I got a lovely pile of books for my birthday in July and have enjoyed some eclectic late summer reading in the last few weeks. First up was What we really do all day: Insights from the Centre for Time Use Research by Jonathan Gershuny and Oriel Sullivan. I’ve always been interested in research that involves diary keeping and used this as a tool myself in various pieces of research I conducted for government in the 2000s.
This book didn’t disappoint. It’s a pleasure to hold in your hand and definitely needs reading in paperback rather than ebook format, as it is packed full of graphs and charts. It looks at how as a nation we have spent our time over the last fifty years and has chapters on work, domestic labour, unpaid work in general, family time, eating, physical activity, technology and a chapter that asks if our daily life is really speeding up. The analysis is done by gender and it is interesting to see some gaps closing, as men do more childcare for instance, but rather depressingly men still spend more time on themselves at the weekend than do women, who spend more time doing unpaid work. I was struck by less having changed over fifty years than you might imagine, or than reading the news would lead you to believe. This book de-bunks some of the myths that technology is ruining our children or that we are all getting far less sleep than previous generations. It should become a go-to source for anyone interested in public health and it provides a factual basis for many alarmist conversations.
Next up was the novel Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This is the fourth and final book in the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ series set in Barcelona, that roams from the Spanish Civil War to the present day. The series mixes mystery, love, history and intrigue around a cast of characters and their love of, and relationship to, books. I was therefore always going to enjoy reading these! I confess though, that I got a bit lost in this one. A lesson learned for me is that to enjoy a book in a series properly it is worth taking time to re-read the last one before beginning the latest. Or at least to stop and remind yourself of the synopsis of the series so far, or to spend some time untangling confusion over who the different characters are. Instead I just ploughed on and whilst I enjoyed it, it was somewhat of a relief to get to the end. I would recommend starting at the beginning of this fabulous series and to spend a few weeks or months reading them in turn.
Finally, I read Wealth or Poverty: Jane Austen’s novels explored by Stephen Mahony, which is a fascinating look at money in Jane Austen’s novels. It makes sense of her references to incomes and taxation, the price of land, investments and speculation, and makes it clearer what a turbulent age Austen lived through, one that makes the last 15 years of financial crashes look fairly tame by comparison. The book explores how this turbulence affected the lives of Austen herself, her family and her characters and there are deep dives into the navy, the church and shopping, all of which are very enjoyable. It is also peppered with extracts from the novels, which bring the facts of the matter to life. This is very much worth reading for all Austen fans, and indeed for anyone interested in the social history of the period.