Tag Archives: review

Gastronativism: Food, Identity, Politics

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in June 2022.

This is a really fascinating book that takes food and issues of ‘nativism’ and looks at how they work together. It seems kind of obvious once you start thinking about it that food can be a political tool – even a weapon… one need only think of some of the racist insults that people use, which are either specifically or tangentially food related. Or the way politicians are publicised eating particular foods. Or the boycotting of foods…

One of the first things that I appreciated about this book is that Parasecoli is quite open about things needing much more extensive research to fully understand what’s going on, and that “patterns [he identifies] are tentative, unstable, and shifting” (xi). That the book “raises questions rather than offering solutions… proposes one point of view, food and its ideological uses, to read events and and tensions that are obviously much larger” (xii). This sort of intellectual honesty is a delight, and also brings me hope that maybe the ways food is used and discussed in connection to politics may indeed become a greater field of investigation.

Parasecoli’s idea of ‘gastronativism’ is a broad one, and encompasses political positions that are, at least to my mind, both arch-conservative leaning towards fascist, and at the other end much more progressive. The first limits what it means to be in a community (white supremacy, anti immigrant) – what he calls exclusionary gastronativism. On the other hand is what he calls nonexclusionary gastronativism (and I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to give a speech on this topic): it looks at “extending rights, resources, and wellbeing to the disenfranchised and the oppressed” (22). Cross-national issues of worker rights, and such issues. I love that such seemingly different issues can be examined together, using similar thought-tools.

It must be acknowledged that this book challenged me to think about the way that I approach food. In one section, Parasecoli discusses the idea of authenticity – “a Thai restaurant feels more authentically Thai if the cook and staff are recognisably Thai” – and that being able to “distinguish authenticity becomes part of consumers’ cultural capital” (89). And then you get arguments about what IS authentic, and things can get very messy. I don’t think the author is saying that a desire for authenticity is automatically bad; but it did make me start thinking about what constitutes ‘the canon’ when it comes to food, and that sent me down a bit of a spiral, being something of an iconoclast in those issues.

There is a LOT in this book; Parasecoli touches on a broad range of issues and explores exclusionary and nonexclusionary examples from various parts of the world. As he says in the intro, he doesn’t always go into huge detail about all of them – that’s not really the point of the book. Instead he’s trying to show what the very concept of gastronativism can be, how it might be interrogated, what sort of actions people use and thoughts it stimulates. And I think he is very persuasive in showing that food isn’t always just something that someone like me eats for fuel. It’s always much more than that.

Nettle and Bone

I read this courtesy of NetGalley.

If you’re a fan of T. Kingfisher, I can say “this is exquisitely T. Kingfisher” and know that you’ll run for a copy of this book. (Fair warning: book does include reference to family violence, and an abusive partner.)

If you’re not already… maybe you’re a fan of Angela Slatter? Kingfisher’s books remind me of her work too.

What does that mean?

They’re both doing fascinating things with fairy tales… except not really fairy tales, because they’re not always familiar stories, but it’s the vibe of fairy tales – fairy tale logic – fairy tale expectations and narrative structures. And I don’t mean Disney versions, I mean grim/m and sometimes gritty and meaty and fully embedded in the world, where not everything is lovely and wonderful but sometimes they are, and sometimes by force of personality you can make a change in the world and sometimes you just have to roll with the world’s punches.

I loved this book a lot.

There’s a princess who doesn’t especially want to be and who is really sure that she’s good at it, and a bone dog, and two godmothers, and a dust-wife. Also a quest and a heavy dose of gritted-teeth determination and a good level of snark, generally dished out by old ladies, which is of course the best sort. It goes at a good pace – not so fast as to leave you spinning, but you’re also not just sitting around always admiring flowers. I read this quickly and it felt just right.

This book keeps Kingfisher as one of those novelists whose work I just read pretty much automatically. I mean, it includes such gems as: “My dog trusts me… My dog is witless and also dead” and also this, addressed to a chicken: “I know you aren’t broody, demon, but you’re going to make an exception or so help me…”.

Definitely should go on your to-read shelf.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

 Well. I have a lot of thoughts! And… spoilers, I guess? If you don’t know the play, then definitely spoilers; and if you’d rather not know about the staging, then those will be too.

Straight up: I loved it. I think it’s beautiful to watch, I think it captures the play’s ideas, and I thought the actors were generally fantastic.

