390: All the Time in the World by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

by Gerard


390: Jenkins, Jessica Kerwin. All the Time in the World: A Book of Hours. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2013. 264 pp. ISBN 978-0-385-53541-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Science
  • 390: Customs, etiquette, and folklore

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins’s All the Time in the World is a delightful collection of historical anecdotes, asides, and trivia arranged like a traditional book of hours. Historically, a book of hours was an ordered collection of prayers, rituals, and devotionals to be learned and practiced at regulated times of the day and certain days of years. While each book was different and unique to its owner, it allowed the reader to incorporate elements of monasticism into their religious lives.

Jenkins’s book takes that format and spins it. There are chapters and sections for each month and specific times of the day, ranging from 6 AM to 5 AM the next day. At each time, she gives a peek into historical events that center around that time. For instance, at 8 AM, she details the awakening and dressing ceremony of Louis XIV of France (which happened at 8 AM each day during his reign). At 3:51 PM, she tells the story of how Nellie Bly arrived at Jersey City (at that precise time) and beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional record of circling the globe in eighty days (she did it in just over 72 days).  At 11 PM, there’s the tale of the first reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg (just after 11 PM) and how that made its mark on literary culture.

Each snippet is fun and they make the book very quick to read. There’s a bit of historical whiplash that comes with reading vignette after vignette, but the overall effect is quite dazzling. You realize that history is not just a broad, sweeping beast, but rather a collection of individual moments, and those moments can happen at any time of the day. These collections of historical trinkets are fast becoming my favorite type of book as they remind me of my favorite magazine: mental_floss. Like so many other books in this style, the reader can take small bites and come back for more whenever they like. A very fun book.