Monthly Archives: September 2011

Saving the Daylight, by David Prerau

I have always been vaguely interested in Daylight Savings Time, in a “why does this exist” kind of way. So when this book came into the charity shop, I couldn’t resist picking it up. (Which then led to a rant by my boyfriend about why I’d bother reading non-fiction instead of just looking things up on the internet if I was interested in them – but that’s a different post.)

I found it very interesting – did you know that Benjamin Franklin advocated a form of daylight savings time? Or that it really gained ground during World War I as an energy-saving measure? Or that it was one of the mostly hotly contested bills in legislatures (US,  UK, state level, kind of everywhere) for years?

The main point of Daylight Savings Time, though – and one that gets lost in the rage about shifting clocks and losing sleep and/or drinking time (Go Bobcats) – is to shift socially acceptable working (and playing) times to more closely match daylight hours. Until the standardization of time zones (itself a hotly contested issue), it wasn’t really an issue. Blame the railroads – they needed standard times to simplify their timetables.

It is, of course, easier to mandate regional clock changes than to change people’s habits. By now, our culture is too clock-based to make any sort of social shift easy. 5am is early, even if the sun’s been up for an hour. 4 pm is still within normal business hours, even if it’s nearly dusk. Daylight Savings Time just tries to even out our cultural and social suppositions about when things should happen to use more of the natural sunlight time.

Personally, I’ve thought for a few years that instead of changing the clocks twice a year, we should split the difference and do a one-time half-hour change – and the more I learned about daylight savings time and its motivations, the more I am convinced that it might work. Astronomers can still use GMT/UTC for observations, but everyone’s personal clocks will be more in line with “natural” time.

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Filed under Non-Fiction (Science)

Who Murdered Chaucer? by Terry Jones

There are so many post-it bookmarks in this book now. It’s totally the period I’m interested in, and gives so much information on the cultural life of Richard II’s court (and Europe in general in the late 14th century) – including, of course, my area of expertise, musicians. The first third of the book is almost unclosable because of the post-its. I marked so many passages and references…I really need to get back to proper research one day.

There were also parts I wanted to mark just for the style. Terry Jones is one of the authors, and you can kind of tell the parts that are his and the parts that are from people who are more academically trained.  There’s an irreverence to his style, even while it’s factually accurate. I knew he was a Richard II apologist (almost fanboy) because of when I heard him speak two years ago, and his defense ofRichard and his court is one of the more powerful arguments in the book.

Not everything is factually accurate, though – not that things are inaccurate, but so much of this book is conjecture based on lack of evidence. It’s not unreasonable conjecture, it is necessary conjecture, but it’s still conjecture. Most of the jumps made sense – I particularly like the explanation for Henry IV’s coup – but on a couple (like Chaucer living until 1402), the initial jump was a bit iffy, even if the following jumps were logical.

This book is fantastic for the background of the time and the character portraits of Henry IV, Richard II, and Archbishop Arundel that it draws. What it did for me more than anything else, though, was increase my reading list about a million times. Not only do I now need to finish reading the Canterbury Tales, but I also need to read….everything else written between 1330 and 1450.

 

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Filed under Non-Fiction (History)