Summer Reading Guide (From 1852)

Looking for a good summer read? In 1852, the New York Times highlighted the following notable books to get you through the hot months. Due to copyright lapses and fair use laws, all of these are available to read now, so dive in! (SPOILER ALERT: Many of the books are about hating the Pope).

1. 'Claret and Olives' by Angus B. Reach

Summary: Travel dispatches from a wine tour of the South of France make up what is essentially Sideways for the 1800s. Our man Angus goes around France getting drunk, describing soil, and ruminating about what's making the peasant class so darn upset.

Key Passage: "…my respected landlord was far more in his element than at home with his wife. He eat more, drank more, talked more, and laughed more than any two men present. Afterwards he grew tender and sentimental, and professed himself to be an ardent lover of his kind—a proposition which I suspect he afterwards narrowed specially in favor of a most mosquito-ridden lady next to him…But on the morrow, my repeatable entertainer had a bad headache, a yellow visage, and an entire forgetfulness of how he had got home at all."

What the Times said: "...the extremely picturesque and life-like narrative of a tour in the South of France, performed last year in the season of the vintage." They liked it!

[Read the full text of Claret and Olives here.]

2. 'Margaret Cecil, Or, I Can, Because I Ought' by Catherine Douglas Bell (a.k.a. Cousin Kate)

Summary: Part of a series of holier-than-thou morality tales for young women, Margaret Cecil, Or, I Can, Because I Ought, tells the story of Margaret, a chaste girl who achieves chastity through her unrelenting chasteness.

Key Passage: “Margaret went for the Bible, and seated herself upon a chair by the bedside. Before she began to read, Mrs. Cecil offered up a few simple earnest words of prayer, that God, for His dear Son’s sake, would send His Holy Spirit to be with them at that time, to open their hearts to understand and believe His words, and to enable them to submit to His will, whatever it might be. And the mother’s prayer was answered.”

What the Times said: "[A tale] from which the fire of passion and the exaggeration of romance are anxiously excluded.” This is presented as a good thing.

[Read the full text of Margaret Cecil here.]

3. 'A Journey to Iceland and Travels in Sweden and Norway' by Ida Pfeiffer

Summary: Ida Pfeiffer was an Austrian heiress and one of the world's first female explorers. This collection of travel writing covers her journey through the unforgiving cold of Scandinavia.

Key Passage: "Haveniord is surrounded by a most beautiful and picturesque field of lava, which at first swells to a gentle eminence, then sinks again, and finally stretches in one wide plain to the neighboring hills."

What the Times said: "As a partial compensation for maternal neglect, we observe that the Peripatetie dedicates ‘the volume to her children.’"

[Read A Journey to Iceland and Travels in Sweden and Norway in its entirety here.]

4. 'Thorpe, a Quiet English Town, and Human Life Therein' by William Mountford

Summary: Who wants to read a 360-page prose poem about a town and its cordial Presbyterian shenanigans? Billy Mountford has got you covered.

Key Passage: “It is a good, healthy place. As being God’s it is very good, but not quite so good as being man’s. That, I suppose, is the exact truth. Though some of the gentry are very well inclined to the poor at times, such as Christmas, or when there is cholera.”

What the Times said: “A delightful invigorating prose poem…there are few books more specially adapted to summer reading al fresco than this.” The Times really ate this crap up.

[Read Thorpe, a Quite English Town in its entirety here.]

5. 'History of the War of Independence of the United States of America' by Charles Botta

Summary: This book was updated and re-released in 1852 (it was originally published around 43 years prior). It's translated from the original Italian and the author impressively shoehorns Italian nationalism into a history book about the American Revolution.

Key Passage: “America, and especially some parts of it, having been discovered by the genius and intrepidity of Italians, received, at various times, as into a place of asylum, the men whom political or religious disturbances had driven from their own countries in Europe.”

What the Times said: “[Botta’s] authorities were all in a language with which he could scarcely be idiomatically familiar. We may well be surprised that he made so fair a book; and we have to smile occasionally at the speeches, which, after the manner of Flavius Josephus, he puts in the mouths of his heroes.” Basically: It's historically inaccurate, but you gotta love the weirdo for trying.

[Read History of the War of Independence of the United States of America in its entirety here.]

6. 'Letters to the Hon. Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the United States' by Kirwan

U of Michigan

Summary: The pseudonymous "Kirwan" rose to fame with a series of letters to a Roman Catholic Bishop. He's back and better than ever with a series of unsolicited notes to the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. If you think he asks Justice Taney questions about law, you are sorely mistaken—Kirwan pretty much just opens up a firehose of anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Key Passage: "My Dear Sir,—Up to this point I have sought to place before you what I consider to be the true character of the Romish Church, of its priests, its ceremonies, its impostures, and sporty And my object in all this is avowed—to demonstrate to you, and to the entire American people, so far as I can arrest their attention, that nothing but evil—unmingled evil—can be expected from the spread of Popery in this land."

What the Times said: "We doubt whether the book will make any converts. The Rev. Doctor’s facts will surely be taken for falsities, and his logic for dogmatism,—the fate of many a better book."

[Read Letters to the Hon. Roger B. Taney in its entirety here.]

