Sunday, February 27, 2011

History: It's All In The Past

In the last few weeks I have been on a huge non fiction bent. Tallboy and I have been reading A History of The World In 100 Objects (Neil MacGregor) together for several weeks now, and we reached object 100 last night. It was so informative and incredibly easily digestible. The range of objects discussed includes Japanese pottery, Mayan figurines, early scripts and examples of money. Each chapter is complete in itself, and many of them grapple (and succeed) to explain big leaps in the development of humankind; through the objects in question. It was fascinating.

Apart from this slow and steady bedtime read, I set aside much of my time last week to read a dear friend's Doctoral thesis. It was an interesting process for me; the intensely close reading that was required (in order to catch the odd typo) made it a rather challenging read. I didn't initially appreciate how much longer it would take me than something I would read purely for enjoyment. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The content itself was interesting, and I loved reading well constructed and beautifully flowing sentences that were written by someone I know!

I bookended my reading of the thesis with The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury. I have had my eye on this book for a while (it was released some time before Christmas) because I love chocolate, and I also love Deborah Cadbury's writing. She's able to pull the quirky, meaty wheat from the chaff of historical detail while making it all sound as though she's having a chat with you over a cup of tea.

Cadbury is indeed descended from the Cadbury chocolate makers and either because of the family ties or because they just happened to be more interesting, the Cadbury empire is at the heart of this book, with smaller amounts on the other chocolate behemoths such as Hershey, Mars and Nestle. It's hard to tell if there is a family bias at play or not. Much of the book focuses on the Quaker ideals of the Cadbury family and of other Quaker chocolate families (such as Fry and Rowntree). These companies all began by manufacturing and selling cocoa as a wholesome alternative to alcohol. Cadbury writes about "Quaker capitalism" and the charity and socially inclusive visions of the Cadburys, which lead to several grand initiatives including a garden village for the factory workers.

The book is chock (haha) full of much more than recipe development and marketing wars which is precisely what makes it such a great read. Cadbury uses the model of her forebears to gently critique capitalism today, and the premise of companies that think only of short term financial gain. I will add to my recommendation that of a cantankerous, notoriously difficult to please regular customer at our shop with exceedingly high standards for quality reading material: She reported yesterday that she is enjoying it!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tried, But Failed

My recent reading experiences seem to be all about Not Finishing. I am OK with that. I started reading Let The Great World Spin by Colm McCann. I could tell after reading about a tenth of it that it was beautifully written and excrutiatingly sad. I decided that I had read enough to get the experience I needed from it. I don't want to sound flightly, but I just couldn't deal with another sad book, even if the payoff was a beautifully written story.

I also gave up on the first Kate Morton (The Shifting Fog) after quite a solid attempt of about 130 pages. It pleases me to know that her writing has improved with leaps and bounds in each of her books, but that doesn't mean I want to suffer through attempt number one. It irritated the hell out of me, I think because there was a LOT of first person narrative and it was bad and unconvincing and trite.

The Nancy Mitford I mentioned in my last post, Don't Tell Alfred was all I hope it would be; a confection of a book. Reading it was like drinking a beautifully fragrant cup of tea. Mitford's writing reminds me of my Grandmother which adds to my enjoyment. I don't have a single negative thing to say about this book so I'll stop now to prevent gushing of embarrassing proportions.