Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Pretendy history books

I've never said "youth is wasted on the young", because I think it's a big load of nonsense.  It's not possible to appreciate the errors of youth, until you've actually lived through it and come, slightly battered, out of the other side.  However, I do think that A-Level History is, on the whole, wasted on the young.

I did  A-Level History.  I didn't particularly want to.  I wanted to do biology, but the timetable constraints were such that I couldn't.  I was quite glad in the end, as biology seemed to consist of the teacher handing out about 47 photocopied pages from an incredibly boring text book and answering inumerable questions on said pages. Not that history was much better.  It was several hours a week of listening to men who liked the sound of their own voices droning on about what I perceived to be utter ephemera to the important stuff in life (like who was going out with whom, and which pubs would let you in with your blatantly forged NUS card).

I went on to study English and had several run-ins with tutors who were historicist literary critics.  I, at the ripe old age of 19, had decided that history had no relevance to literature, and that the people who believed it did were crashing bores, living in the past.  It didn't help that all the historical material on our reading list was drier than whatever desert is the hottest in the world (I didn't much care for geography either).  If I had been told to read the complete works of Philippa Gregory, then I would have had a much deeper understanding of the main players that shaped the past.

Now, I am aged myself, and so history has become interesting.  It happened quite quickly, much more quickly than other switches that mark the passage from youth to experience.  For example, it took several years for me to go from thinking that garden centres were torture devices inflicted on you by your parents, to voluntarily going to the garden centre as a valued part of my leisure time.  I am still in the process of going from Radio 1 to Radio 4 as my default station (at the moment, it depends on my mood).  However, with history, it seemed to me that one day it was BORING, and the next, I couldn't get enough.

So, to the point.  I absolutely LOVED The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer when I read it last year.  It's a really clever piece of writing, a guide to what the modern visitor would expect to see in England of the fourteenth century.

So when I saw A Visitor's Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb in The Book People catalogue, I assumed from the title that it would have jumped on the Mortimer bandwagon, and would be the same sort of thing.  I was a little disappointed, as it's not, really.  It's more of a guide book to the stories behind 50 important Tudor buildings or landmarks.  It is interesting, but not quite as interesting as I thought it would be.  However, I notice from looking for the titles on Amazon, that Ian Mortimer has bought out another book, this time relating to Tudor England.  I have been very restrained and not ordered it.  Yet.

I am fully aware that people who have actually studied history would probably look down their noses at all of these books, and huffily point out the smattering of errors which defile the pages.  I would probably do the same if it were my area of expertise.  However, what I like about these books, is that they give a flavour of the past, and are not eyelid-leadeningly dull.  Although, if I'd have read them at 18, I may have thought differently.

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