Renaissance Research: Book Edition

A friend asked me what were some good books to read if one wanted to do more research into the Renaissance. I assembled this list for her and thought it might also be of some use to people reading this blog!   So here you go – if you want to research the Renaissance, this is where I would start.   This is not an exhaustive list, but it’ll give you a good comprehensive grounding on some of the ins and outs and how to structure any further research you choose to do.

Margaret King’s The Renaissance in Europe
This is a fairly good informative textbook – King works more or less thematically through the Renaissance and it gives you a nice grounding in just about everything. It is definitely the book I would go to first before delving into more heavier researching.

Gene Brucker’s The Society of Renaissance Florence – A Documentary Study
My Renaissance and Reformation professor made a comment once in class, that just about everything that ever happened in the European Renaissance – you could find an example of that happening in Florence. He’s yet to be proven wrong. Florence is an amazing case study for the Renaissance as a whole, and that’s due in no small part because Florence is obsessively well-documented. Where the rest of Europe will have a hundred documents or so total – Florence (not to mention the rest of Italy) has thousands upon thousands of documents. Like King, it is organized thematically – but the documents that Brucker has selected give a very good picture of what day to day life was like.

Kenneth Atchity’s The Renaissance Reader
This compilation gives access to selections from the important literary, artistic, social, religious, political, scientific and philosophical texts of the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Louise Labe, Bruni, Dante, Chaucer, Villon, Malory, Copernicus and Shakespeare, as well as illustrations representing the work of Giotto, Donatello, Bellini, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Brueghel. It also provides first-hand encounters with the Renaissance in the form of letters, diaries, poetry and art.

Michael Baxandall’s Painting and Experience in 15th century Italy 2nd Edition.
The Renaissance was a highly material and visual culture – there are social cues and codes incorporated into the paintings of the time. This book is both an introduction to fifteenth-century Italian painting and as a text on how to interpret social history from the style of pictures in a given historical period, this examines early Renaissance painting, and explains how the style of painting in any society reflects the visual skills and habits that evolve out of daily life. Renaissance painting, for example, mirrors the experience of such activities as preaching, dancing, and gauging barrels. The volume includes discussions of a wide variety of painters, including Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Stefano di Giovanni, Sandro Botticelli, Masaccio, Luca Signorelli, Boccaccio, and countless others. Baxandall also defines and illustrates sixteen concepts used by a contemporary critic of painting, thereby assembling the basic equipment needed to explore fifteenth-century art. This new second edition includes an appendix that lists the original Latin and Italian texts referred to throughout the book, providing the reader with all the relevant, authentic sources. It also contains an updated bibliography and a new reproduction of a recently restored painting which replaces the original.

Craig Harbison’s The Mirror of the Artist – Northern Renaissance Art in its Historical Context
This book looks at the Northern Renaissance and how that transformed differently from the Southern (Italian) Renaissance – it places the art inside the historical context of the time and overlaps with the Reformation. Fascinating reading and has some amazing pictures of the kinds of Northern Art that existed or developed.

These last two names are more along the lines of primary source material, but both are rather essential for sort of understanding Renaissance-era thought.

Niccolo Machiavelli – The Prince and Discourses I & II (Free)
Machiavelli wrote more than just the Prince -which should be required reading for everyone, everywhere, but I digress. His Discourses are also very valuable readings with regards to political thought – and he was more than a simple theorist, being the foreign minister of Florence in the early 1500s–until thrown out of office and tortured by the Medici in 1513–his Discourses and the Prince illustrate Renaissance Italy’s dangerous political environment, on which Machiavelli drew for his insights on political conduct.

Baldassare Castiglione – “The Art of the Courtier” (free)

This book is amazing. It addresses the constitution of a perfect courtier, and in its last installment, a perfect lady. It is the definitive account of Renaissance court life. The book is organized as a series of fictional conversations that occur between the courtiers of the Duke of Urbino in 1507 (when Baldassare was in fact part of the Duke’s Court). In the book, the courtier is described as having a cool mind, a good voice (with beautiful, elegant and brave words) along with proper bearing and gestures. At the same time though, the courtier is expected to have a warrior spirit, to be athletic, and have good knowledge of the humanities, Classics and fine arts. Over the course of four evenings, members of the court try to describe the perfect gentleman of the court. In the process they debate the nature of nobility, humor, women, and love.

