Monday, April 20, 2009

Eating with the Victorians

I love stores like Daedalus and (the apparently departed) Atlantic Books which specialize in remaindered books.  I enjoy wandering through the warehouse or catalog and buying almost at random any book which looks like it might possibly be interesting.  At best, I'll find a fascinating book at a discount; at worst, I'll not feel like I wasted too much money if the book doesn't live up to its description.

I found Eating with the Victorians in the Daedalus catalog and what I didn't realize was that it's a collection of academic papers on the topic rather than a unified work.  I enjoyed it, but the chapters overlapped a bit.  For example, almost every chapter discussed how the main meal of the day migrated from late morning in medieval times through midday and into the evening, or how the light, social Afternoon Tea differs from the hearty working-class supper of High Tea.  The essays on formal dining and the china, silver, and servants required for different forms of service felt dry, probably because I'd read most of the same information in more general histories of the era.  Eating with the Victorians falls into an odd category - the disposable academic book.  While I enjoyed it and learned a few bits of trivia, ultimately it reminds me of the required reading for the history courses I took because they looked interesting and started after 10 am.  

Sunday, April 5, 2009


I'm not sure how I feel about Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination.  It was well written, and I'm interested in English history and culture, but it left me cold.  Maybe it was because I don't have the requisite foundation, and a British reader would be as disconnected from an American version because she hadn't read Paul Bunyan in 4th grade.  I think Peter Ackroyd's writing style and the structure of the book factor in as well.  The book seemed a bit dry and choppy, like the syllabus of a survey course for students who knew 90% of the material but have forgotten about half.