Harry’s top 5: Books I’ve read this summer (featuring wonderful books from @sarapascoe and @TheAngelaClarke)

I know, I know- I haven’t posted anything in a while.  Bear with me, I spent August at Ancient Greek camp and then excavating at Vindolanda up to my knees in 2000 year old horse wee (whilst all my friends were at Reading- but personally I’ll take the horse wee.) 

At a writing meeting I had yesterday I had a conversation that went sort of like this:

Danny:  You should really post more on your blog.

Me:  I can’t really think of anything to post… my inspiration has dried up somewhat.

Danny:  Maybe do a Harry’s top 5 xyz?  That would be cool.

Me:  Will do.

During my adventures into ancient languages and archaeology one thing I did do a lot was read- next year I’m taking four subjects that involve literature (woo!) so I thought I’d get ahead.  This year I’m also trying to do the 100 books in a year challenge (which is much harder than it seems.  It’s fun and you learn a lot, but it’s hard.), and so far I’m on 65 books, and I’ve read 21 books this summer so far.  Here I humbly present to you: My Top 5 Books from this summer.

1. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves by Sarah B. Pomeroy
I actually lead a double life.  By day (and I’ll be honest, by night too) I’m a Classics (and English- but that’s just my teenage rebellion subject) student, and by night (well, by evening) I mess about on the radio and do comedy.  This book feeds into my interest in classics and was published in 1975.  When it came out it was quite groundbreaking and was described as being ‘revolutionary.’  It deals with the lives of women in the ancient world from early Minoan civilisations to the later Roman empire, and it was one of the first women’s history books to be published in English.  Quite frankly, this book is astoundingly good- it is beautifully didactic and to the point.  One thing Pomeroy has been criticised for however, is for not giving her own opinions on the matters discussed in this book.  Slightly counter-intuitively, I think this makes the book even better for someone like me.  I think that when you’re beginning to think about history in a more scholarly way, it’s important to have a book that lays out facts and information in an engaging way without the author necessarily passing judgement themselves.  This book is magnificent- and I would recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in classics.

2. Animal by Sara Pascoe

This book had been on my reading list for a while, ever since I saw Sara talk about it at the Hay Festival.  Keeping with the theme of G,W,W&S,  this is another book centred around women (yay!).  ‘Animal’ delves into the world of evolutionary biology and behavioural biology (is that a thing?), but particularly that of women.  Before reading this book, I’d never read a book about evolutionary biology, let alone about specifically female evolutionary biology, but after reading this book I feel like I want to learn more about it (especially about pair-bonding theories which is something that was explored quite a bit).  Pascoe is a comedian, and this book is peppered with anecdotes which help to explain some of the things she talks about, and this helps to make the book more accessible for people who don’t necessarily know a lot about science (like me).  Read it- it’s brilliant.

3. Follow Me by Angela Clarke

Follow Me’ is the first book in the Social Media Murders series, and follows police officer Nas and journalist Freddie as they investigate a serial murderer, known as the ‘Hashtag Murderer.’  What I really enjoyed about this book was how it focused largely on the impact of social media because it added a whole new dimension that traditional detective books (Agatha Christie et al.) don’t have.  Another thing I enjoyed is how Angela Clarke has created two strong, female detectives, who often stop to comment on the action.  The theme of feminism runs through the novel, which is another thing (yet another) which I enjoyed.  In a world where the most famous detectives in literature are male (Miss Marple and Precious Ramotswe excepted), it’s refreshing and empowering to see two women take the helm of solving a mystery, and succeeding.  I definitely would want Nas and Freddie to be my best friends (sorry Eleanor).  There are two other books in the series: Watch Me and Trust Me, which are available from Amazon.  Check them out.

4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I picked up this book I had no idea what it was about, but I was bored so I just started to read it.  It’s set in post-WW2 Barcelona and is about a young man who is pursued because he owns a mysterious book.  It’s the sort of book which keeps on making you ask questions, and as soon as one question is answered another one appears.  There are many strands to the story, and all are absolutely enchanting and brilliant.  It was interesting to read some European books for a change because usually I just read English and American books (or classical literature) so reading this was quite refreshing.  The aesthetic of the novel (at least in the way that I imagined it) seemed to me to be similar to the film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, which just so happens also to be Spanish.  A thrilling story- the 565 pages go too quickly!

5. Callirhoe by Chariton of Aphrodisias

This book is a bit of a weird one.  ‘Callirhoe’ belongs to the genre in ancient literature called the ‘Greek novel’, which were works of ‘light’ literature written in the 1st-3rd centuries.  This was a historical novel, even when it was written, and it is set in 400BC on Sicily, and one of the more minor characters is a real life figure from the Peloponnesian War.  It tells the story of Callirhoe and Chaereas, who fall in love even though their parents have forbidden their marriage (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?).  When they do eventually get married jealous suitors trick Chaereas that Callirhoe has been unloyal (Much Ado about Nothing, anyone?).  This book involves a long journey across the Ancient world, into Persia, and so sort of reads like an adventure story too.  It was really interesting to read because up until now I’d never read a Greek novel before, and it struck me how much it read like a modern book.  A slightly unconventional ancient text to read but one which is rewarding and enjoyable nonetheless.

Other books I’ve read this year that you should all read, but I didn’t read this summer, and so subsequently were excluded from this list:

  • “Me Talk Pretty One Day”- David Sedaris
  • “100 Years of Solitude”- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • “The Secret History”- Donna Tartt
  • “The Riddle of the Labyrinth”- Margalit Fox
  • “Confronting the Classics”- Mary Beard

Harry x

(Don’t forget to follow for updates on the podcast and other musings- and follow me on twitter @harryestinhorto)

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