Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah KentA young Australian woman was on a Rotary Exchange to Iceland, where she discovered a story of Agnes who was beheaded in 1828 for alleged murders. This was the last execution in Iceland. The story is all context, life in Iceland in the early 19th century and the place of an independent woman, with issues of poverty and religion. HK was a participant in a Vancouver Word Fest session on archival research about 2 1/2 years ago that I attended. She talked about the issue of cultural appropriation, for example. This is an excellent debut novel, and my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I read this book in Iceland!

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The Road To Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson

The Road To Little Dribbling - Bill BrysonThis is a sequel of sorts to Bryson’s brilliant book about Great Britain, Notes From A Small Island. Twenty years after Notes was published, Bryson again travels over much of England and Wales to the northern tip of Scotland, often walking. His observations range from self-deprecating comedy to insightful and informative commentary. Bryson loves the sublime countryside so even his complaining is good-natured. This is a charming book.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

24331386This is a mixed-bag collection of Gaiman’s non-fiction writings: transcripts of speeches and addresses, introductions to books by favourite authors, newspaper reviews, and other articles on diverse subjects. Not surprisingly, he offers a passionate argument for the value of reading and the importance of libraries and bookshops. He was a precocious reader as a child, reading and then re-reading authors like CS Lewis. He also describes how reading some of the same books to his children has changed his perceptions. He also writes extensively about comics, aka graphic novels, which is a form of writing that has distinct and unique features compared to novels. So, there are some redundancies but overall this is a very good read with lots of favourite author recommendations.

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24331386-the-view-from-the-cheap-seats?from_search=true&search_version=service24331386.jpg

Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

74812Sarah and I were introduced to Tammet as an interviewed author at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Tammet is an autistic savant with incredible mathematical and linguistic skills. For example, he memorized the value of Pi (3.14 ….) to 22,514 decimal places and recited this in Oxford in a performance that was >5 hours. He also learned the Icelandic language in 7 days. He also has another rare characteristic: synesthesia, the ability to visualize numbers as colours, shapes and texture. In this book, Tammet describes his childhood as an “odd kid”, and his evolution to become an independent living fully functioning person who has a loving relationship with his partner Neil. This is a remarkable story.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/74812.Born_on_a_Blue_Day

Editors Note: Also of interest might be Daniel Tammet Ted talk “Different ways of knowing”

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

Most of you know that I rarely read non-fiction, but this book was a very rewarding excursion into the world of non-fiction literature. MacDonald has written a really excellent book with three interacting themes: (i) the human emotion of grief precipitated by the the death of her father, with a detailed description of her emotional paralysis; (ii) an intense human-bird relationship because she decides to train a goshawk as a coping mechanism; and (iii) an examination of the author TH White who had a tortured life and wrote a book about training a goshawk in the 1930s. (TH White wrote the exceptional novel called The Once And Future King, a book that I rank in the top-ten books that I have read in my entire life). MacDonald’s book is wonderfully introspective about both the psychology of humans and birds, and the physiology of birds in relation to flight. A section of the book about the shared responsibility of hunting and killing is truly remarkable. This is a great read.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

A collection of essays that are introspective, insightful and (apparently) honest appraisals of life in general and the author’s life in specific. Two of the essays on mother-daughter relationships and motherhood are sensational. Overall the writing is breezy and ironic. Note: this title is from Lola’s Literature Lounge, so thanks Chris.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca SklootHenrietta is a black woman who develops cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge or consent, some cancerous tissue is removed during radium treatments of her cancer, and this tissue become the first immortal cell line (cells maintained in culture forever). The cells were named HeLa cells after the first two letters of her first and last name. The book meticulously details the subsequent exploitation of Henrietta and her family, at a time when the ethics of human experimentation was not considered. An excellent historical story of exploitation and racism.