Thompson, Craig. Carnet de Voyage.

(Travel Journal Volume One) Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2004.

I’m a fan of graphic novels, but I try to be a critical and discerning one. One of the best I’ve ever read is the autobiographical Blankets, published in 2003, and which runs to nearly 600 pages. It got Craig a lot of attention and the following year his publisher packed him off to Europe on a multi-month promotional tour. (They take comics much more seriously in Europe than they do in the States.)


Published in: on 29 June 2012 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bowman, Alan K. Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and Its People.

NY: Routledge, 1998 (London: British Museum Press, 1994).

When Rome reached a certain point in its conquest of Britain — around the end of the governorship of Agricola in AD 85 — a policy decision was reached that the Picts in the far north of the island (against whom Agricola had led several expeditions without much effect) simply weren’t worth the trouble. Eventually, the result was Hadrian’s Wall, begun about AD 122, but before the construction of that permanent boundary, the Roman army established a string of forts of assorted sizes somewhat farther south and stretching across Britain from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth.


Rankin, Ian. The Impossible Dead.

NY: Little, Brown, 2011.

Since finally retiring the irascible DI John Rebus a while back, Rankin had to find a new character upon whom to build a new series. He discovered him in the very different Inspector Malcolm Fox of the Edinburgh “Complaints,” which American cops would know as “Internal Affairs.” There’s just him, his boss (forever tied up in reorganization meetings), his long-time friend and colleague, Sgt. Tony Kaye, and young Constable Joe Naysmith, their electronics and computer expert.


Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Expanded & rev. ed.

NY: Doubleday, 1996.

Back forty years ago, when I was first getting into the formal study of “material history” — also called “historical archaeology,” as opposed to prehistorical — Deetz was one of the principal practitioners in the field, teaching introductory courses at Brown and Berkeley and the University of Virginia. Out of those courses came the first edition of this book, published in 1977. It focused mostly on New England — but that didn’t matter because archaeological method and systematic interpretation is the same whatever milieu one applies it to.


Hutton, Paul Andrew (ed). Soldiers West: Biographies from the Military Frontier.

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

This volume is exactly what it says it is — a collection of brief biographies of fourteen key military leaders who were closely involved with the settling of the American West, each by a different author. They’re presented in chronological order, beginning with William Clark, who may seem an odd choice to some — the Lewis and Clark Expedition and all that. But it all depends on how you define “frontier.” (Speaking to students, I’ve always defined it as beginning one mile west of Jamestown.)


Published in: on 21 June 2012 at 6:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Powers, Tim. The Bible Repairman and Other Stories.

San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2011.

For me, Tim Powers is one of a small number of “automatic” authors: Anything he writes, I want to read. Still, while this slender collection of five short stories and an almost-novelette, all previously published in other small collections or as chapbooks, is enjoyable, it holds nothing remarkable. In fact, it’s a little uneven.


Published in: on 19 June 2012 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hollinghurst, Alan. The Stranger’s Child.

NY: Knopf, 2011.

Hollinghurst won the Booker Prize a few years ago, but this long, rambling, multi-generational sort-of saga isn’t nearly up to the level of his previous work. It begins in 1912 (I think) with the visit home from university of George Sawle and his close friend, Cecil Valance, heir to a baronetcy and a budding poet who is already attracting attention.


Cunliffe, Barry. The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek.

Rev. ed. NY: Walker, 2002.

Cunliffe is a well-known archaeologist and classical scholar at Oxford who specializes in the interface between the land of Europe and the oceans surrounding it on three sides. He also has a talent for storytelling, which is not a bad thing in an historian.


Published in: on 16 June 2012 at 5:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cetaganda.

NY: Baen, 1996.

The author’s “Miles Vorkosigan” yarns are a high-quality series of space opera novels (and shorter pieces) but this one has hardly any “space” in it. Instead, Bujold shows off her considerable talents at world-building in a manner reminiscent of Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series.


Published in: on 15 June 2012 at 5:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sawyer, Peter (ed). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings.

NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

If there’s one thing that bugs me, it’s the deliberate misuse of the language by people who know better. “Vikings” is widely used as if it refers to a nationality, while actually it was an occupation — that of sea-borne raider — engaged in on a usually temporary basis by men of every Scandinavian culture, plus more than a few Finns, Irishmen, and Anglo-Saxons. One really can’t talk about “Viking settlers.” By definition, when they moved in and became permanent residents and farmers, they ceased being “vikings.”