Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Why We Read: 70 Writers on Non-Fiction
by Edited by Josephine Greywoode
Published by Penguin
It’s no secret that I love books and reading, both fiction and non-fiction. It’s an integral part of who I am and has been for as long as I can remember. I like reading books about books and books about people’s relationships with books. I like reading what their favourite books are and why. So when I saw this book, I figured it’d be right up my street. And it was! It's a great read. As I was reading the short essays on why these writers read non-fiction and what they get out of it, I was thinking about why I read non-fiction. Sometimes I seek out a book because I am interested in the topic already and want to learn more about it. At other times, I come across a book about something that I never thought about before or that I didn’t think I was particularly interested in, but that seems compelling enough to read. Since I grew up a misfit in US suburban culture, I’ve always been interested in understanding how other people live, memoir, life story, biography, and autobiography provide me with a wealth of choice. I am a generally curious person and books are the best way for me to learn. Beyond all of these reasons why though, there is one that contains them all. I have always been fascinated by people’s passions in life—the things that make them light up, dig deeper, spend time stuck in, and get excited. Non-fiction provides a window into this. To write a good non-fiction book, writers have to be willing to spend a very long time researching, thinking, and following sometimes obscure information where it leads. They have to be passionate about their topic to do all that and then spend the time turning what they’ve learned into a book that will enlighten others and possibly set readers off on new voyages of discovery. One of the writers in this book, Ananyo Bhattacharya, wrote this:
‘The only pattern I can find in all that ceaseless reading is that one book invariably led to another, and I never felt that there would be the time to read all that I wanted and needed to. And perhaps that is why we read; because it is a habit, an addiction, a compulsion, an affliction and a necessity. Like drawing breath.’ (p 15, italics in original)
What do you like to read and why?
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with this e-galley in return for a review.
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Queens of the Wild
Pagan Goddesses in Christian Europe: An Investigation
by Ronald Hutton
Published by Yale University Press
In this book, the author, Professor of History at Bristol University, is focused primarily on the origins of four specific female figures from European folklore, looking at the evidence of how they came into existence. These are Mother Earth/Nature, the Fairy/Faerie Queen, Lady of the Night, and the Cailleach (the Old Woman of Celtic tradition). In the epilogue, he discusses the Green Man. In each case, he is interested in whether or not there is evidence for these figures being pagan goddesses, as is often asserted. He meticulously goes through the evidence for each figure and comes to the conclusion that they were not. The first two were creations of the cultural elite, introduced through literature. The last two were products of belief by ‘common’ people. He shows how the arguments about their origins evolved and spread, and the part played by academics. He makes a compelling case. He provides a good reminder about the limitations of archaeology when it comes to trying to decipher belief systems based on bits of material culture. When reading, I was reminded of an episode from my former life in academic anthropology (in the US, archaeology is housed in anthropology departments). I attended a presentation given by an archaeologist colleague who was working in an area in which nomadic people still lived. He spent time with them, not because he thought they would live the same way as people did long ago, but because he wanted some insight into how nomadic people lived in general. Being nomadic means the amount of stuff people have is limited, so kids don’t have a bunch of toys and played with rocks. He watched them piling up the rocks and then leaving them when they were done playing. He realized that an archaeologist coming across something like that would make the case for the pile of rocks being part of a religious or other important ritual, not simply a result of children at play. Hutton is making the same kind of argument here. People with agendas seized on small points to make arguments that fit certain narratives. These arguments spread and were soon seen as fact, but a deeper examination tells a different story.
The book is well written and very readable, in addition to being fascinating. He provides a history of each figure based on what evidence he was able to uncover. I learned a lot.
I thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for a review.
Saturday, April 23, 2022
I finished this book this afternoon:
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. Wow! I was sorry to come to the end. As I read, I sometimes got goosebumps and sometimes had that weird mind-blown feeling in my head. It was sad, funny, hopeful, and thought-provoking. I don't want to say much more about it, because that would involve spoilers and for me, part of the joy of reading this book was not knowing where the author was taking me next. I will post the blurb from inside the front cover which gives a sense of the book without giving too much away.
The book, which was written before the current pandemic, can be read as a collection of linked short stories, with some characters from earlier chapters reappearing later on. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time and one that I highly recommend!
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
As someone who has been asking why questions for over half a century and experiencing the reactions to them, including discomfort, fear, and anger--this resonated with me.
"There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how."
Posted by Shari Burke at 13.4.22
Friday, April 8, 2022
There's a joke in Ireland that we sometimes have all four seasons in one day. People sell T-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs with various imagery to go with the words. Sometimes, like today, it feels pretty accurate!
We left around noon to go to the library. I'd put on my sunglasses before we went, because there was bright sunshine, blue sky, and puffy white clouds. We started walking towards the lane that we take to cut up to the road the library is on. The lane is maybe 3 or 4 minutes from home. As we approached it, I looked at the sky in the distance and learned I wouldn't need the sunglasses for very long.
We walked on and it stopped. We were dripping a bit when we got into the library, but we returned our books, picked up the ones that were in, and chatted with the librarians about the new system they have just changed to--it is, as one would expect, a hot mess. It's always an oven in there, so it was a relief to get outside again. Oddly, the first thing I heard when I walked out the doors was the mooing of a cow. No idea where the cow was, but s/he had more to say as we started walking home. The lane was a different experience this time--blue sky, puffy white clouds, and the deep blue sea.
I hope it's a nice day in your part of the world, whatever the weather.
Posted by Shari Burke at 8.4.22
Thursday, April 7, 2022
An English Garden Murder (Julia Bird Mysteries Book 1) by Katie Gayle
Published by Bookouture
Julia Bird is newly divorced, but on friendly terms with her ex-husband and his new partner. At around the same time her marriage was ending, she was having some trouble in her job as a social worker in London. The trouble was never explained, although we learn that she was suspected of something and then cleared. This situation ended up causing her to retire. Needing a fresh start, she buys a cottage in the Cotswolds, in a small village where an old friend lives. She expects to have many adjustments, but enthusiastically jumps into her new life, ready to embrace change. One of the changes she makes is to get some chickens. This will require a coop, so she asks around to see if there is a local person she can hire to build one. She's told told to go find Johnny at the village cafe, The Buttered Scone. He agrees to build the coop and shows up the next day with his grandson to start the job. When the grandson starts taking down the shed so the coop can be built, he finds human remains from the past. Who was this person, why did she die, and who put her under the shed? The local police begin their investigation, but Julia and her Labrador puppy end up helping out.
I loved this book! I am always thrilled to find a new cozy mystery/series to get stuck into and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I loved Julia from the start. The puppy brought back memories of puppies I've had in the past. As you'd expect in a cozy, the village is full of quirky characters. And the book is funny. I laughed more than once. When Julia goes to the cafe to find Johnny, it's not hard to find out who he is, because he is bellowing so loudly that he is impossible to miss--he is hard of hearing and didn't have his hearing aid in. When someone suggests that he put it in, he says that he'll put it in when people start saying things worth listening to instead of spouting nonsense all the time. In another scene, Julia goes into an office to ask some questions and is met by the receptionist who presents a startling picture with some extravagant false eyelashes, which remind Julia of 'Petunia the cow, her grandmother's prize jersey.' The mystery and the ending are well done.
If you want to spend some time puzzling over whodunnit in a picturesque village in the Cotswolds with an interesting mix of people, an older woman making a new life for herself after some shocks and an adorable chocolate lab puppy, then this is a great book to choose!
I thank the author and NetGalley for providing me with an e-galley of this title in exchange for a fair review.