Happy holidays!  It’s just about the end of the month, and that means it is time for my monthly list of recommended academic readings.  Check out the following links if you want to strengthen your reading skills before you take the test.

This month I started my reading with the November issue of History Today.  A few stories stood out:

  • In Good Spirits highlights the role of alcohol in the diplomacy of early modern Russia.  It turns out that everyone had to drink back then.  A lot.
  • Swimming in the Sahara is about rock art from about ten thousand years ago, and differing opinions as to what it means.  This is a bit closer to what you might get on the real test, as the TOEFL makers love articles about distant (but not too distant) history.
  • A Donkey’s Day in Court is a humorous article about an abused Donkey that was able to get justice in early 19th century England.  I enjoyed this one a lot.

Next, I read the December issue of the same magazine.  This will be the last issue of “History Today” I cite here, as my subscription has ended and one of my ground rules for this column is that I only mention stuff I’ve read in hard copy.  This issue was quite good.  A few pieces are worth highlighting:

  • Crimes of Fashion is a curious article about the lengths people went to to update their wardrobes in seventeenth century English. Apparently, new clothing was extremely expensive, so some folks resorted to crime when they wanted something new to wear.
  • How Father Christmas Got His Reindeer arrives just in time for Christmas.  It is a surprisingly long and detailed article about how the characters of Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came to be.  I liked it.

I should mention that, as usual, some of the best stuff in these magazines are hidden behind the paywall.  You might consider subscribing.

Apollo MagazineNext, I checked out a new magazine – the December issue of “Apollo: the International Art Magazine.”  You see, I got a deal on a three issue subscription last month.  This is a fascinating  publication.  Part of its business model seems to be the paid promotion of sales of art and antiquities.  Looking through the adverts, I was struck by the sort of stuff one can buy, if one has the right sort of bank account. Like £90,000 for a 2500 year old vase. Or £1,200,000 for a portrait by El Greco.  Or, heck, you could just buy a microscope that belonged to Charles Darwin (well, “the Charles Darwin Family”) for £350,000.

Anyways, the magazine did have a few interesting articles:

  • Travel fans will like this article about the puzzling (but, yes, inspiring) Rocchetta Mattei castle in Italy.
  • There is a really wonderful article about the history of the Faberge firm (famous for the Faberge Eggs) but sadly it is available only for subscribers. As a substitute, here is a similar article from an earlier issue of the mag.

Finally, I read the Fall/Winter issue of “Modern Cat.” Sadly, the content of Modern Cat isn’t quite as good as what is found in Modern Dog.  But…

  • Cats Prefer a Free Meal is basically academic reading material.  It’s about studies.  If you squint hard enough, it sort of resembles the fourth TOEFL speaking question. 

That’s my last house pet magazine, by the way.  No more cats and dogs on the blog.

Stay tuned until next month when I’ll have at least one book to recommend.  Finally!