Library Note:
Under Attack
2 October 2018

¶ The history books have launched their attack. They’re all shouting, “Read me — and then get rid of me, if you dare!”

Some books go straight to the discard pile. Garrett Mattingly’s book about Catherine of Aragon, for instance. All it took was a sentence that began, “Catherine must have rejoiced at this evidence of her husband’s orthodoxy” — or words to that effect; but the “rejoiced” is a quote. Must have rejoiced. You can’t say that sort of thing in a genuinely historical biography. Of course, when writing about aristocratic women who lived centuries ago, it’s sometimes the only thing that you can say, since great ladies considered candor indecorous, and had most of their writing done for them.

What’s giving me a bit of trouble now is a collection of David Cannadine’s book reviews, published in the Nineties, entitled History in Our Time. There’s a lot of very dated stuff about Charles, Diana, & Co that’s sort of priceless, really, because in the intervening twenty years it has become so hard to regard Camilla as infréquentable or to imagine a world without Kate and her lovely children. (Kate is so much prettier than Diana, really.) Aside from that fluff, which is all considered in the long term of the Hanoverian monarchy’s durability, there’s a lot of information about mid-century figures such as Harold Macmillan and Oswald Mosely, all framed in beautifully-structured essays that are written in a donnishly stylish prose. (The review of a biography of the Duke of Windsor begins with a paragraph that could describe his career but is actually a sketch of Bonnie Prince Charlie.) It’s the highest and most useful form of journalism, and I can’t put it down. I suppose that I’ll keep it, but I feel that I ought to give it away.

While I labor to make such decisions, books totter on a TV table, the shelves are in disarray, and the book cart is parked out in the foyer. (Its bookroom parking space in directly in front of the history bookcase.)

We’re having old friends to dinner on Saturday. (Poulet à la crème, I think.) If the cart is still in the foyer, so be it.

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