What I am Reading Now

I am always in the middle of ten or more books, and some of the ones I am reading now are worth mentioning. In no particular order, these are some of the books I am reading now:

1. Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar (a fun gift from my sister, this little historical gem cheerfully provides information on some unfortunate (or worse) event that occurred on every day of the year; I’ve been reading it day by day this year, and it is a fine way to start the day)

2. She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw (this British mystery is set in the London of the Beatles and combines a depressed down-on-his-luck police detective who is actually appealing with an intriguing murder and lots of comic characters; it is particularly interesting because of the sexist climate and the probationary female constable who becomes a major player; I am really enjoying it)

3. Dance to the Piper by Agnes De Mille (a famous memoir by the dancer and choreographer, who also happened to be the niece of Cecil B DeMille and who grew up in early Hollywood; I am loving the story of her youth and her commentary on dance as an art form and as a profession)

4. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard (a non-fiction account of President James Garfield and the man who assassinated him; this isn’t as funny as Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, but it has similar appeal; I am learning a lot about Garfield and really like the man; I am reading this because it was selected by my book club, and I’m sorry I’ll be missing the meeting that discusses it)

5. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirin (a creepy Japanese thriller with a seemingly amoral narrator; oddly intriguing)

6. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (I came to Patchett only recently, and I’m really loving this novel)

7. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende (after avoiding Allende for years because I didn’t like one of her first novels, I am really enjoying this novel so far)

8. Blood in the Water — The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (this is a lengthy, harrowing accounting of the Attica prison uprising in 1971; there are no heroes thus far, but there are many people who are behaving very badly; until I started reading this book I hadn’t realized and had probably to some extent forgotten all the factors that led to this disaster where an untrained mob of guards, state troupers and others brutally put down a prison takeover and then exacted a horrifying and highly racist revenge; this is an important book and we all need to be on top of this story because these problems continue and there will be similar disasters unless we start thinking and taking intelligent action)

9. Becoming Ms. Burton by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn (this is a compelling and well-told memoir of Susan Burton, a former drug addict who spent many years in the criminal justice system until she got clean and started being part of the solution; this is an important contribution to our thinking about ways to help troubled people instead of just locking them up again and again)

10. Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking

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Royal Renegades — The Children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars

Linda Porter’s Royal Renegades — The Children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars tells the saga of Charles I, his wife Henrietta Maria, and their many children, including future kings Charles II and James II. Nearly 400 years later, it is difficult to fathom how this close family functioned at all once the Revolution hit. Family members were spread across Britain and the Continent. Communication was difficult, both because of distance and military restrictions. The parents and their children were often compelled to act on their own initiative and frequently under straightened financial circumstances. The children were young — the two eldest sons were in their early teens — when the king’s conflicts started, and the battling lasted for years. Two of the younger children were held captive in England for years, and of course the Charles I also was ultimately captured and executed. Looking back it seems bizarre that the King seemed never to have fully assessed his peril or what the consequences might be if he failed on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Yet he was cursed with his own implacable sense of his own prerogative and seemingly had no one to provide him with realistic political advice. The Queen had managed to escape to France, her homeland, and spent her time trying to find allies and funding for the her husband. Together, she and the King might have been able to reach a less gruesome conclusion, but then again her Catholicism was one of the major reasons for the family’s unpopularity.

What happened was a tragedy for this family that somehow remained close in an era when royal parents and their children had little ordinary contact or apparent affection for one another. On the eve of his execution the King was allowed time with two of his youngest children, and the tenderness of those meetings is heartbreaking, all these years later. Those two children died, but four of their siblings lived to adulthood, with much of their time spent in France and the Netherlands before the two older brother returned to England after the Restoration. It was an oddly international family, searching for allies and coming together and then separating because of circumstances time and again. For the most part, their strategically arranged marriages afforded the children little happiness, although Charles I and Henrietta Maria, ultimately seemed to have loved each other.

This book’s strength is its portrayals of Charles I and his family, coupled with a useful history of the English Revolution and a healthy injection of the power politics of that era