(Keep in mind, I am no drama teacher, and neither am I a film critic! I’ll probably have missed the point of some elements…)

As a film:

  • Most obviously, it’s filmed in black and white, which was awesome. It was, oddly, so very rich – saturated, I guess – I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing much without colour. It made the fades between scenes more interesting, and it made everything much more stark.
  • Some of the segues were glorious. And the use of silhouettes was brilliant.
  • The use of birds throughout was a very nice motif: they’re the first thing you see – and, I realised only after a scene with the witches, it’s three of them; and circling “through the fog and filthy air”, in fact. Then Duncan sees them flying overhead, then you see them at other points too. In particular, the witches turn into birds after their final scene with Macbeth – and when Macbeth thinks he’s having a go at Banquo’s ghost, everyone else sees him flapping at a bird. (And Lady Macbeth opens a window and shoos the bird out, which is GOLD.)
  • The movie is basically without context. There’s no attempt to make Washington have a Scottish accent, and Brendan Gleeson as Duncan has his Irish accent on full display. And then there’s the PLACE, which I adored: it’s utterly unplaceable. The witches and Macbeth and Banquo could be walking across dirt, or it could be sand, or dust. No idea! Duncan’s camp could be three tents or dozens; no idea! And then when we get inside, Lady Macbeth is walking down a corridor and Duncan arrives to a courtyard – but there’s no sense of how large this place is. Actually that’s not quite true; the bits of building we see are unreal, and far too large. Even when inside, there’s a tight focus on people, and especially on faces, so we basically don’t know what their surroundings are like most of the time. The only time we see a full building is the castle of Fife – and it’s a solid tower plonked on a cliff, also looking unreal. It’s almost like a cinematic version of a theatre – all hints at buildings, not whole. It lends the film a claustrophobic feel.
  • The clothing is also interesting. It’s definitely not modern, suits and so on; but neither is it full-on medieval, or even faux medieval. Macbeth looks like he’s wearing a gambeson, the padded coat under armour, the whole time; Lady Macbeth is wearing long dresses but they’re not of a time. Timeless, in fact.

The story:

  • Opening with JUST the witches’ voices was really interesting… and then to see just one witch, I was intrigued. But THEN she stands above water and there’s two witches in the reflection, and THEN they come out of the water? Very cool, and a nice way to differentiate this version. And Kathryn Hunter, the actress, actually DID all those contortions??
  • Banquo’s eyebrows are quite the statement.
  • This Macbeth is never happy. Not even at the start.
  • They showed a dagger when he’s hallucinating, but then it’s actually the door handle! Very clever.
  • Duncan is awake when Macbeth murders him! Now that’s a choice – and somehow makes it worse, I think.
  • I paid close attention to Lady Macbeth’s hair, since it’s so often used as a signal for a woman’s state of mind, and… I think it is here? But not so dramatically as in other films. When she’s in control, her hair is very neatly and tightly and elaborately up. It’s in a plait when in bed, but that just makes sense. And at the end, when she’s sleepwalking, it’s definitely more on the loose-and-wild side.
  • They kept the porter scene, which… I guess you need to let Macduff into the castle; they made him a bit silly but definitely didn’t play it up (and I think it may have been cut down, but it’s been a while since I read/saw it).
  • The murderers are the least murderous-looking murderers I’ve ever seen.
  • What the heck is up with Ross?? He talks to an “old man”, who is played by the woman who plays the witches; he seems to be on everyone’s side. And then he’s the third murderer?? And he’s the one to find Fleance and consciously allows him to live? I’m very confused and intrigued. Because THEN you see Ross approaching Lady Macbeth at the top of the stairs – cut – and then Lady Macbeth is dead at the bottom of the stairs, so… ?? Ross is then the one to bring the crown – and Macbeth’s head – to Malcolm. And finally, the film ends with Ross going back to the old man, who has been hiding Fleance, and they ride off together … and when they get to a dip in the road, they don’t appear again – but a big flock of birds fly up and away… Ambiguous, to say the least.
  • I’m always a fan of ‘Lady Macbeth as one of the witches’ and she puts something into Macbeth’s wine… and then he wakes up ‘tomorrow’ and there are the three witches, in the castle. So that’s another ambiguous touch.
  • The testing of Malcolm is NOT included, which is an interesting choice. It does make the play longer, and it can be a bit confusing. I feel like there might have been a few other bits with Malcolm that were cut, early on; so Coen has chosen to focus just on Macbeth, and not bother with the comparison with the saintlier Malcolm.

