A selection of some of the books I’ve read in January. I’m attempting to get into reading and reviewing again this year. As mentioned in a previous blog post I’ve started a book challenge which has helped with my reading efforts this month. Here are reviews of some of the books I’ve finished so far…
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (5/5)
This has been sitting on my to read pile for quite a while and I finally got around to it this month. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is an extremely interesting read. The author Elisabeth has Dysautonomia (the same condition as me, hence why I found the book). She became completely bedbound and in this time ended up inadvertently adopting a snail. As she is stuck in bed she reflects as to the changes in her own life, the life of a snail and what they may or may not have in common. There is a lot of information about snails in this book (they’re a lot more complicated than you would expect), however the book also contains so much more with reflections on life, what matters and possibilities in every situation. The only real downside to the book is it’s fairly short. I would be interested to know what has happened since she finished writing it.
A perfect gentle day Sunday afternoon read that could easily be read multiple times.
Eriskay: Where I was Born by Angus Edward MacInnes (4/5)
This autobiography, which I received for Christmas, tells the story of Angus and his life both growing up on Eriskay and as a sailor traveling the world. Full of history of places, tales that were passed down through generations and descriptions of daily living it makes a good social history of island and sailing life. It shows that in some respects so much has changed yet at the same time people are always the same. The book ends with a couple of songs written by Angus. Some chapters did feel slightly rushed and went on bizarre tangents in an attempt to pack them with information but this could also be on account of the book taking on a similar approach to information as oral traditions which works slightly less well in print form.
Worth reading if you want to know more about the social history of the Western Isles of Scotland. Also makes a fascinating read if you’re interested in languages. While the book is in English, Angus was a Gaelic speaker and it adopts Gaelic speech patterns and turns of phrase.
Love of a Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeline Bunting (4.5/5)
The first book I read of the year and was another Christmas present (proving that people know me well)! Love of a Country is a fascinating read looking at the history, geography and politics of the Hebrides. With specific focus on Iona, Jura, Eriskay, Lewis and St. Kilda Bunting travels to each of the islands and looks at how they fit into the understanding of being British, the effect of Scottish nationalism and how their histories shapes the communities today. She follows very much along the line of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and ideas of Modernity on rural communities.
One aspect I did find interesting in the book is she mostly interviews and reviews the lives of outsiders or incomers to the island rather than islanders themselves. At first I found this strange but then in a way it made sense for it is through our own understanding and communities we understand others so in speaking to those who came from a similar background to her own, this was how Bunting made sense of the Hebrides. I feel had she been from the Hebrides then she might have focused on different points or seen different things. However ultimately this builds into the idea of imagined communities- who we talk to and whose stories we are told shapes our understanding of a particular place. I think this is the book that’s given me the most food for thought so far this year.
A good read for anyone interested in anthropology and politics. Definitely worth reading if you have an interest in community, culture or nationalism.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. (4.5/5)
Alexander Hamilton is the founding father who is on the US $10 bill and who recently has had a new increase of fame again thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical based on his life. The musical was inspired by this biography after Miranda read it on holiday and saw similarities between hip-hop and Hamiltons life.
The biography itself is very long, which can seem a little off putting. However it’s an incredibly easy to book read and is devoid of waffle. Hamiltons life really does need all those pages! Chernow makes interesting conclusions as to the influence Hamilton had on wider proceedings in the 18th and 19th centuries and lasting legacies we can see today. He also focuses large sections of the book to tell us if Eliza, Hamiltons wife, who is often dismissed from biographies but really shouldn’t be as she was an interesting and successful person in her own right. Not knowing too much about US history and the founding fathers I found this a good place to start. Chernow is also good at attempting to rebute opposing views to his own on Hamilton and by no means ignores them, though I would like to read some other biographies to make my own conclusions as I’m not always entirely convinced.
Worth reading if you have any interest in American history, economy or politics (or are obsessed with Hamilton the Musical).
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (2/5)
I really really wanted to like Robinson Crusoe but I’m afraid I really hated it! I would have given it one star if it wasn’t that I thought it made an interesting contribution to literature and told us about 18th century attitudes on issues such as colonialism, race, superiority and just generally terrible things the British Colonial Empire is responsible for.
As I’m sure you know, Robinson Crusoe tells the story of a man who is shipwrecked on an island for several decades and his subsequent life there. He ends up with a slave, Man Friday, who he converts to Christianity and is eventually able to return to ‘civilisation’ to tell his narrative.
Robinson Crusoe is an odd read for all its contrasting themes and narratives. Crusoe is fine with slaves but wants his freedom off the island. He is shocked by the ‘natives’ killings but happily shoots them with guns of which they’ve never seen and have no chance of defending themselves. He laments his own lack of acts of religion at the beginning of his island spell but instantly on gaining a slave feels he must convert him. He doesn’t learn the slaves language or way of life despite him being from the area so having a better idea of survival but instead ‘educates’ him and consequently Crusoe thinks ‘improves’ him. Robinson Crusoe could basically be an allegory for colonialism.
Worth reading if you’ve read everything else or want to be annoyed at something or are interested in 18th century literature. Also one final note of aspects of the book I did enjoy; the old spellings and tales of tigers in Africa. Useful for ranting at things and making you put your own beliefs in check.
Ask an Astronaut by Tim Peak (5/5)
This book is marketed for all ages but really it should be marketed as essential reading for all! Peak asked for people to send him questions on social media of what it’s like to be an astronaut in training, space and return to earth. This book is those questions with answers (and some incredible photos). Want to see if you could answer NASA logic questions? Read this book. Ever wondered about CPR in space if your floating round? What do astronauts eat? What do you miss the most? What does space smell like? All is included! There’s also quite a lot of science stuff with helpful diagrams.
Definitely read if you’ve any interest in space. It’s very accessible, informative and at times funny. It has refuelled my childhood astronaut ambition (though apparently you need to have good coordination which could be an issue…).