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  • Peter Hay

Reading History With a Teaspoon

Updated: Apr 15

Imagine there’s an ice cream factory. A really big one. Maybe it fills an entire city block. You’re allowed to go in and sample all the flavors, but you have to do it while running as fast as you can from the entrance at the front to an exit at the extreme opposite corner of the building without stopping, and all you can do to taste the ice cream is scrape a teaspoon over the tops of the open bins while you sprint past them.

That’s what reading history is like for me. Centuries of juicy stories—political intrigue, art, architecture, Gods and Goddesses, folk magic, high magick, quirky philosophical systems, weird personalities, and the rise and fall of civilizations. And here I am, a slow reader able to digest maybe thirty pages of nonfiction on a good day.

One thing makes it a little less discouraging for me: as a writer of historical fantasy, my focus gets narrowed down to slices that are almost manageable. I posted a random thought on Facebook recently:

Here's a question I bet has never kept you up at night: Why would a ceremonial magician in the late 17th/early 18th century favor a Protestant king rather than a Catholic one?

I need to read Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic post haste.

I was amazed (pleasantly so) at the number of erudite and informative comments I got. I have some really smart and well-read friends. Though it still doesn’t mean I get to skip reading Thomas’s 700-page magnum opus with my goddamn teaspoon.

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