This was just wonderful and I expect it will be embraced with joy by many English and drama teachers. And, hopefully, people who haven’t seen a Shakespeare production in years / ever.

Spear, by Nicola Griffith

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s due out in April 2022.

I adore the Arthurian mythos, and in particular that it can keep being reworked by different authors with different intentions and get completely different results that are still clearly linked. Most recently I read Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone, and it shook me to the core… and now Nicola Griffith gives me something completely and utterly other.

( Which begs the question, Can you read and enjoy this with no knowledge of the Arthur stories? Absolutely. And in fact it would mean that you wouldn’t have the same looming dread / fear / second-guessing that I did, trying to figure out who was meant to be who and would Griffith include that particular thing and oh noooo…. )

This was nothing short of amazing.

To begin at the end: I really enjoyed Griffith’s Author’s Note at the end, explaining both her choices and her inspirations. It wasn’t necessary, but it shows very nicely how Griffith sees herself fitting into the existing canon, and how her choices were influenced by archaeology and other sources. Also, her acerbic “crips, queers, women and other genders, and people of colour are an integral part of the history of Britain” – yes indeed.

Griffith has set her Arthur in the very early medieval period – the Romans are gone but the Normans aren’t there (it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise who the Redcrests were (Roman soldiers)). It’s the beginning of Arturus ruling a fairly small area; he is gathering Companions to help him fight off invaders and also to try and give some sort of peace, and lack of banditry, to his area. But the focus of the story is not on him: it’s on Per, Peretur, who has many names and none, who is on a quest to figure out who she is and where she fits. Because oh yes, this is Perceval / Parsifal as a woman, following in that grand tradition of “women have always fought” and having the same adventures as any of the men might. Griffith uses some of the medieval stories as a starting point – her love, and deep knowledge, of the genre is clear; and she tells a rich and compelling and human story that I just devoured.

One of the most intriguing things from an Arthurian perspective is where Griffith chooses to stop the story – which I’m not going to spoil. But it does make me hopeful of more in this world; she herself mentions the possibility in the Author’s Note, so now I guess I just have to sit here and wait. Because shut up and take my money already.

Our Fermented Lives: How Fermented Foods have shaped Cultures and Community

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in July 2022.

Sometimes I forget how much I love food writing, and food history, and thinking about how food works in society. Then I read a book like this and I’m reminded all over again.

I’ve never particularly gone down the fermentation path. I did have a sourdough starter for a year or so – before lockdown, I swear! – but I found it too wasteful, throwing out the starter (I am considering going back to it, having read this…).

This book is:
— personal – Skinner mentions parts of her own journey, both in understanding food and more broadly, throughout.

— aiming to be broad in outlook and postcolonial in attitude: she carefully notes having tried to speak to / read from the people who actually make the ferments, and that it is “critically important, particularly as someone with relative privilege, not to overshadow others’ stories with my own words and perspectives”. I think food history is one way in which the colonial agenda can, indeed, still be present, so I appreciate this acknowledgement and the attempt.

— partly a history, looking at the role of fermentation in different cultures across time, and speculating about how such things might have been discovered. Also the range of fermentation experiments! I love any story that includes garum, that probably-incredibly-stinky fish sauce of the Romans.

— a bit science-y, but not that much. Humans are really only beginning to understand the interplay between the gut microbiome and our general health, so it was interesting to think a bit about how fermented foods might help there.

— partly a cookbook. Why yes, I have every intention of trying mushroom ketchup, thankyouverymuch (it came before tomato ketchup, because after all don’t forget how late tomatoes are on the European culinary scene).

— a bit philosophical, which wasn’t always my cup of tea (… or kombucha…). There’s discussion of the word ‘culture’ and how it can mean the microbes as as well as human interactions, which I didn’t fully get on board with – it seemed to stretch the ideas a bit far. And claims about mindfulness and community that did, actually, make me stop and think. The idea that ferments enable us to ‘live a more embodied life’; that the time taken to have a slow meal with friends ‘is a necessary act we give ourselves precious little time for’.