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Dewey’s Readathon!

Wow.  This October marks the 10th anniversary of Dewey’s Readathon, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I urge you to check this link out.    It’s an amazing thing that I look forward to every time it rolls around.    This year they are doing 30 Days of Readathon leading up to it and it looks like a blast.   So here’s the chart if you want to keep up with me.


I’m a few days behind, but I’ll try and catch up as quickly as possible, when life allows me to.  Being a writer with a day job does have it’s downsides.

30.  Favorite Book

Gosh, that’s like trying to pick a favorite child or pet.  My library isn’t 2500+ strong because I’m not really a big reader.  There are a few that I habitually go back to, some that I own in several formats, and then there are some that I continually buy and re-buy because I keep flinging them at people (Good Omens, if you’re curious. I’ve bought it about 19-20 times by now).  So I will talk about one of the books that I re-read frequently.   It’s an old book, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs back in 1912 and it’s the first in the Barsoom series.  I’m talking, of course, of A Princess of Mars.   You might be more familiar with the movie based on it that Disney put out years ago, titled John Carter.  The movie itself is excellent and a fairly decent adaptation of the first two Barsoom books.   This book mixed my love of fantasy and history with my love of space and gave me exciting adventures

Cover (taken from

on a far away planet. It gave me a heroine that wasn’t the traditional damsel in distress.   She’s a competent adventurer, fully capable of defending herself and surviving the wilds of Mars without John’s help.  The movie made her the leading scientist of Helium, which was something I adored.   It gave me a healthy romance pairing and aliens who weren’t humans in funny costumes.  It gave me a world that felt alive and lived in.

It’s the first out of a long series and overall, it’s one of my favorite reads and re-reads because it’s all around a great story.

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Wednesday Reads:

Welcome to Wednesday Reads.

Ahsoka (cover of the novel taken from Amazon)

Currently I am working my way through E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka book (available here)  and it’s a delight so far.  I really love her character and I was very excited to get my hands on this.  My friend Bryan recommended it to me (you can find his stuff here) and so far I have not been disappointed.

I’ve recently finished Garrett Investigates by Elizabeth Bear, a short story compendium of Abby Irene shorts.  It’s a fantastic universe and I definitely recommend it if you can get your hands on it.   I’ve also finished American Assassin by Vince Flynn,  The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle,  The Alpha’s Home by Dessa Lux, and The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin.

More reviews about those to come.   Currently on my reading list after I finish Ahsoka is New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear,  State of Fear by Michael Crichton,  and Shadows over Baker Street – an anthology mixing Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos.

What are you reading?  Tell me in the comments!

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Knowing and A Certain Kind of Grief

There are certain things that we just know. It comes from how we were raised, what experiences we had in those formative years from two to twenty.

These things can span the length and width of the sum of human knowledge, every person is different. I was raised to be an officer’s wife first and then a pastor or missionary’s wife. There is a terrifying amount of knowledge that was crammed into me at an very early age because from a family that until my generation was almost completely comprised of retired, reserves, and actively serving members of the armed forces (all branches), you know the value of being prepared. So you start young, in the hopes that once you get to be older and life throws curveballs at you, that they will have prepared you to handle what gets tossed your way. That you will be able to deal with whatever situation arises in a way that does not bring shame on you, your husband/spouse, or your family. You sacrifice a lot when you do this, but the trade offs are thought to be worth it.

A common point in these two professions is that grief and uncertainty come hand in hand with the daily paper and breakfast. When you are an officer’s wife or the wife of a pastor/missionary. Everything under your spouse’s purview is also yours. The spouses and families of those serving under your spouse’s command or in their church are yours to care for, to handle when they need handled.

As we say in my household, you are the “adultier adult” for everyone. It is not a light burden to shoulder. In some ways, it can be infinitely harder to deal with. You are the point person that everyone comes to, because you know everything and everyone. So if there is an event that needs to be hosted or a food train arranged or someone to go and sit with the family as they make arrangements, that is on you to make sure that even if it cannot be you yourself there with them, that you have then arranged for a suitable backup person to be there as your deputy.

