I love “curating” my vacation reading list; it’s one of my favourite things about traveling. In Mexico, I had a fair bit of reading time, what with the kids’ naps and (relatively) early bedtimes. I ended up packing 3 books, which turned out to be at least 1 short of ideal. I ran out of reading material with about 2 days (and a plane ride) to go, but the luggage weight restrictions would have made it impossible for me to lug more stuff with me. This is where something like a Kindle would have come in handy, but I am hopelessly old-fashioned when it comes to books, so never mind.

Part of the reason why I made it through my chosen books quickly is that 2 of them were fast, snappy reads. Cover Her Face is one of the shorter PD James novels; the whodunit was ok, but I wasn’t really fond of any of the characters involved or the way in which the victim (a young, unwed mother) was portrayed, so I speed-read my way through the book to get to the reveal. In retrospect, I felt the murderer was really obvious. To sum up, not my favourite James mystery. The other mystery I brought along was Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood, another Phryne Fisher mystery. I enjoyed the theatre setting, which reminded me of some of my fave Ngaio Marsh novels. The ending was a bit weak, but it was still an enjoyable read overall. Another slim volume, however, which didn’t last me long.

My favourite book of the trip was, hands down, the biography of Queen Victoria by Julia Baird. It was informative and entertaining in equal measure, and my only quibble is that I wish it included more photographs of the royal family. I love historical photographs. After I finished the book, I was dying to read more about Victoria’s extended family so I spent some time surfing Wikipedia on my phone (thank goodness for fast, free WiFi). As soon as I got home, I dug out a couple of books from my library to re-read — Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard and Born To Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia Gelardi. I’ve also been scouring Amazon for more titles to round out my Victorian collection, but have been coming up short. I got a biography of Bertie (King Edward VII) coming my way, but if you guys have other recc’s, let me know.

Speaking of Victoria … the last episode of series 1 of the ITV/PBS show aired the day after I got back from Mexico and, to be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment. I mean, we all knew that Victoria was going to make it through (a) any assassination attempt, and (b) childbirth (she survived both a number of times), so there wasn’t any real tension going on. Nor was there any real development in the Victoria-Albert relationship, which is my current obsession. Having read the Victoria biography, there is SO much material to be mined in that relationship, and I feel like the show is only scratching the surface. Sigh. Anyway, as predicted, the Skerrett/Francatelli romance hit the skids and I will admit that I was a little bit sad about that. On to series 2, please!

[Fun fact: did you know that Victoria ordered that all men in the British army should grow mustachios because she loved the way Albert’s looked? Talk about queenly prerogative — though not without precedent. Peter the Great of Russia went around cutting off the traditional long beards of his (male) courtiers as part of a campaign to “westernize” his court.]

Moving on to things I read online, this Reddit thread discussing an article criticizing the minimalist movement was probably more thought-provoking than the article itself (which, as pointed out by commenters, missed the distinction between minimalism as a lifestyle versus minimalism as an aesthetic).

I also spent some time this week re-reading Anne Helen Petersen’s Classic Hollywood Scandals archives on Hairpin. If you’ve never read them before, do yourself a favour and savour her excellent writing and analysis.

Happy Friday!

9 Comments on What I Read: Vacation Edition

  1. I was also disappointed with the season finale of Victoria. The show is worth watching but I expected some sort of major drama on the finale. Just felt like they could have done better. The relationship between Victoria and Albert is complicated. We need to see more of the conflict resolution between them.

    • So agree! Their “perfect” marriage wasn’t quite as idyllic as portrayed by Victoria herself. They both had their virtues and their flaws, and the dynamic was complicated by so many other things (the social mores of the times, her position, etc.). I think this show veers more to the romantic drama side of things, so it simplifies a lot of the conflict (though I like that it doesn’t completely erase it) and avoids a “warts and all” portrayal of V&A. I would actually love to see a more realistic, less romanticized version — and one that followed the family (and some of its notable branches) into the 20th century. There is enough material there for a dozen seasons!

  2. Wasn’t there some weird dynamic between Victoria and Albert where he tried to control her temper by holding over her head the prospect that she might go insane like George III? I thought I remember reading that.

    I read that minimalism article when it came out. I’m not particularly a fan of the minimalist/Scandinavian aesthetic she’s taking about, mostly because I find it visually cold and sterile, but objecting to the idea of minimalism just seems silly. Yup, it sure is a privilege to be able to buy really nice things and replace them when they break. If that’s what replaces the environmental catastrophe of McMansions and unchecked consumerism in American society as a status symbol, though, all the better.

    Also, I thought the article displayed an unreflective attitude toward privilege. My education was a huge privilege, as is the fact that I get to discuss ideas with students all day. The logical response isn’t to shame me or my students but to change the conditions of society to allow everyone to share in that privilege. Ditto with minimalism, or at least the opportunity and means to afford quality goods. The problem isn’t that some people can afford to buy quality in a thoughtful way; it’s that so many people can’t.

    All of that said, I’m not on Instagram and don’t take people very seriously when they get upset by obviously curated, fake images on social media. It’s not real, everyone knows that and probably no one actually shows up at your house and judges you for having, I don’t know, five forks instead of six or a few old takeout containers that you use for lunch. So maybe I’m missing the force of the criticism. What interested you in the reddit thread?

    • I thought the discussion — of privilege, what minimalism means, how socio-economic class impacts that definition, whether minimalism has an ethical superiority, etc. — was interesting. Any discussion that references Terry Pratchett is a good one in my books 😉 I think the criticisms of the article itself were valid, and I wish the article itself had been better to begin with. I am sure there are more thoughtful critiques or analyses of minimalism out there, and I would love to read them. But the Reddit thread was a good start, all things considered.

      I struggle a lot with the idea of privilege, and so I am always interested in discussions around it because it helps me to better understand things — especially my own blind spots. I come from a society were socio-economic classes were purposefully eradicated (for 99% of the population, anyway) and where there wasn’t a lot of diversity, so I have always felt … like an outsider, I guess? … when things like economic/racial/gender privilege are discussed. So I try to learn, to expand my frame of reference, to hopefully better avoid knee-jerk reactions that are based on my limited personal experience.

    • Liane, I wanted to say that I really agree with the points you raise re minimalism and quality.

      And I’ve read most of them before, but I also really enjoy Petersen’s articles!

  3. Perhaps this is obvious, but have you read “We Two” by Gillian Gill, specifically about Victoria and Albert’s marriage? I also enjoyed her biography of Florence Nightingale and her sister.

  4. I’ll have to check out the Victoria biography. Books are so much more satisfying than tv/movie attempts.
    I took a swan dive into “Hollywood Scandals”. I’ve always loved Old Hollywood and the crazy lives they lived. I’ve read their biographies since I was a teen. Gloria Swanson is my new hero and I’m vowing to re-watch Sunset Blvd. Thank you for the link!