— not perfect. Some of the segues between sections are abrupt and don’t follow what I would consider logical or natural links. And there are some instances of poor editing – mentioning that the eruption of Mt Vesuvius happened in 79CE, for instance, twice on one page. But those are relatively minor issues. (I was more thrown by the idea that Samuel Pepys was “best known for burying his beloved wine and cheese stores to protect them from the 1666 Great Fire of London” rather than, say, for the incredibly detailed decade-long diary he kept.)

Overall, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and I have quite the list of recipes to try out.

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry that forged the Medieval World

I read

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in March 2022.

OH YES.

1. This has pretty much everything I love about a history book.Rediscovering, or repairing, or reframing, previously maligned historical figures.
1a. In particular, women. And here, Puhak does it to not one but TWO women, living at the same time, with lives that were interwoven and had an enormous impact on each other.
The late 500s in what is now France was a remarkable time: it was, as Puhak points out, a time of “dual female rule” – Brunhild and Fredegund, one a Visigoth princess and the other a former slave, were regents for their grandson and son respectively. Together they controlled nearly as much land as Charlemagne would a few centuries later. This dual female rule wouldn’t be repeated in Europe for another thousand years. And why don’t we know about it? Because, Puhak claims – with some pretty strong evidence – there was a concerted effort at damnatio memoriae; getting rid of all memory of the actions of these two queens from history. A lot like what happened to Hatshepsut in Egypt. Either expunge the actions of the women, or cast them in as completely evil or irrelevant light as you possibly can. Because how embarrassing to remember that women had been instrumental in leading and shaping your kingdom for decades!

2. I learned many new things.
A lot about the Merovingians, of course – which I had no knowledge of, except for the name, and (as Puhak ruthfully notes) as the name of a character in a Matrix film. But I also learned that the Latinised version of ‘Clovis’ – whose name I did know – who was the first Merovingian king – is LOUIS and there you get the beginning of, what, 17 kings with the same name.

3. Utterly readable.
Puhak says that this is “not an academic history; it is a work of narrative nonfiction based on primary sources”. And I think this is a really intriguing way of putting it. I guess the ‘not academic’ aspect is strictly accurate, although I do think Puhak is underselling herself. There aren’t footnotes – but there are extensive references at the back, and my goodness her bibliography is incredible and IF I HAD THE TIME (and access to them) I could glut myself on following them all up. I love the use of the primary sources here; she uses the various histories from the time, and later, judiciously – weighing up their perspectives and their intentions and figuring out what makes sense. And it ends up being absorbing and riveting.

4. What a story.
Honestly, you could present this as fiction and people would believe you. Marriages brokered, broken, and occasionally seen through; so many murders and possible-murders; kingdoms divided and reunited; treason, scheming, bargaining… Puhak argues that Cersei from Game of Thrones is inspired by these two women, in some sense, and I’m not quite convinced of that but it tells you something about their lives.

What a fantastic book.

The City Inside

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in June 2022.

This was… incredible, and devastating, and gloriously written. And I’m not sure I have the words to properly explain how and why.

Firstly: if you’re looking for an entirely straightforward, narrative-driven story, this is not for you. If you’re interested in character and world development and fabulous prose (and a narrative that still has me thinking), then you’re looking at the right book.

The first few chapters are all about setting up the world. It’s the mid 20th century, I think; and it’s Delhi; and things are both recognisable and completely unfamiliar. Joey is a Reality Controller at a Flowco; she has a smartatt on her wrist that monitors her health and suggests cat videos when she’s stressed, and she regularly has to wear a mask when she’s out and about. Confused? I was, a bit, when I started; but I was also intrigued and rapidly sucked in (and it took me a couple of seconds to understand ‘smartatt’ as ‘smart tattoo’ and then I was very impressed with Basu. Also terrified). The key thing to get your head around is the Flow, which takes the current ideas of infotainment and reality tv and influencers and life-casting and making it more massive, more pervasive, more curated and… generally just More. This is the big thing that’s both familiar and not.

