Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Recommended Reading

I'm always interested in other people's holiday reading. One of my co-habitees at Peralta is reading himself into the heart of American history, engrossed in Derek Robinson's novel Kentucky Blues - set in the town of Rock Springs, and spanning a time scale from the 1820s to the present day, through the Civil War and the birth of the Klu Klux Klan. It’s told tersely, with black humour and its inhabitants are described as ‘the authentic ancestors of Jerry Springer’s guests’. I liked the spare style, as in this desription of the onset of winter. ‘In December the skies turned to blue, frost struck, and mud turned to brown.’

He's also brought Isabella Bird's 'In the Rocky Mountains' urged on him by a girl friend. Isabella Bird, born in the 1830s, was the daughter of a clergyman who went abroad for her health and became an intrepid, emancipated traveller, going to Persia, Australia, Hawai, Japan, Kurdistan, Tibet, Korea and China, at a time when women didn't go anywhere much and certainly not on their own.

He also has another book, which really fascinated me, and which I've made a note to get hold of as soon as I get home. It’s a collection of the photography of Edward Curtis, who spent his life recording , in photographs and text, the final days of the native American Indians - images of their faces, and their daily lives accompanied by a unique record of their stories and traditions. Initially JP Morgan paid for his work, but after a bitter divorce from his wife Clara, Curtis lost the rights to his own negatives and had a lot of financial problems. He almost killed himself dedicating 30 years of his life to this project. But without him we simply would have no record of these people who were so casually displaced. By the time an exhausted Curtis died, most of the native Americans were dead too, the rest corralled into 'reserves'.

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