Despite being busy with travel, workshops and the farm, I have managed to get some reading done in the past month. I’ve been working along the shelf of English history. Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir was a good story and demonstrated how the death of a monarch led to power struggles. We tend to think of there being a perfectly orderly succession but a book like this reminds us that many nobles in England could claim at least some amount of royal blood and may have a pretty good claim to the throne. Jane Grey was caught in one of these webs of intrigue, and letting her live, even if she really didn’t want to be queen, became too dangerous for Mary Tudor.
I moved into nonfiction with The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. After a slow start, I found myself really enjoying Fraser’s ironic tone and style. She brought the unique qualities of each of the women to light, getting beyond the simply stereotypes that we’ve come to know.
Now, I’m about halfway through The Lady in the Tower, nonfiction by Alison Weir, about Anne Boleyn’s last days. It is well researched and Weir is clearly working to dispel some of the standards beliefs about Boleyn, her various relationships and her influence on the Reformation, and I am imagining the Tudor scholars with whom she takes issue to be shaking their fists. For the average reader like me, however, it is a bit long…I’ve still got more than 100 pages to go and we are mere days away from Anne’s death. There are interesting bits and I will finish it, but I can’t recommend it unless you want something of a minute-by-minute understanding of Anne Boleyn’s downfall.
The most compelling part of this book for me is the way is shows the bias of primary sources. Often, teachers are encouraged to move students away from the textbook to examine these primary sources as though they somehow have the lock on the “truth” of history. In the case of Anne Boleyn, truth is very much in the eye and the pen of the beholder. So, while Chapuys seems like an eye-witness to history, it is important to remember that he was a supporter of Catherine of Aragon who hated Anne Boleyn. Thus, he is more willing to believe that Boleyn would deceive the king and is only too happy when she is arrested. George Wyatt, on the other hand, was the grandson of Thomas Wyatt, often thought to be one of Boleyn’s lovers who was imprisoned but released as part of Boleyn’s downfall. His biography can hardly be considered unbiased.
I did take a break from all this English history to read Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. I picked it up at Bay Books during my visit to Coronado and bought it simply because at one point, the narrator and his traveling companion stay at the General Sutter Inn in Lititz, Pennsylvania, near my own home town. I suppose it would be considered “pop” spirituality: by the end, the narrator, something of an average Joe with a good job and happy family, learns how to make spirituality part of his life. It isn’t about being perfect, but about finding the sense of spirituality in the every day. That and a bit of meditation seem to be the answer.
I am also reading a book for a summer book study I’m leading: Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal. The author is a gamer and game creator who believes that gaming can save the world. The book is a bit overwritten and sometimes borders on the fanatical, which provides good fodder for book group discussions. We’re meeting in Second Life as well as in an online community if you’re interested in joining in.