As an Anglo Aussie, I’m the first to admit I don’t know all the ins and outs of current or past Indian political history, nor the concerns people might have for future directions. That’s a big part of the background here: Joey’s parents were involved in protests and suffer the consequences; things are unsettled and maybe tyrannical in Delhi and perhaps across the city. There are ongoing protests and various groups being oppressed. On the one hand, I am quite sure I missed a fair bit of political nuance that someone living in Delhi would just pick up almost without thinking (like a reference to politicians and onions for me). And that’s just fine: there are always different experiences for different readers. Because even without that political knowledge, I could understand enough about the tensions to know that this is a world I wouldn’t want to live in, with its fear of cameras everywhere and no trust of the government. And just to show how bitter things are: “her parents didn’t know whether to blame the pogrom or the pandemic, because they’d known the end times were coming but hadn’t known they’d be multiple choice” (p6).

The story follows Joey and colleagues and delves into the world of a Flowstar as well as tapping on parts of the broader world. Most people are out for what they can get for themselves and their families; some people are trying to buck the system; there is a massive gap between the haves and havenots. Much of the book is about following the characters and experiencing their lives… in much the same way that they themselves are producing a Flow for people to experience. Which makes me reflect in some horror on the explicitly voyeuristic nature of fiction and may send me into a tailspin if I get too worried about the privacy of fictional characters.

The writing is an absolute treat. It’s dense, in the descriptive and absorbing sense; it’s deeply evocative; and still entirely readable. I enjoyed every minute of the reading even while I was completely horrified by the experiences of the characters.

Public Faces, Secret Lives

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It comes out in May 2022.

I have been known to joke that historical women were invented in the 1960s – before that, only Cleopatra, the Virgin Mary, Joan of Arc and Elizabeth I existed (obviously none outside of the European context). More recently I have added that queer people were invented in the 21st century.

I was joking, but … only because there’s an element of truth. Straight white men rule history, amiright?

This book, then, is a massively important addition to the history of the fight for suffrage.

I should point out that although I have a fairly substantial library of suffrage books, they are all either Australian or British. My knowledge of the American experience is limited to the film Iron Angels, and the magnificent “Bad Romance” spoof video clip. I do not, therefore, know a lot about the private lives of the main characters like Susan B. Anthony, who aren’t covered here in any detail because it’s been done elsewhere. It’s interesting therefore to get the focus on women who were, apparently, lesser lights – or who have become such as the history of the period has been presented.

I’m also not an expert on queer history, so I don’t know whether Rouse’s particular definition is standard or expansive. Here, queer is outlined as “individuals who transgressed normative notions of gender and sexuality… suffragists who were not strictly heterosexual or cisgender” (p2). There’s a nice point about how language changes and that words we might use to describe relationships today, for instance, may not have been available to or appropriate for people in the past.

The chapters follow general themes, or categories, allowing Rouse to explore different ways in which queerness was expressed – and fought against, in some instances. For example, in the chapter “Mannish Women and Feminine Men”, she examines how some suffragists fought against the derisive stereotype of ‘mannish women’ by insisting that suffragists perform femininity to a signifiant degree – to the detriment of gender non-conforming individuals and those women who advocated less restrictive dress. Other chapters include “Queering Domesticity” and “Queering Family” – so many of these women ended up setting up house together, and whether they were in physically romantic relationships can often not be conclusively determined, but they still spent their lives together! There’s also “Queering Transatlantic Alliances”, “Queering Space” and “Queering Death”, so it covers the entire gamut of suffragist lives.

There’s a really nice intersectionalism at work here, too, with commentary on how “queer white suffragists… helped maintain a system of white supremacy by policing access to the vote” (p63), for example. There are definitely black and First Nations people mentioned in the book, but I suspect one problem of not being familiar with the American history here is that I didn’t automatically recognise the name of any of the suffragists – let alone recognise whether they were white or not. Still, Rouse did point it out, and made note of the times when white suffragists, for instance, either tried to block black women from marching in demonstrations or told them to go to the back of the line. There’s mention, too, of class – something that’s often lacking in standard stories of the British fight for suffrage, if it focuses on Emmeline and Charitable Pankhurst and forgets Sylvia.

I’m really glad this book exists. It’s a really great look at the American fight for women’s suffrage in general (as far as I can tell), as well as presenting a dimension that is much-needed across all history.

Green with Milk and Sugar

I read this courtesy of NetGalley.

This is one of my favourite types of history books.

1. It’s about a fairly niche topic – the drinking of Japanese tea in America – which is shown to have connections with all sorts of issues and events across many decades. Trade connections! Racism and how attitudes towards different ethnicities develop and are deliberately cultivated! What happens to the samurai class when they’re moved out of Japanese society! Civil war and foreign war! Marketing and world expos and food regulation. It’s all here, and it’s woven in and through the overall topic beautifully.

