The six wives of Henry VIII, by David Loades

8154500The story of Henry VIII and his six wives has passed from history into legend – taught in the cradle as a cautionary tale and remembered in adulthood as an object lesson in the dangers of marrying into royalty. The true story behind the legend, however, remains obscure to most people, whose knowledge of the affair begins and ends with the aide memoire ‘Divorced, executed, died, divorced, executed, survived’ (from Goodreads)

I’ve never had a particular interest towards the English monarchy (I have friends that are more interested in the subject, and I can always go ask them when in doubt) and I always found it rather confusing (too many people with the same names?) and I mostly had some notion of it regarding its relations with other monarchies, such as the French or Spanish ones. However, it was hard to elude Henry’s “myth”, and I had a very superficial knowledge of him and his wives.
I don’t think this book would be of much interest, or contribute great insight to people who already has some knowledge in the matter, but for a newcomer as myself, it was a good introductory work. Seems to be very well documented, and tries to separate rumor and tall tales from documented facts, which is nice. I like particularly how each one of his choices of wife related to both the internal and international affairs, despite of his own capricious behaviour, always present

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A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century, by John Brewer

20798428One April evening in 1779, Martha Ray, the pretty mistress of a famous aristocrat, was shot dead at point-blank range by a young clergyman who then attempted to take his own life. Instead he was arrested, tried and hanged. In this fascinating new book, John Brewer, a leading historian of eighteenth-century England, asks what this peculiar little story was all about. Then as now, crimes of passion were not uncommon, and the story had the hallmarks of a great scandal–yet fiction and fact mingled confusingly in all the accounts, and the case was hardly deemed appropriate material for real history. (from Goodreads)

I had zero expectations with this book, since I mostly bought it because I liked the picture in the cover  and because it was super cheap. I barely read the dust jacket synopsis, so I wasn’t even sure if it was either a fiction or non-fiction book. Impulsive purchase at its finest. So it was a very pleasant surprise to realise that I was actually liking it very much and that it was right up my alley.

Parting from the murder of Martha Ray, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, by James Hackman, Brewer introduces us to these protagonists, their place in London’s Georgian society and how  the murder and their role in the event were interpreted by their contemporaries and during the subsequent centuries.

I liked the way the author sets every account made of these events in their cultural context, expliciting why certain interpretations and treatments of them and their protagonists were favored at certain times, how and why some manufactured letters became little less than “historical documents”, influencing later accounts of this story and how the concept that history has of itself varies through time and affects other literary and pseudo-historical genres.

It also made me reflect in the way our culture and moral values as a society permeate our own interpretations of events in our own time and how we see and judge past times, and how we should approach said times to try to get a closer comprehension to the way those events were perceived contemporarily.

I found this article by the author that more or less sums up the events of the murder and hints some of the things that he expands in the book, in case I got you interested in the book and/or subject.

Historia de la destrucción de una provincia: Tucumán, 1966, by Roberto Pucci

40787334Since the year began, I’ve been spending some time at libraries, researching for the graduation project I think I’ve mentioned before. So, I read this book at the National Library, for that purpose. It wasn’t my intention, at first, to read it in its entirety, as it covers some years that exceed the timeline of my project, but I ended up finishing it, and still getting good bits of information from those other years.

As the title bluntly says, the book exposes the damage that was done to the province of Tucumán, beginning in 1966 with Onganías’s dictatorship. Despite determining this starting point, the author describes the previous history of mishandling of Tucumán’s affairs by central government that ruled by their own interests, dismissing Tucumán’s own. As if Tucumán’s main industry and economical force, the sugar cane industry, was a curse, a disease for the national interests that must be vanquished.

