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Summer Reading Challenge

July 8, 2013

As the lovely weather kicks in, Cardigan Continuum London have decided that they would like to read something a bit lighter over the summer months, and so, rather than set a text, this time there is an open choice and you can read anything you like so long as it meets the following criteria;

  • it must be fiction,
  • it must have some connection with archives or records or archival themes
  • it must in your view be good holiday reading.

Once you have made up your mind what you are going to read, why not let everyone know by adding a comment below and, for those of you who do not know where to start, the following article by Arlene Schmuland ‘The Archival Image in Fiction: An Analysis and Annotated Bibliography‘ (American Archivist 62:1 1999) has a list of 128 to choose from.

Given that everyone will be on holiday reading, there will be no face to face meeting until the autumn, but we will have a Twitter chat on 26 August to discuss what we think of our choices. See you then and have a good summer.

  1. Is it cheating to re-read books?

    Camilla Lackberg frequently have her detective Patrick Hedström using the police archive to help him solve the crimes. This quote is from ‘The Stranger’: “Searching the archives was, as usual, both dreary and arduous work. Nothing seemed to be where it should be.” I can only conclude that Swedish police archive are not well organised…

    Anyway, there are definitely some mention of archive (file from, visits to) in ‘The Stranger’, ‘The Hidden Child’ (I seem to recall there are archives in other of her books too, but I haven’t been able to find any during my quick flick through them just now), so if you like Scandi-crime those might be worth a read…

  2. My immediate thought is Tracy Chevalier’s 1997 novel The Virgin Blue. Its characters include a young (and unstereotyped) French archivist and a naive first-time user of archives for family history research.

  3. A few more recent ones to review:
    Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho
    Jose Carlos Somoza’s The Athenian Murders (more about manuscript translation/analysis really but fascinating)
    David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas – one of the six protagonists is an archivist collecting an oral history, several of the others are captured in particular formats commonly found in archives (diary, letters, film script)
    One of Simon Brett’s Fethering mysteries includes quite a bit of research in a record office, though annoyingly I can’t remember which it is, possibly Witness at the Wedding. A bit hackle-raising, as I recall.
    Peter Millar’s pulpy alternative history, the Shameful Suicide of Winston Churchill, has quite a bit about recordkeeping and research, though much of it is newspaper based. A bit like 1984, written by Dan Brown…
    And if you’ve been meaning to read GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, throughout, peppered with references to records of the past, to its references to dragons and the things beyond the Wall. Which of course, no one now believes.

    I might finally read Fatherland. Been vaguely meaning to since it came out… 19 years ago?

    • I’ve accidentally created extra evidence for the first of these by having a twitter chat with Ben Aaronovitch along with a couple of other twitterarchivisti. Storified here, as it’s quite nicely revealing about archives in fiction and reader response:

      I also remembered that the narrator in Sarah Caudwell’s four magnificently silly legal thrillers (start with Thus Was Adonis Murdered) is constantly claiming to be in Chancery Lane because of research at the PRO, of which you get some flavour. A very much older PRO, though the thrillers are 1980s/90s. Autres pays, autres moeurs. You don’t get dinners like that in the vicinity of Kew Gardens.

  4. 80gb permalink

    I think I must subconsciously avoid any fiction that involves archives as I couldn’t immediately think of anything I’d read that had any kind of connection of the sort. Even staring at my bookshelves didn’t help very much, except for A.S.Byatt’s Possession, which I disliked intensely although I’m not sure I could tell you why ( if you want to read some appreciative reviews though). Perhaps it was the plot turning on the theft of papers from the British Library that I objected to, and reflecting on that, it occurred to me that where archives or records do put in an appearance in fiction, all too often the storyline involves material being stolen and/or deliberately altered. Is that a topic for discussion?

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