Nightstand Books We Recommend
A HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE: Passions of the Renaissance Volume 3 Edited By Roger Chartier
Harvard Univ. Press (Out of Print)
A History of Private Life is over 600 eye-opening pages that leave one hankering to read the other four volumes in the five book series, a study of privacy and daily life from pagan Rome to the 20th century. Privacy is certainly topical as we witness our’s slipping away.
If a person from the year 1500 could time travel to our present day, their view on privacy would be uncannily similar to ours. Over the last 500 years or so, we’ve moved in a circuitously kinky way from privacy as basically irrelevant, to it as marker of wealth and status, to the present time wherein we live in a likeaholic meta-land and need to be seen to feel like our lives count for something. To understand our current reverse trajectory — that is, from valuing privacy to letting it all hang out — becomes clearer in this beautifully illustrated book.
Third in the series, this volume begins around the Renaissance and stops at the French Revolution, with each chapter written by a different distinguished European scholar. The book charts historical developments from the old world’s lack of privacy, not to mention its hefty dose of social shaming (sound familiar?), to the slowly emerging value of an individualized self. For example, we learn that Montaigne’s famous essays were first ridiculed not for their content, but because he dared to write about himself. Until then, the private voice didn’t count for normative currency. Over time, the emerging availability of books (the Bible first) trained people to climb the trellis of self-reflection and enjoy being alone with their thoughts.
We’re given a good dose of important myth-busters. In the chapter “The Practical Impact of Writing,” we discover that in the Middle Ages there was a high level of literacy after all. Even the general populace was taught rudimentary reading — yes, to read the Bible — though most couldn’t sign their name. In “The Refuges of Intimacy” we learn that the study (office) and the cabinet (a room with a door on one end) started to serve as private places of eroticism and self-actualization. Artists who painted a woman in her boudoir or bath, were the pornographers of their day. The very heart of intimacy was the ruelle, a ritualized space between the bed and wall in a bedroom alcove. Here people shared secrets with friends and lovers. Thomas Jefferson, a Francophile, made sure to have a ruelle in his Monticello bedroom.
We learn that the rich slept with multiple servants in their room and the poor slept in one bed with family members. People ate from the same bowl without utensils — until forks and knives became fashionable during the Italian Renaissance. People drank from the same cup; they relieved themselves in public or near-public; and front doors were left unlocked during the day so that neighbors dropping in could note nothing untoward was going on. Both physically and metaphorically, there was little need to hide when there was no privacy.
— Helen Mitsios
IN OUR BLOOD: A Jake Hawksworth Thriller By William J. Goyette
I was given this book, and I approach all books I’m given with great trepidation, like peeling back a bandage from a serious wound, so I did what I always do when I haven’t chosen a book, I steeled myself and read the first two pages to at least honestly say I read (part of) it, and to form a ridiculously inadequate but conversation-passable judgement. 173 pages later, I knew I had found a great new mystery writer, and already I want to read more books in the series, but I’m getting ahead of myself, and apparently the author, because he hasn’t written any more yet. Hurry up, man!
The story is part standard tough cop with the scars of a real life lived, going after a really odious and shamefully compelling, indifferently-murdering villain, and part Escher-like in its improbable and breathtaking turning back on itself twists. The son of a bestselling thriller writer is kidnapped, but the father is literally writing the book of the crime unfolding. And the villain has a hard-on for the cop, for good measure. The writing is tone perfect and gripping and I read this in bounds. It’s fun, it’s startlingly exciting.
The author sounds like he should be one of his own characters, a copy editor 20 years in the corporate world — perhaps one who just breaks one day and goes around slaughtering people, or starts solving crimes. His choice. But actually, given how good this book is, the real Goyette has a great future as a thriller writer!
— Bob Guccione, Jr.
ASK AGAIN, YES By Mary Beth Keane
I love a good dysfunctional family story, especially when it ain’t mine. This one is a bonus, because it’s two. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for what happens next.
Keane has expertly crafted an exploration of friendship, families, childhood love and the ripple effect of one brief moment in time. If I had read it at the beach, I’d be sunburned from head-to-toe because I wouldn’t get out of my chair.
— Emily Gatlin