For many years, and particularly during Onganía’s rule, the province was under the government’s intervention, meaning that the people weren’t able to vote for their own governor and an inspector (the “interventor”), chosen by the central power, was set in place. One of the things that interested me about this is that, as the author explained, these man arrived to the province “brainwashed” to do exactly what the national government said, and, with those predicaments, solve and fix “the Tucumán problem”. All the inspectors began working like this but, at some point, they realized that things were not only not working but that Tucumán’s situation was worsening. This is what the authors calls the “tucumanization” of the inspectors, when they address the central power about this contradiction and either keep asking for more help or suggesting or demanding a change of politics. After this, they were almost immediately replaced by another inspector and the cycle began again.

And this is just a little bit about the terrible things done to Tucumán described in this book. These were also the reasons why the group of artists I read about in Del Di Tella a “Tucumán Arde” decided to expose this situation. And is the subject of my graduation project.

The red notebook, by Paul Auster

50621The Red Notebook stories, pulled from Auster’s own life or from the lives of those close to him, are explorations of unexpected coincidences. A wrong number becomes the genesis for a famous novel; a hero appears at an inopportune moment; a lightning storm harries a group of campers; a daughter plunges from a terrifying height only to land improbably safely; a Paul Auster imposter materializes. Like a magic show, The Red Notebook demonstrates that “there is much to life that is special and serendipitous — if only we allow ourselves to perceive it this way” (The Washington Post) (from Goodreads)

I feel I’m repeating myself, but, again, this is a case of “This was my first time reading something by _______”. I guess that happens a lot when you just grab a book from a pile without giving it much thought…

The book is divided in various sections. The first one, The red notebook, is a series of anecdotes. As common subject, they are all stories of coincidences that happened to the author or were told to him by other people. He ends the last story saying “This really happened. Like everything else I have set down in this red notebook, it is a true story”, which immediately made me think “No way”. This first part was highly entertaining, though, as he writes about very mundane and little bits of everyday life and makes it absolutely compelling.

The next section compiles three prefaces he wrote, one for an anthology of French poets, one for a compilation of writings by Mallarmé and another for an edition of Philippe Petit’s writings. These three books were works in which he worked as, I guess, editor, in one case making the anthology of French poets, in the other two, translating Mallarmé and Petit. I really liked this section, although the one for the anthology became quite dense, at times, for an illiterate to poetry like myself, because he more or less made a summary of 100 years of French poets.

The next section reproduce three interviews he gave, in which he talks about his works, his writing process, etc. This would be very useful if I had read some of his work before. Anyway, still interesting. In one of these interviews I read something that made me rethink my first opinion about the coincidences chapter, which was nice (I still am a bit skeptical, though). At this point things begin to be a bit repetitive, because at times the interviews asked similar questions, so we read the same answers over and over again. At least, he’s consistent along the book.

Then comes a little article called A prayer for Salman Rushdie (or something like that) and then more anecdotes and coincidences, some of which were already mentioned in the interview section.

All in all, it was a nice book for me. I do like reading anecdotes, particularly when they’re so prettily written.

Bellum Catilinae, by Sallustius Crispus

40388058In this book, Sallust (86-35/34 B.C.) recounts the dramatic events of 63 B.C., when a disgruntled and impoverished nobleman, L. Sergius Catilina, turned to armed revolution after two electoral defeats. Among his followers were a group of heavily indebted young aristocrats, the Roman poor, and a military force in the north of Italy. Sallust skillfully captures the drama of the times, including an early morning attempt to assassinate the consul Cicero and two emotionally charged speeches, by Julius Caesar and Cato the Younger, in a senatorial debate over the fate of the arrested conspirators. Sallust wrote while the Roman Republic was being transformed into an empire during the turbulent first century B.C. (from Goodreads)

My main interest of reading this was the fact that it was written over 2000 years ago, by someone who was alive during the events. To me that’s just mind-blowing. It’s so hard to relate to things that happened, let’s say, two or three decades before of our time, to have a mere grasp of what it was our own parents’ reality when they were growing up, that being able to read words from, for and about people that existed so long ago, is really hard for me to wrap my mind around it. I had a similar feeling the day I was standing in front (and then walking inside) of the Colosseum.

