When I was young, I spent many summer days reading under a tree or out on the porch. Hour after hour lost in the story. My only physical movement, turning the pages. Those days were gone once I started summer jobs in a small machine shop during college. Then, in quick succession marriage, children, work. After I retired I discovered that I’d lost the ability to stay still reading for very long. I read books, but I kept jumping up to check email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, news feeds, or the latest nasty comments from internet trolls. I became more focused on writing. I could do that for hours.
This past week I rediscovered the joy of spending summer days just reading a book. Yes, I still had to do household chores, to walk Toto, to work out in the pool. Nevertheless, I spent more time reading Leonie Frieda’s biography of Catherine de Medici. Even though I winced at awkward writing, the momentum of Catherine’s story kept me going. Now I’ve started Nancy Goldman’s The Rival Queens, which is about Catherine’s battles with her daughter Margot. Both Goldman and Frieda relate a chilling incident on the night that Catherine planned to launch the assassinations of about a dozen Huguenot leaders. Catherine told her daughter to stay that night with her Huguenot husband, the future king Henry IV, despite the danger that her daughter might be killed in revenge for the assassinations. The Queen Mother was more concerned not to give the Huguenots reason to suspect something was up. As it was, the targeted assassinations blew up into the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of thousands of Huguenots, which both Margot and her husband survived. To describe this mother and daughter as “rivals” seems a bit of an understatement.