You Watched a Lot of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
Are an Erik Larson fan or are going museum-hopping this summer
I hope your June is off to a great start.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be in conversation at Solid State Books with Laura Hankin to celebrate the paperback launch of her book A Special Place For Women. It’s a thoughtful, funny, sharply observed book that would be a great addition to your beach bag this summer.
The event let me cross off a square on my Bingo card and Laura kindly signed a copy for one lucky Bingo winner.
Speaking of Bingo, to make it easy to cross off the “Submit a rec to What to Read If” square, I’ll open the comment section each week with a prompt. This week, let me know what book you either have re-read or are looking forward to re-reading.
And now, what to read if …
You Mainlined Coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee
The U.K. celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee last week, recognizing the 96-year-old royal’s 70 years on the throne. While the Queen, Britain’s longest-serving royal, didn’t make all of the events, she appeared at Trooping the Color (where her great-grandson Prince Louis stole the show) and in a pre-recorded video with Paddington Bear to kick off the Jubilee concert (shout out to my mom who sent this to me knowing how much I love Paddington). Royal watchers, of course, produced countless articles and Instagram posts on what members of the House of Windsor wore for the celebration.
Elizabeth Holmes — the reporter, not the convicted fraudster — explores the ways royal women use fashion to telegraph their values and priorities in the coffee table book HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style. She devotes sections to Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex (aka Meghan Markle), offering brief bios of each woman and examinations of some of their most famous outfits and styles. The Queen, for example, always wears a single color so her subjects can quickly and easily spot her in a crowd, while Diana eschewed gloves so she could have direct contact with the public.
Fashion and clothing are typically considered frivolous, but Holmes, building on her Instagram series of the same name, demonstrates the opposite is true. The Windsor women use their outfits to subtly advance diplomatic goals, support worthy causes and communicate with the wider world. Like the best coffee table books, HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style includes dozens of color photos — ranging from Diana in her “revenge dress” to Kate Middleton’s wedding gown.
Bingo boxes this book checks: Book set outside the U.S., book that teaches you something new
Reminder rec: SJ Bennet’s The Windsor Knot imagines Queen Elizabeth solving mysteries in between opening hospitals and meeting with dignitaries. It’s a charming, fun book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel this summer.
You Loved The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a narrative non-fiction tale about a serial killer who haunted the Chicago World’s Fair, has become a modern-day classic. It’s easy to see why. It has something for everyone: a compelling history of the work it took to pull off the Fair, a lurid true-crime tale and an exploration of characters of the Gilded Age (Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser and Thomas Edison, to name just a few). For a similar read, pick up Richard White’s Who Killed Jane Stanford?
In 1885, Jane and her husband Leland, a railroad tycoon, founded the University that bears their name. In 1905, eight years after her husband’s death, Jane was poisoned in Hawaii. University officials then orchestrated a cover-up, arguing her death was from natural causes. They feared a murder designation would cause a years-long argument over her will, a delay the University couldn’t afford.
As I noted in my review for Best Evidence, “Using the Stanford case as a framing device, White illuminates the corruption and excess of the Gilded Age. Leland Stanford, Jane’s robber-baron husband, made his fortune building the transcontinental railroad — and cheating taxpayers out of billions. One of Jane’s employees was tangentially involved in the Tong Wars, a series of feuds between organizations of Chinese immigrants. The Stanfords were spiritualists, a popular Gilded Age movement based on the tenet that the living could communicate with the dead. Leland said he founded the University after his deceased son visited him and suggested the idea (an assertion that is noticeably absent from Stanford’s official history page).”
As a bonus for true crime fans, White goes a step further than previous books about the poisoning and posits an identity of the murderer. Using newly discovered information, he walks though how they could have pulled it off.
Bingo boxes this book checks: Book set before 1975, book that teaches you something new
You’re Planning Museum Trips This Summer
My friend Annette Laing of the Non-Boring History newsletter has her own Bingo challenge going this summer – for visiting museums. If you’re planning a some trips, or you want to visit some of the world’s best art museums through a book from the comfort of your air conditioned home, grab a copy of Portrait of a Thief by Grace Li.
Portrait of a Thief is a fun, thought-provoking heist novel. It follows a group of young Chinese American friends attempting to steal priceless artifacts — looted from China generations earlier — from five museums worldwide. Led by Will Chen, a Harvard senior studying history, the crew studies famous thefts — real and fictional — to plan their exploits. If they pull it off, a mysterious benefactor will pay them $50 million, enough to pay off their student loans and live the lives they dream of.
Portrait of a Thief was one of my most anticipated reads of 2022. It combines two things I’m fascinated by — heist stories and how museums manage collections made up of stolen art. Li writes a well-plotted robbery (Netflix is developing it for the screen, and it definitely has a cinematic feel). Still, it’s the book’s observations about colonialism and the Chinese diaspora that will stay with me. Portrait of a Thief is Li’s first book and I’m eager to see what she does next.
Bingo boxes this book checks: New-to-you author, book with multiple narrators, read a book based on the cover (I loved this cover)
That’s it for me today. Don’t forget to comment with one of your favorite re-reads.
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