Sunday, August 16, 2015

Books read 2015 #2

#6 Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley Shopgirls: true stories of friendship, hardship and triumph from behind the counter
I got this one from the library after meeting one of the authors when I was at work. It narrates the history of women working in shops from the mid-nineteenth century until the present day, and is full of little anecdotes and detail gleaned from the archives. I learnt a huge amount about social history, for instance, I'd had no idea that Sunday trading laws were a relatively new thing, and once upon a time shops used to be open very long hours to enable people who worked in factories etc to have a chance to shop. I think I'd been vaguely aware that shopgirls used to "live in", as a way of guarding their morals, and getting more work out of them for less money. It was also interesting to discover that the whole "demise of the high street" and move to big stores isn't a new thing, and the whole area of shopping has been in a state of flux ever since the nineteenth century!

#7 Deborah Cohen Family secrets: the things we tried to hide
This was another one I saw on the book suggestions pile near the self-issue machines in the library and picked it up as it looked interesting. It draws on archive material from the last 200 years to look at what families found shameful and how they tried to cover it up. So it looks at social attitudes, and how the law changed. It was really interesting seeing how things changed over time - Victorians were apparently happy to keep their disabled children in their midst, as they saw them as just one of those things and that they had a duty to look after them. But once the basic idea of genetics filtered through, having a disabled child indicated that something was wrong with your family so people (especially the middle and upper classes) were more inclined to hide them away in an institution. Obviously other attitudes changed over time too, including people having babies outside marriage, and whether adoption was OK or not (the changing ideas over whether or not children should know they are adopted were interesting too), and attitudes towards homosexuality, which was actually considered OK (even if illegal) most of the time, as long as people weren't too flamboyant about it. The book moves on to look at notions of privacy, and how they compare to now - once upon a time people tried to keep secrets within their family, whereas now people are more likely to share a lot of information via social media, but also be to be fiercely protective about what information search engines such as Google store.

#8 Julie Summers When the children came home: stories of wartime evacuees
In similar vein to the book above, this is another popular history type book, based on the accounts of wartime evacuees. It covers a lot of ground, looking at evacuation from the point of view of children and parents (plus people that went with the children, such as teachers), those that were evacuated to other countries, or evacuated from other parts of the world, and those for whom evacuation changed their lives in a positive way, and those who had an appalling time. It was a real eye-opener, as, of course, I knew children had been evacuated, but I had little idea of the logistics involved, or the different types of evacuation. From a 21st century perspective it sounds such a risky thing to do, to send children away to unvetted strangers, not knowing when you would see them again.

#9 Alan Titchmarsh Lawns, paths and patios
And now for something completely different! We're planning a garage extension and new patio/driveway so I thought I'd do some background research so got this from the library. It's fairly basic, but fills you in on all the basics you need to think about. It includes a lot of diagrams for how to do the work yourself, which we aren't intending to do, but it did help me to get an idea of what is involved in a project of this kind.

#10 Mary Gibson Custard tarts and broken hearts
Fiction set before and during the First World war, featuring the women who work in a custard factory in Bermondsey. I enjoyed the setting the scene and the attention to period detail. It's all a bit  predictable, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

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