You are the quartermaster, the logistics, the human resources, the confidant, and so much more. Life is uncertain enough on its own, without adding the extra factor of a job that most certainly will put your spouse and possibly you yourself in harm’s way. That goes for both professions – the major difference being that more often than not, pastors and missionaries walk straight into all kinds of possible danger unarmed.  Uncertainty you can learn to roll with. You learn to always keep food on hand, wherever you are. To always make sure that whatever house or home you have, no matter how big or small, there’s always space for someone to stay there. The extra linens and towels that you keep washed and fresh even if you never touch them yourself. That there’s always 20 dollars in the emergency fund or tucked into that one family bible that you keep but never use (you have other, non heirloom holy books for study and reflection).

Grief is more slippery. You cannot control grief or how it manifests in people. All you can do is listen and pay attention. After a while, you develop a sense for who needs a box of tissues, and who needs to dig a new trench in the backyard or remodel a kitchen. You are always calm and sympathetic, you are always upright, appearing clearheaded, even if the reality is different. Appearances matter. No one after all sees the commander cry.

This has been on my mind recently, as I have, in the last few months, had to handle some very trying curveballs that life has pitched my way. It is even more present today, knowing that on Saturday, I am losing my little brother. He has chosen to go back to Brazil for work and college. He is going to a city where the closest blood relative will be a two day drive/bus ride away. He’s 18 and this is his prerogative, but having been in those shoes before, it’s hard to deal with. Especially after knowing that the only reason I didn’t starve or run myself further into the ground that I already had been doing was because of my wonderful family who gave me shelter, food, crash course lessons on everything from driving to budgeting to how to write papers while also making dinner. Who supported me in ways I hadn’t been aware of until much, much later on. It would have been so much harder to do all of that and still be as successful as I was without them there. I had a safety net and he does not. Not really.

And that is tearing at my soul in ways that make it harder to keep my composure. To be able to be the person handling all the little things that have been forgotten in the chaos and drama of this exodus. Because for a child that I raised for a significant portion of his and my life, it’s exceedingly hard to let him go, especially when it feels like I had just gotten him back. I also worry for the effect that this will have on my parents. He’s the last child, the baby of the family, and so there is a big house that will seem even bigger now. I worry for their mental and emotional health and also their physical health. I worry about what happens if my brother falls on his face and they bail him out. I worry, in part, because it feels like no one else is. Realistically I know this is not true, from all the myriad of conversations that I have had with seemingly everyone, but sometimes it feels like it is. The only way that I have been able to keep myself functioning, especially in the wake of having just come home (and what a wonderful thing, having a home that is mine that does not move) from a trip for the other side of family that was harder than I had expected. But I was trained for this and I know what to do, even if it feels like there’s a widening gap inside of me that is going to swallow everything whole. I swallow back the waves and carefully move through the next thing on my to-do list – I can fall apart later when it’s Sunday and I have a spare hour or two where I don’t have to adult.

I wish he wasn’t going like this. I wish I could have gotten him to listen more. I wish he wasn’t going to have to learn some of the same lessons I had to, the hard way. I wish this was easier.

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Dragon*Con 2017

At the end of the day, I wound up doing more panels than I’d officially been put on.  The grand total was 19 for the con and it was a lot, but I had a blast doing them.   Even though I work the con, rather than attend, I always have a good time.   This year was one of the best years.

So if you’re coming to here from having seen me at Dragon*Con, welcome! I really am just as weird as I am in person, only I use taller fonts to make my words seem larger.

Here is the link to the Patreon – there’s a 1.00 tier for if you just want access to the short stories!

You can also find me on Twitter over at  @DorothyJoanGray  and it’s some writing, some humor, some politics, and a lot of signal boosting.

So if you’re finding me through D*Con, leave a comment with where we encountered each other and I’ll send you some free flash fiction!

This month is going to be pretty busy with another con this weekend and then a weekend trip up to NYC from the 15th to the 18th.  However, I do have some reviews and essays that will be going up just as soon as I can have the brainspace to sling them up.    For reasons of not having much of a brain, I generally don’t post anything much until the weekend after D*Con.

Stay  weird, my lovelies.

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