And to make things a bit more… weird?, the content was so relatable! The debates in the Senatum highly reminded me (quite obviously, and despite the differences) the ones that, for once in my lifetime, I’ve been, more or less, following in our Congress over the last few months. And the whole conspiracy plot is easily comparable to any current political drama in your prefered streaming service.

What I’m trying to express is, I guess, that despite the two milleniums that separates us from them, little has change in the human condition. I’m not trying to re-discover America here, it’s just that, for once, I’m aware.

Letters to Milena, by Franz Kafka

39719998In no other work does Kafka reveal himself as in the Letters to Milena, which begin essentially as a business correspondence but soon develop into a passionate “letter love.” Milena Jesenská was a gifted and charismatic woman of twenty-three. Kafka’s Czech translator, she was uniquely able to recognize his complex genius and his even more complex character. For the thirty-six-year-old Kafka, she was “a living fire, such as I have never seen.” It was to her that he revealed his most intimate self. It was to her that, after the end of the affair, he entrusted the safekeeping of his diaries. (from Goodreads)

In my crusade to be a better letter writer (?) and because I like reading other people’s letters and diaries (this more likely), I was eager to read this book, which came in a large batch of books given away by a friend of mine. Just to clarify, I haven’t read much of Kafka, other than The Metamorphosis and A report for an Academy, so I had no particular interest in his work and/or biography. I just like reading letters, ok? (why so defensive, though?)

There was an introduction, giving a little of context to this correspondence, and explaining that the letters were “edited” for privacy matters of other parties and whatnot (I believe that later editions of these letters (mine is from 1974) are unedited). You know how I feel about that. I can’t help but wonder What. Am I. Missing?

AND, also, my edition wasn’t translated from the original language, but from a previous English translation. I’m sure both translators did their best job etc etc, but I always get suspicious of accuracy in second hand translations. Sorry about that, translators, I can’t help it. (I have the same feelings when I watch a movie/tv show in a language I don’t manage. I know for a fact how shitty subtitles could be when I’m watching something spoken in English, but I can’t double check when I’m watching something in, like, German or Dutch or Japanese or whatever)

Should one have an opinion about other people’s letters? This was not an epistolary novel, which, one hopes, was written with a literary intention, but and individual correspondence, which could help to understand more about his psyche and his view of the world, and could, perhaps, be of more interest to those who study his life and work.

If anything, this book left me more intrigued about Milena that about Kafka, mostly because we never get to read Milena’s answers. The amount of letters sent, almost daily, for a not so long period of time, make me, on one hand, jealous of the post service between Austria and Czechoslovakia at that time. On the other hand, left me worried about Kafka’s (unhealthy?) obsession with Milena. I do wonder if she replied as often and in such an intense manner as he did.

Medieval people, by Eileen Powell

35840584Medieval People is an account of the lives of six individuals who lived during the Middle Ages: a Frankish peasant; Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler; Madame Eglentyne, prioress of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; a middle-class Parisian housewife; two English merchants, one engaged in the wool trade and the other an Essex clothier. The author has illustrated various aspects of social life of the era by drawing on such sources as account books, diaries, letters, records, and wills. (from Goodreads)

I’m pretty sure I said this before, but just in case: I’m a sucker for the middle ages. For reasons unknown. Or, maybe, for reasons I’m too lazy to try to explain in a language that’s not my own. Let’s move on.

The original text is from the 1920s, and it a very pleasant and amiable reading. It takes several characters from history or literature to build a “prototype” and explains through that character a generalization of their trade, social class and lifestyle, building an entire story from (sometimes scattered) data taken from the aforementioned sources.

I read chapters from this book as early as my first year of college, second semester (oh, so young!). Since that very particular semester, and thanks to this and other texts from that same class, I felt deeply for it and the middle ages and I have been in a very happy ten year long relationship with it (?). So I was very happy to find this book last year in a second-hand bookstore, and finally read it in its entirety.