Category Archives: Book of the Month Review

Introducing our March Book of the Month


H G Wells

A Literary Life

By Adam Roberts

This is the first new complete literary biography of H G Wells for thirty years, and the first to encompass his entire career as a writer, from the science fiction of the 1890s through his fiction and non-fiction writing all the way up to his last publication in 1946. Adam Roberts provides a comprehensive reassessment of Wells’ importance as a novelist, short-story writer, a theorist of social prophecy and utopia, journalist and commentator, offering a nuanced portrait of the man who coined the phrases ‘atom bomb’, ‘League of Nations’ ‘the war to end war’ and ‘time machine’, who wrote the world’s first comprehensive global history and invented the idea of the tank. In these twenty-six chapters, Roberts covers the entirety of Wells’ life and discusses every book and short story he produced, delivering a complete vision of this enduring figure.

By Becky Hinshelwood

Reading this book was a bit like going back to University. I’ve not actually read any H G Wells, familiar though I am with adaptations of titles like The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. Since my student days I’ve also not read in depth criticism because… well, I haven’t had to. So actually, it was nice to feel like I was learning again!

Adam Roberts’ book is informative and accessible. It’s is far more readable than many texts from my student life. But that’s not to say it’s a walk in the park. And there’s no need for reading to be simple in order to enjoy it. This is a good example of that: a book that takes effort and concentration to read, but it’s worth it.

So, do you have to know the work of H G Wells to appreciate this book? In short, no. Adam Roberts looks at Wells’s life through his work; it’s a fairly chronological literary biography. You’ll be guided through Wells’s massive body of work so that by the end, you’ll feel like you not only know something of the man, but also have a working knowledge of his literature. You’ll certainly be able to bluff your way in a pub quiz!

What really struck me about this tour of Wells’s literary life was how much the man wrote. He was the original content creator! Adam Roberts outlines this in his introduction, but as you go through the stories, articles, analyses and and memoirs it’s still impressively prolific! Roberts clearly admires him, and really loves a lot of his work. But he’s not afraid to be critical when he thinks a piece comes below par. Similarly when Wells’s views, as they seem to have regularly been expressed, were racist and sexist. So as my guide to H G Wells, I found myself pretty amenable to Adam Roberts.

Then there’s all the sex. From the outset, Roberts takes pains to highlight H G Wells’s vivacity. Which I originally thought was a bit farfetched… but then as you move through the works and the biography it all makes a bit more sense. With 2 marriages, 5 long term affairs and numerous dalliances influencing the work, if you’ve absorbed the whole Wells canon it would be hard not to look at each with with a bit of an erotic eye.

Even after this book, though, I struggle with H G Wells the lothario. Mainly because he is such a figurehead of Science Fiction. He’s a God of the Geeks – the man helped to spread the popularity of wargaming for goodness sake! Nowadays a comic-book version of H G Wells crops up often in graphic novels as an alien-fighting superhero. And on the twee side of life, one of his novels, Kipps, supplied the basics for cheesy 60’s musical ‘Half a Sixpence’.

But, of course H G Wells was a man and writer of contradictions. And according to Roberts a trailblazer of contradictory characters, of symbolism and unreliable narrators (including himself). Roberts’s analyses are pretty in depth. He’s actively seeking expressions of Wells’s subconscious and motivations. But that’s the point of analysing literature – it’s about finding layers of meaning.

And if one thing is clear from this book, Wells is rich in meaning! Even his eulogy to his late wife, the ‘Book of Catherine Wells’, is not as straightforward as it may appear. Roberts is critical of the narcissistic and frankly rude tone of Wells’s description of his late wife (‘sturdy’). I appreciated Roberts’s calling out of Wells’s treatment of his wife. Of course he’s balanced, which is fair – we don’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors. When Roberts takes us through Wells’s final major love affair with Moura Budberg and how her infidelities pained him, I thought “good – what goes around…”!

By tracing his work, Roberts adds yet another story to H G Wells’s portfolio. It’s a story with multitudes of meaning, most of which involve knowledge in some form. Maybe his story is essentially a journey from the optimism of future progression to pessimism with how humanity used their knowledge. I can certainly thank Adam Roberts for kick starting my brain again!

