Join me on a tour of my book closet … erm … library. Every week – or other week, or whenever I remember to write one of these posts – we’ll take a look at another whack of books I may (or may not) have read.

Last time, we talked about the left side of this shelf:

library tour; home library; personal library
up here!

It’s about time I got around to the right side – and there are some good (non-fiction) books to explore there.

librayr tour; home library; personal library
right side

I call this my “high society” section. Belonging firmly to the hoi polloi, I love gossipy biographies of rich and/or aristocratic people. The gossipier, the better. (That’s hoi polloi speak for smutty, by the way.) In that regard, the first book on the left, Aristocrats (by Lawrence James, not to be confused with the book of the same title by Stella Tillyard) is a bit of a letdown. It’s pretty dry. And kind of superficial, in terms of the depth and comprehensiveness of its analysis. It’s a pretty high-level look at the British aristocracy as a whole, rather than any notable individuals or lineages. Honestly, it’s a bit boring.

Madness Under the Royal Palms takes us to a different continent, and specifically to the “royal” enclave of Palm Beach, playground of America’s richest folks, and home of plenty of interesting characters. I love books like this. It’s a sort of cross between The Great Gatsby and the works of Dominick Dunne. Privilege creates its own ecosystem, but there is always a dark underbelly hiding beneath the gilded facade – and this is the kind of book that likes to prod it. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure of a read, but well-written and researched at the same time.

In a similar vein, we have The Kennedy Women. Like Taylor Swift, I’m not immune to the allure of the Kennedy family. I’ve read plenty of books about the Kennedy men, but I actually find the women’s perspectives more intriguing – and they are vastly different perspectives at that. The book covers 5 generations, including the lives of Rose, Jackie, Ethel, Eunice, and Joan. It’s gossipy without being salacious, but generally pretty engrossing.

As much as I’m fascinated by the Kennedys, they don’t really hold a candle to the Mitfords. Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family is the story of one of Britain’s most notorious families, and its five famous, very different daughters. In a nutshell: Nancy was one of the best-selling novelists of her day; Diana was, in turn, one of England’s most admired socialites and then a social pariah; Jessica was a life-long Communist and social activist; Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire; and Unity Valkyrie, born in Swastika, Alaska, became an Hitler groupie. You couldn’t write a story like this … and it’s all true. This is one of my favourite non-fiction books.

The author of Sisters also wrote The Churchills: In Love and War, the history of one of England’s greatest families. Although, understandably, the book spends a lot of time on Winston’s life and career, it does take a close look at entire lineage going back to the first Duke of Malborough, a military genius (hero of Waterloo), and his no less interesting wife, Sarah Churchill (long-term confidante of Queen Anne). Other generations of the Churchill family were also peppered with fascinating personalities, like Jennie Jerome (Winston’s mother) and Consuelo Vanderbilt (Winston’s cousin’s wife). This is another well-researched, well-written, very fascinating book – well worth the time investment (fair warning, it’s long).

Lastly, we have Churchill, which … I haven’t read. But! I did recently watch a bit of the HBO movie The Gathering Storm, which was quite good. It had a strong supporting cast (which makes for a fun game of spot-the-famous-actor), featuring everyone from Lena Headey (Queen Cersei!) to Linus Roache (who will forever be, to me, the son of Ken Barlow from Coronation Street) to Tom Hiddleston. I am not a Hiddle-loonie or whatever, but I know what the internet likes, and I’m not above exploiting it for click-bait traffic. So:

hiddlestone dancing gif

Alright, guys, I promise: next time, we’ll talk fiction – finally. In the meantime, tell me: what are you reading?

13 Comments on The Reading Shelf

  1. I have the Aristrocrats book, and from what I remember, I share your concerns about it. I may have to have another look though. I think someone needs to write a book about some of the aristocratic families of England – I know you and I would read it! An interesting book that is in my pile of half-finished books that are too big to take to read on my commute is The Gentry: Stories of the English by Adam Nicolson. It’s a look at some of the gentry families in England – it goes through a family which is representative of that in each time period. It’s an interesting look at the layer down below the aristocracy.

    Otherwise, I’m not reading anything right now. I just quit reading Passion Play by Beth Bernobich. The cover and book summary were very misleading as to what the book was actually about. I don’t recommend it. But I did just get a book out of the library about what if Cinderella was an assassin! It’s called Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I’m intrigued – I hope it works out better than my last random choice. I’ll keep you posted.

    • Ooh, that Gentry books sounds interesting!

      I have to thank you again for recommending Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England – loved it! I just finishes his new Time Traveler’s Guide to the Middle Ages, and it’s also very good.

      • Glad you liked them! Make sure you check out his books on Roger Mortimer and Henry IV too – they are also good and these are figures I don’t know much about.

        There are some other good recommendations in the other comments – I will have lots to read over the holidays.

  2. Love your blog and outfits! Where do you get your books? Do you “thrift” them from discount bookstores? Wondering if you have any good sources to share.

    • I wish I did, but no. I used to buy a lot more from secondhand bookstores, but there are none near where I live now, sadly. I usually buy from the clearance table at Chapters/Indigo, or from Amazon. I will occasionally find books at thrift stores too.

      Other places to try would be garage sales, Kijiji/Craigslist, and public library sales. My local consignment stores has books as well, but they only take recent books (less than 5 years old), and usually of the Sophie Kinsella variety (not my thing, but YMMV of course).

      • Thanks for your response. Re “high society” reading, you may enjoy Philistines at the Hedgerow by Steven Gaines. It is an older book from 1998 (picked up at the used bookstore!) and offers a snapshot of characters prominent in the Hamptons social circles. It is quite “gossipy” 🙂

  3. A coworker with excellent/similar taste in books just loaned me something that she loved. Honestly, it would never have even been on my radar: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It’s historical fiction and not an author I’m familiar with. It was great, full of fascinating details and characters. I really enjoyed reading it because the author obviously did her homework on the subject matter, and made different time periods and places really “come alive” as I read. I also had some pretty spectacularly strange and vivid dreams on nights I read before bed, which is always fun.

    Before that, I was reading Noel Perrin. First Person Rural and the sequels are all great accounts of rural life and make me miss Vermont.

    I also recently reread “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It’s advice about writing, and life, and the author is hilarious and neurotic and wonderfully motivating. It’s a book that feels like a pep talk.

  4. I love these book post of yours! I always have my nose in a book (or five because I can’t resist), so now I’m going to have to check out The Sisters! Thanks for the recommendations.