The nineteenth century … a boring time for civilization, right? Literature was dry and unimaginative. Entertainment was stodgy theatre or the comics in the newspapers. This is how we generally look back a little more than a century, isn’t it?
Historian and essayist Joachim Kalka looks at the 19th Century through a series of essays and compares and contrasts our 21st Century interests in music, film, literature, and art with that of our ancestors in the 19th Century. Our interests are not so different and the way in which we manage to enjoy these interests is not really as different as we might think.
Kalka has a clear interest in this subject and digs into the past with professorial vigor. Our interests and the manner in which we seek to entertain ourselves are not so different. Only the means by which our entertainment is produced has truly changed, is what these essays boil down to. But rather than say so, directly, Kalka expounds with what is too often an essayists flair. Why be direct when you can be colorful?
I was intrigued early on and found Kalka’s insight clever and meaningful. But as the book wore on I didn’t feel I was getting anything new, just different points of examination. And the writing itself seemed to be getting drier … or was it just that I was tired of reading it?
I also can’t say that I felt we were talking about 19th century ‘Anyman.’ These people were typically the better educated, higher class of people with more resources and more time on their hands. How many farmers or field worker sat around and read Balzac or Proust in the evenings?
Looking for a good book? Gaslight, by Joachim Kalka, is definitely not a book for everyone but if any part of the description or this (or any other review) sounds appealing, then you are the target audience and you may want to check it out.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century
author: Joachim Kalka
translator: Isabel Fargo Cole
publisher: New York Review of Books
paperback, 172 pages