What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

September 2014

 - Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Stephen: A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg. 1 September 1914. The war 'that will be over before Christmas' is almost one month old. Still a conflict of movement and manoeuvre, on the Western front German and British forces skirmish at the northern French hamlet of Néry as the German Army continues its planned sweeping march toward Paris. Shortly, military stalemate will result. The horrors of trench warfare, the industrialised mass slaughter it will entail, are about to begin. Yet, across the Atlantic on the same day, an even greater mass slaughter has just ended. The death of the last North American Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), a female named Martha, in Cincinnati Zoo marks the extinction of a species. It has taken a mere half century for humans to exterminate the most abundant bird in the world. May 1860 in Ontario one flock, containing an estimated 3.5 billion birds & an estimated 1.5 km wide and 500 km long, took 14 hours to pass. This fascinating book details the cautionary tale of the Passenger Pigeon's astonishing profusion and its equally astonishing, and rapid, end.

Gleeclubber, Sonia Lee: The Third Horseman by William Rosen—There was a Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1200 when population trebled, and crops were grown on previously marginal land. Then it all ended with rains which washed the topsoil away, droughts, freezes, all exacerbated by constant pointless wars. William Rosen doesn't cover it, but the poor wretches who didn't die in The Great Hunger would be wiped out by the Black Death ... and the 100 Year War. It sounds ominously like the 21st Century doesn't it? This is a very impressive book. Rosen is prodigiously learned in history and science and imparts an enormous amount of information with a very light touch. Interested readers could follow up with Barbara Tuchman and even Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels, the Lymond and Niccolo Chronicles. Five Stars for The Third Horseman.

James: I enjoyed Hugh Crago’s addition to Routledge’s Children’s Literature and Culture series Entranced by Story. A very satisfying book that manages to be simultaneously erudite and wonderfully readable. Why are stories so prevalent in the human experience? Why are they so fundamental in our development both personally and as a species? These, and many other questions are explored in what has been the most stimulating book I’ve read so far this year. Crago draws from a seemingly endless knowledge of stories in all forms, and their creators, to not only illuminate the process or 'inner quests' of the story’s creator but also to uncover the emotional, psychological and cognitive affect stories have those reading/viewing them. When reading I’ve always felt like a co-creator in the story; it was thrilling to understand that the emotional closeness I feel when lost in a great story simulates within me (and all those affected by stories) the spectrum of imagined experiences portrayed therein: joy, betrayal, loss and love to name a few. It’s such a wonderfully readable, yet intricately woven, book that I’ve delighted in dipping back into it ever since finishing.