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Books in My Baggage: Reading at the Beach

Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.

First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of  Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread  of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.

More currently relevant, unfortunately, is Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc. How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back, also borrowed from the library. Of all Rushkoff has to say, I found his discussion of local currencies like BerkShares most fascinating. He is not afraid to take a stick to other interpretations of modern times, and don’t get him going about self-help conventions, up to and including The Secret.

So it was back to the Bay of Naples area with store-bought Mary Beard’s Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found. Why would Pompeii be bombed in WW2? Sounds very Catch-22 but it happened. This book offers an insight, a context to a visit to or interest in Pompeii. Beard is Chair of Classics at Cambridge University, a blogger, and an excellent explainer of  archaeological matters.  Pompeii was a colony of Rome; previously an independent polity, it built a stone theater before Rome had one. A strong earthquake years before Vesuvius’ eruption knocked down buildings which confused early bad excavations. Much of the ubiquitous graffiti is in Oscan, the local language. Beard looks at physical evidence, discounts some interpretations, and brings wit to the discussion of the life of Pompeii.