only when in the American locale that de Hamel complains. Also, he thinks the illustrations in the Book of Kells are ugly and uninspired because… they’re stylized. Like all Medieval art is. Needles to say, I don’t like the author and I prefer it when he focuses on the manuscript instead of talking about things like what he ate at a restaurant when he was in Copenhagen or complaining about simple conservation procedures in New York.

Revelation is the fourth book in the Matthew Shardlake series. I’m only 7% into it, but so far so good. Though he is unwilling to deal with politics thanks to the events of the third book, Shardlake is drawn into them again when his case involving a boy locked up in Bedlam after seeming to go insane and the murder of an old friend seem to be intertwined. The roots of it all lead Shardlake to the door of Lady Catherine Parr, the woman who has captured the aging King Henry VIII’s eye, though she has no interest in becoming another one of his queens.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I didn’t get to The Wolf and the Woodsman like I’d hoped I would last week, but I plan to start reading it later today. The Saga of the Volsungs was a Christmas gift I want to get to sooner rather than later, and as it’s been a while since I read any of the Icelandic sagas, I want to read it for that reason, too. I’m looking forward to reading the saga that inspired Wagner’s Nibelungenlied and also J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories.

7 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: January 30, 2022

  1. I am so glad you made it to the park in time for that sunset. Wow, it’s gorgeous! And I do like that bit of rock and either water or smooth ice up front. I’m disappointed to hear about Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, but I’ll still try it one of these days since it is on the shelf. And I recall being curious about The Wolf and the Woodsman when it came out so I look forward to your thoughts on it.

  2. I’m glad I made it in time, too! I didn’t think I would, since I didn’t get out of the building until just after sunset, but the light was bouncing off the clouds for about half an hour after the sun actually went down. The lake was still frozen over (surprisingly, given the warm weather we’ve had), so I was able to get much closer to that bit of rock. I really like what it and the ice added to the composition. I’m pretty frustrated with the manuscripts book. I got it because I thought it would be all about their making and history, and he so often wanders away from that to complain about security and whatnot. I’m planning to finish it, but it’s not a book I’ll keep.

  3. Beautiful sunset! Back when I had a cat, she’d have nothing to do with us during the day, but if I sat down on the couch to watch TV, she’d plant herself on my lap and just stay there for as long as I’d pet her. Weird but sweet… I do want to read the Shardlake books! I’ve had the first three sitting on my shelf for years now…

  4. I wish Mina would sit next to me and let me pet her for as long as I wanted to. But she’s too busy doing her own thing for that. Maybe when she’s a little older… The Shardlake books are great! It’s nice to see historical books that take place on the fringes of royal goings-on, rather than ending up smack in the middle of things. I’m about 30% of the way through book four, Revelation, and it’s great so far.

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