If Becky’s review has inspired you to read more, then you can buy your copy HERE 

Book of the Month Review

Christmas Traditions

A Celebration of Christmas Lore

A stocking-filler-sized compilation of Christmas lore, revealing the intriguing origins of the traditional festivities.

Forty short pieces on individual traditions are each accompanied by charming vintage illustrations from the British Library’s collection of Christmas books, cards and ephemera. Origins of the Feast at Christmas The decision to celebrate Christ’s birthday on 25 December; the Yuletide festival of Anglo-Saxon England; Saturnalia; evergreens taken inside in midwinter; the original Captain Christmas `Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ – Christmas in and out of Church Holly symbolizing Christ’s crown of thorns; the role of Midnight Mass; European celebrations of Epiphany and the importance of the Three Kings Christmas down the Ages Mistletoe and kissing; the Puritan ban on Christmas; the Twelve Days of Christmas; Dickens’s recipe for Twelfth Night cake The Transatlantic `Victorian’ Christmas Nineteenth-century romanticisation of Christmas and invented traditions; goose clubs; advent calendars; Christmas cards and gift-giving Modern Traditions Individual, sometimes outlandish traditions from around the world

By Becky Hinshelwood

I’m going to start with a warning… After reading this book, I got so excited with all the brilliant stuff I’d learnt about the history of Christmas traditions that I started regaling it all to my family. It’s worth knowing that I have kids aged 11, 8 and 5. So you can imagine, we very quickly got into territory that is dodgy for ‘believers’ in festive magic!

It went something like this:

“Did you know that St Nicholas used to bring gifts on his saints day which is 6th December. It wasn’t until the Transatlantic development of ‘Sinterklaas’ as Santa Claus that presents came on 25th December”

“But how did Father Christmas used to be someone else?”

“Oh… umm…”

So enjoy the excellent information in this festively delightful book but do be cautious which you choose to share around the Christmas dinner table with small children who ask awkward questions!

It’s so easy, nowadays, to fall victim to Festive Fatigue. And I think that this little book could be part of the solution. George Goodwin summarises the origins of the season, both religious and secular, and turns his focus to the evolution of many of our modern customs. So we look at things like carol singing, Santa Claus, turkey, Christmas pudding and the nativity play. Goodwin’s writing is concise, readable and amusingly arch in places. In 124 pages I feel like I’ve learned an awful lot!

The important thing in learning all this stuff is that it gives you the power to refresh how you want to celebrate Christmas. Feeling the pressure to give the kids a ‘perfect’ Santa experience? When you know that the concept of Santa’s Grotto was only conceived by accident in an American department store, it suddenly seems a bit more trivial. With knowledge comes power, and understanding history might give you the power to simplify.

So at a time that we’ve reached peak materialism at Christmas, could learning a bit about the history of Christmas traditions help us all to embrace a bit more of a zero waste approach? Perhaps switch our focus from presents and trimmings to the more traditional mischief and playfulness.

Our modern take on Christmas springs from the imagery of Charles Dickens and Washington Irving. Although the roots of festivity go way back to the Romans and Anglo Saxons, the way that we now interpret the season is absolutely down to these two men. Goodwin’s final section on modern traditions like the Queen’s speech, advent calendars and even Rudolph brings a certain clarity to the modern British Christmas. But it makes you realise how recently a lot of these things have been established.

So what makes a tradition? Goodwin’s reference at the end to Christmas jumpers and dogs dressed as reindeer show how traditions are evolving all the time. A lot of this is visual, with instagram perfection the source of a lot of our social pressure. So instead, look to the illustrations in this book. They’re wonderful, and the fact that many are full-page images means that they have maximum impact. The (mainly 19th Century) images gave me a lot of joy and are central in making this book feel really Christmassy!

So this Christmas I’m going to take inspiration from Christmas Traditions. And I don’t mean that I’ll start whipping the kids with a birch twig! I rather fancy instating a ‘King or Queen of the bean’ and embracing ye olde misrule! And instead of becoming enveloped in sadness at the end of the season with the prospect of the long January ahead, we’ll celebrate Twelfth Night. Thank you, George Goodwin, for helping me to find new joy in this festive season!

If Becky’s review has inspired you to read more, then you can buy your copy HERE + free UK delivery. Published by British Library.