Back to the past. The pleasures of old books with new technologies

One of the unexpected pleasures of the Coronavirus lockdown has been the chance to visit favourite old books by favourite old authors. Take 1989. It was a long time ago in my life. It was a long time ago in your life. I put it to you it was a different life, and that you were doing different things. Certainly your internet collection was a bit slower. Yet was their an old book at the time that was part of that world? A book that the You-of-1989 used to take out a lot, but now sits dustily on the shelves, loved still, but unused?

One of my favourite authors of that epoch was the writer Alfred Duggan . He wrote of Romans and Greeks, Knights and Normans, Archbishops and Kings. Even in the midst of hard work, I would find a few hours to follow Count Bohemond and the first crusade along the dusty shores of the Mediterranean to Antioch, or run through the swamps of Kent as a beaten British army fled from the invading Anglo Saxons.

One indubitable advantage of reading historical novels was that you could try to follow them on maps. The problem in the nineteen eighties was that all the maps were on paper. They never quite showed you where you wanted to be. Now Google Earth has changed all that. For me, there is now Bari, where Bohemond and Pope Urban plotted the First Crusade. How much has survived from 1094? How much from when Duggan was there researching 1n the 1930s? Would you go on holiday there today?

This is a game anyone can play. If you like Jane Austen, try to find the stately homes where her heroes and heroines lived out their cossetted lives. Fans of Raymond Chandler can visit the streets that run down to the booming Pacific rollers; how many more murders, and cocktails are still going on behind those high stuccoed walls? Zoom in on Nassau (James Bond) or the Islands of the South Sea (Joseph Conrad) Did your favourite author really capture the spirit of the place? Why did they not mention the car park or the phone mast? (it won’t give you the virus, by the way) Now I can stand in Doryleum at the exact spot where Bohemond unleashed the Frankish Cavalry and opened the way to Jerusalem. Where are you going to go?

New technology doesn’t destroy old pleasures-it augments, accentuates and adds. Happy reading Happy searching.

#books #GoogleEarth #AlfredDuggan #JaneAusten

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