2. There’s intriguing and what seem like weird facts. Like the idea of a punch made from ‘very strong tea’, plus a 1.25 pounds of sugar, a pint of cream AND THEN a bottle of either claret or champagne. I feel ill even thinking about it. Also, the idea that apparently people used to add Prussian blue to green tea, to give it a stronger colour??

3. There’s a personal connection to the author, and it’s neither gratuitous (I really like tea!) nor tenuous (my next door neighbour’s grandfather lived in Taiwan!) nor overly emphasised. Instead, the Hellyer family had been involved in importing “Japan tea” to America for many years, back when that was what it was called and when – as the subtitle suggests – “Japan filled America’s tea cups”. When appropriate, the Hellyer family experience is used to illuminate particular aspects of the story – Europeans as merchants in Japan, the shipping to America, and so on.

4. It’s just really nicely written. Hellyer has clearly done a lot of research, and has been very thoughtful in the way he’s put together the material. The overall story is easy to follow – but there’s no sense of a steady march towards a definite end. I mean, in one sense there is, because the reality is that American tastes in tea did change (not least away from tea). But it’s not all ‘oh woe everything was always leading to downfall’ – instead, it follows the changes in fashion and expectations and international relations and shows how those things interrelate with the drinking of, and importing/exporting of, tea.

I love history books about food that illuminate a seemingly mundane part of ordinary life and show just how complicated such things really are.

The Library: A Fragile History

Update: and THEN Allen&Unwin sent me a hard copy!! I’m so excited to have a physical copy of this amazing book!! And it is GORGEOUS – swirly oil-colour end papers, and A RIBBON. PEOPLE, a RIBBON. It’s just swoon-worthy.

The hard cover is RRP $49.99 and is out as of 30 Nov. I’m sure there will be a paperback copy at some point. Definitely the book for the bibliophile in your life.

I initially read this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Oh. My.

What an astonishing book.

Honestly I’ve had such a good year for book-related histories: The Gilded Page (Mary Wellesley), and The Bookseller of Florence (Ross King), and now this. Interestingly, this book contains parts of those two, because understanding how libraries function requires some knowledge of books themselves function, and how the book trade functions. It’s been like a mini-course in the whole book production history of Europe.

The authors begin with a discussion of the fabled Library of Alexandria, which is appropriate given its mythical place in the history of libraries… and ALSO that there’s some attempt to do something similar in the Alexandria of today, which is, let’s say, not the Alexandria of yesteryear.

What utterly intrigued me was the way that exactly what a library is FOR has changed over the centuries. I am a huge fan of the public library, and absolutely uphold its place as a community resource. I do know that in medieval Europe, libraries were the province of monasteries and nobles – not least because that reflects the literacy of the age, and also the aspirations of such people.

It was the use of libraries as exhibitions of wealth that was one aspect explored beautifully here – collecting the ‘right’ books, and beautiful versions. And then how do you have architecture that reflects that? If you’re worried about scholars nicking off with your precious tomes, and you only have a few books, then you chain the books up (literally) and your building reflects that. But when books starting getting more accessible and you are HAPPY for them to be accessed (unlike Oxford libraries not allowing students in and having opening hours for about three hours a week), then what the rooms look like needs to change.

I deeply appreciated the exploration of libraries as both weapons within colonialism and imperialism, and victims of it too. Colonial outposts in NZ and India being sent books; translations into the languages of the colonised; and libraries being looted, or outright destroyed, across the globe – these are things that need to be remembered and dealt with as people keep thinking about the use and abuse of knowledge as power. It would have been so easy to not include those things, and to stick with somehow seeing libraries as just repositories of books – ignoring books as power – but I’m so glad the authors wanted to give a rich and full exploration of libraries as institutions.

Look, I just loved this book. It’s beautifully written and has lovely images. It covers predominantly European examples of libraries. It does so across just over two millennia, from monastery to castle to private home to public institution. And the modern arguments about what a library is for! Clearly these authors are defenders of the existence of libraries, but they’re not just stuck in mid-20th century versions. They are, if anything, ambitious for what place libraries can and should have in communities.

I love books and I love libraries and this was a wonderful history of them both.