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review 2018-01-14 22:03
Christmas Past by Robert Brenner
Christmas Past: A Collectors' Guide to Its History and Decorations - Robert Brenner

I have to admit something to you all: I'm crazy about Christmas. I don't have a tree up all year or sing carols or anything, but as soon as Thanksgiving is over, IT'S ON! The Christmas albums come out, the lights get put up and our collection of ornaments get hung on the trees.*

My husband and I have family ornaments ranging from a few fragile German pieces from just after WWI to mid-century Shiny Brites to a piece of purple foil glued on cardstock marked 'MyLes' in pencil.** We also like finding eclectic antique and vintage ornaments in cotton or paper or glass. The problem is that while we've picked up a thing or two, we never had a comprehensive reference on how to identify or date ornaments. As 'crackers' as we are about the ornaments, there's a real limit to how much we'll spend on a piece of fragile glass or a disintegrating candy container. So we hunt for bargains that aren't going to be researched and labeled. That's where Robert Brenner and his books come in.

This Christmas we received three of his books on the history of ornaments. This one is his earliest and is a valuable reference tool, but it does suffer from some issues. The book is divided into sections based on the materials an ornament is made of - dough, cloth, metal, paper, wax, cotton, glass, composition and plastics - with some grey areas addressed. Oh, and lighting. The book is furnished with some excellent photos of early ornaments of most types discussed.

A big revelation was how many ornaments and styles kept on for decades after we thought they would have fallen out of fashion. We were aware of many modern reproductions, but certain styles of ornaments we thought were exclusively Victorian it turns out were made well up into the early 1930s - these include the large wire wrapped glass figurals and the abstract tinsel ornaments made built around tissue-thin glass spheres. "Feather trees", artificial trees made of wire and wrapped in dyed goose feathers, and the miniature ornaments to match, were also made right up until WWII. Brenner offers some advice on what to look for: a rule of thumb is that more elaborate construction and "true" lifelike colors in glass and paper indicate an earlier date. But there are exceptions. And, while there are hundreds of color images in the book, Brenner rarely, if ever, puts examples side by side. For example, if Japanese honeycomb tissue ornaments were 'less dense' then their German counterparts what does that mean exactly if there isn't a single picture of a German or a Japanese item?

The book is a great place to start, and there is a later edition of this book (still twenty years old...), but I'm hoping the others provide some more concrete examples and insight. I'm hoping to be a little more educated next time we come across promising ornaments.

*We had two. Maybe a third next year. Only one is real though! Does that make it better?

**I've always disliked arts and crafts, so I tended to phone it in even then.

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review 2018-01-10 12:50
The Victorian Christmas
The Victorian Christmas - Anna Selby

by Anna Selby

 

Non-fiction

 

This is a nice collection of information about British Victorian Christmas traditions and where they actually originated. It includes the Pagan origins of the date for Christmas and the Germanic background to Christmas trees and to putting charms into the Christmas pudding, as well as a comprehensive recipe for making a traditional Christmas pudding from a Victorian hand-written recipe book. It also details what contributions the Victorians added to our modern view of Christmas, including the pudding and the slow adaptation in modern times to Christmas Cake. I had to smile at the suggestion that the transition was due to making the cake without alcohol, as my family recipe for Christmas Cake uses nothing but brandy for the liquid in the recipe.

 

It's a well-researched book that goes into every possible Christmas tradition, including the origins of Christmas cards and singing carols. There is a wealth of old recipes, many from the Mrs Beaton Cookbook for things like traditional Wassail, gingerbread in various forms and mincemeat, as well as a vast array of recipes for cooking a spectrum of meats that Victorians from different stratas of society might include in their Christmas feast.

 

Christmas decorations and the origins of many of the traditions for those are explained followed by the background to Panto and Boxes, two things still common in England though not well known in the U.S.

 

While I'm not likely to use the wealth of recipes provided, their historical significance makes them of interest. Also included are the lyrics for many old Christmas carols, script samples from mummer's plays and an excerpt from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Whether these are historically significant or filler could be a matter of opinion.

 

The book finishes off with related New Year traditions and some information that the date for Christmas has actually moved from the new year dates over time and changing calendars, which I didn't know before.

 

As a reference book this is very thorough and professionally presented. It's not always riviting reading, but most reference books aren't.

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review 2017-10-09 03:56
The Penguin Book of Etiquette and Charm School
The Penguin Book Of Etiquette: The Complete Australian Guide To Modern Manners - Marion Von Adlerstein
Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook Of Etiquette - Kathy Buchanan

I don't ordinarily review two books at once, especially two by different authors, but these are both reference books in a sense, and both deal with the rules of etiquette in Australia.

 

In my opinion, given my own demographic, I found The Penguin Book Of Etiquette by Marion Von Adlerstein  the superior book.  It covers everything and is the more obvious successor to Emily Post for the Aussies.  I've found this super helpful for those odd occasions when culture shock leaves me scratching my head.

 

Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook Of Etiquette by Kathy Buchanan though, would be the better book for older teens, or those leaving home for the first time for university, first job, home, etc.  This is the book for the twentysomethings and it's frank, honest, and slightly amusing in style; much chattier and looser than Von Adlerstein's voice.  Note: This book is specifically aimed at women.

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review 2017-10-09 03:47
The Raupo Book of Maori Proverbs
The Raupo Book of Maori Proverbs - A.W. Reed,Timoti Karetu,A.E. Brougham

Not a book to read, more of a reference, but I've been on the lookout for collections of Aboriginal / Maori myths and came across this when I was in New Zealand in June.  It's exactly what it says on the packet: a book of the different proverbs used by Maori over time, in both the original language and an English translation.  They're sorted by broad subject ranges and most of them include a small explanation (or a longer one if the proverb doesn't translate clearly, or uses idioms specific to the Maori).

 

Excellent for what it is.

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text 2017-09-19 14:27
Reading progress update: I've read 98 out of 357 pages.
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books - Martin Edwards

Well, I've read chapters 1 through 5, and I suppose this is what it sounds like when you get a walking encyclopedia talking. Even though it's, in a way, the print equivalent of having your favorite actor reading the phone book (which I expected going in -- the format itself suggests as much), it's addictively compelling, and I am racing through this book much more than I expected I would.  I also know I'll be revisiting it often for reference in the future.

 

When reading the chapters on the beginning of the Golden Age and on the Great Detectives, I also dipped into Edwards's Golden Age of Murder for further background, "met" the members of the Detection Club ... and learned that Ngaio Marsh was not a member (which I admit I'd heretofore taken almost for granted she was), but rather, "dined for weeks" on the experience of her one invitation to a Detection Club dinner.

 

Incidentally, for those who are interested, I've created a reading list for the "100 [main] Books" presented by Martin Edwards in "The Story of Classic Crime" here:

 

Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books -- the "100 Books" Presented

 

I've also started a listing of the other books mentioned by way of further reference in the individual chapters.  As Edwards easily manages to toss in an average of 20+ extra books per chapter, I've decided to break up the "other books mentioned" listing into several parts, with the first list going up to the end of chapter 5 (i.e., as far as I've read at present):

 

Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books -- Other Books Mentioned; Part 1 (Ch. 1-5)

 

I'm reading The Story of Classic Crime for the free (center / raven) bingo square, as well as by way of a buddy read.

 

 

Merken

Merken

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