7. 'Gaieties and Gravities' by Horace Smith

Summary: Here comes the comedy! Mid-19th century yuckster Horace Smith's collection of essays will have you coughing up blood with laughter (because you probably have tuberculosis). Classic riffs include "My Tea-Kettle," "On Noses," "Miss Hebe Hoggins's Account of a Literary Society in Houndsditch," "On Lips and Kissing," and the side-splitting, "Ugly Women."

Key Passage: From the aforementioned "Ugly Women": "What a blessing for these unhandsome damsels whom we treat still more unhandsomely by our fastidious neglect, that some of us are less squeamish in our tastes, and more impartial in our attentions!"


What the Times said: “A pleasant volume…No reading can be racier.” They must be talking about "My Tea-Kettle."

[Read Gaieties and Gravities in its entirety here.]

8. 'Crimes of the house of Austria against mankind' by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody

Summary: Did somebody say, "beach read"??? This indictment against the Hapsburghs is a real page-turner that will have you hooked, even if you aren't particularly anti-Hapsburgh...yet.

Key Passage: "The ruthless will to destroy their constitutional rights in Charles V.—that can surprise us no longer; that is the inherited spirit, the essence of the family of Hapsburgh."

What the Times Said: "It is of the same class of reading as the 'Lives of the Highwaymen,' or the 'Pirate’s Own Book.'" So, uh, be sure to pick it up if you like those books.

[Read Crimes of the House of Austria Against Mankind in its entirety here.]

9. 'The Confessions of an Attorney' By Samuel Warren, Charles Dickens

Summary: A series of short stories written by a "Gustavas Sharp, ESQ." (thought to be Samuel Warren), with essays on law by Charles Dickens interspersed. Think Perry Mason, but way more highfalutin.

Key Passage: "Caleb Jennings, a shoemaker, cobbler, snob—using the last word in its genuine classical sense, and by no means according to the modern interpretation by which it is held to signify a genteel sneak or pretender—he was anything but that—occupied, some twelve or thirteen years ago, a stall at Watley, which, according to the traditions of the place, had been hereditary in his family for several generations." (The Dickens bits are better.)

What the Times said: "Messrs. Cornish, Lamport & Co., have collected several brilliant Nouvelettes, evidently by one pen, from the English Magazines…They abound in various incident, and do good service in showing up the abuses of the English Common law system." No mention of Dickens.

[Read The Confessions of an Attorney in its entirety here.]

10. 'The Desert Home' by Captain Mayne Reid

Summary: This novel about an English family living in the American desert is a must-read for fans of survivalist fiction and descriptions of the desert written by someone who had probably never been to one (lots of non-indigenous elk here).

Key Passage: "I dropped my rifle, and seized hold of the points, with the intention of extricating myself: but before I could do so, the elk had risen to his feet, and with a powerful jerk of his head tossed me high into the air."

What the Times said: “The story-teller contrives to throw an astonishing degree of interest. The illustrations are appropriate.”

[Read The Desert Home in its entirety here.]

11. 'Tales Illustrating the Passions' by G.P.R. James

Summary: Collected stories about remorse, jealousy, revenge, despair, and hatred from someone who clearly needed to work some shit out.

Key Passage: "I care for, feel for, nothing upon the earth: the past and the future are all one blank, without a sweet memory, without a bright hope. I have left behind me every thing that had any association with past times, and with the future I have nothing to do."

What the Times said: "[The stories] were highly popular some years ago and are certainly not the worst of his numberless writings." Cheer up, G.P.R., that ain't so bad!

[Read Tales Illustrating the Passions in its entirety here.]

12. 'Wheat or Chaff?' by the Rev. J.C. Ryle

Summary: 350 pages of Reverend Ryle asking, "YOU PIOUS ENOUGH, BRO?"

Key Passage: "You attend church perhaps. You go to the Lord’s table. You like good people. You can distinguish between good preaching and bad. You think Popery false, and oppose it warmly. You think Protestantism true, and support it cordially. You subscribe to religious societies. You attend religious meetings. You sometimes read religious books. It is well: it is very well. It is good: it is all very good. It is more than can be said of many. But still this is not a straightforward answer to my question,—Are you wheat, or are you chaff?"

What the Times said: "The author is remarkable for the cogency of his reasoning and earnestness of eloquence. He is terse and epigrammatic in style, and rendered extremely impressive by unmistakable sincerity of purpose. The book must do great good." Kiss his butt all you want, but that's not how you become wheat.

[Read Wheat or Chaff? in its entirety here.]

13. 'My First Visit to Europe: Or, Sketches of Society, Scenery, and Antiquities' by Andrew Dickinson

Summary: Guy does semester abroad, won't shut up about it.

Key Passage: "Although I knew that the Sabbath was not respected in France, I was utterly astounded at the sight of their festivities! Sunday—why, it is their great day of business and amusement, more than any other day! The shops are all open…Alas! poor creatures! they have not the slightest idea of its wickedness."

What the Times said: "Mr. Dickinson travelled abroad without an armory of classic and historic recollections; but he is gifted with a valuable faculty of observation, clear perceptions and much religious feeling. His sketches are graphic and interesting."

[Read My First Visit to Europe in its entirety here.]

How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.


In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.


While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.


By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.


While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.


In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.


There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)


The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.


Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"


Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”


Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).


Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”


Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce


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