I hate that I’ve almost entirely stopped reading for fun. Something about the college experience drove any desire to spend down time with a book out of me. I ended each term feeling intellectually bruised after months of tackling hundreds, even thousands of pages of assigned reading, and writing the assigned papers and exams. I used to read voraciously, but now in my down time I’d rather do anything but look at more words.
I suppose it may be a result of being a history major. All of my homework is either reading or writing. During the last term at SFSU, when I was doing the reading for the MA exam, I calculated that I read approximately 12,000 pages in three months.
This is not to say that I don’t access my favorite novels. I have a wide selection of audiobooks in my iTunes library, ranging from history, like The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England or a biography of Jane Boleyn, to YA novels by Tamora Pierce, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so on. So I listen to books as I walk or run errands or do my crafting, and for the moment that is how I read.
I’m trying to work in actual reading for fun again. It’s hard to get back into the habit, but I’m always satisfied when I manage to do a little reading. It does help that the assigned reading for library school is usually deadly dull! Never thought I’d miss my history homework, but there it is.
Last night I finally finished Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias and Their Enemies, which I’ve been picking away at since New Year’s. It was an enjoyable, easy read, an excellent example of approachable popular history, though surprisingly short given the topic (ha ha). Apparently it’s the first “major biography of the Borgias in thirty years.” I can’t speak to that, though I predict more will come onto the scene if HBO’s series on the Borgia family continues to be popular. I was surprised by the tone of this book, though.
The Borgias were among the most infamous and vilified families of Renaissance Italy. Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI and unlike previous popes, didn’t even try to pretend that the young people living in his palace weren’t his children. In fact, he introduced them as such. He never tried to hide his mistresses and he recognized his illegitimate offspring, working hard to bestow gifts and prestige upon them. Cesare Borgia, one of Rodrigo’s sons, was possibly the first Cardinal ever to relinquish his position and leave the Church in favor of a secular life. Lucrezia Borgia, Cesare’s little sister, lived her early life as the subject of vicious rumor, accusing her of incest with brothers and father, adulterous affairs, and all sorts of other licentious and immoral behavior.
Hibbert presents a biography that acknowledges the rumor and refuses both to participate in it and to apologize. He presents the rumors and leaves the reader to make of them what he or she will. It’s refreshing, actually – a nice change from the usual story of the Borgias which shows a tapestry of sex, power, violence, and lust that would make the most explicit film or movie look like the Teletubbies. I’m starting to notice this as a quiet but pervasive trend in popular history, actually. One of the audiobooks I have is a biography of Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to the infamous Anne, which works hard to reverse centuries of malicious and probably undeserved libel.
Hibbert’s a prolific writer, on all sorts of subjects within European history. I’ll probably give some of his other works a try, and I’d recommend this biography of the Borgia family.