What Books Have Taught Me – part 3

Hi and welcome to the third edition of What Books Have Taught Me, the series the hubby unwittingly instigated by daring to ask me what I had learned from reading fiction 😄 Check out part 1 and part 2.

I pick up a lot of perhaps rather weird factoids in books, and some of them stick around, popping up when I least expect them to. The hubby and I were watching an episode of After Life the other day and the subject of a suicide at Beachy Head came up.

Me: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of Beachy Head. Notorious for suicides, apparently.
Hubby (frowning): What? Like… how?!
Me (shrugging): It was in a book.
Hubby (sighing): Of course it was 🙄
Me: 😏

I can’t remember the book, I think it might have been The Good Samaritan by John Marrs, but whatever, this just goes to show that you can learn things from reading fiction without even realising it. So what have books taught me over the last six months or so, let’s have a look.

  • Last time I talked about what I’d learned from books, I mentioned poison. This led to a discussion with Danielle (find her on The Reading Closet) about how apple seeds don’t contain cyanide themselves but they do contain a substance called amygdalin which degrades into cyanide when chewed and digested. D and I also talked about people who expose themselves to poison in small dosages on a regular basis to build a resistance against it. Imagine my delight when I found out the name for it, coming across the term mithridatism a few weeks later: taking a little bit of poison every day to inoculate yourself against a full dose of it. (The Wicked King, Holly Black)
  • The job of theatre usher and the many little overlooked tasks it includes. (I Am Dust, Louise Beech)
  • New vocabulary: kittiwake, which is a kind of seagull and I didn’t know it in Dutch either, ornithology is not my strong suit, but still, it’s a gorgeous word and I’m happy to know it. (Beast, Matt Wesolowski)
  • More vocabulary: sea fret, which is a cold sea fog and according to Wikipedia it occurs most often on the east coast of England or Scotland between April and September, when warm air passes over the cold North Sea. It reminded me of the June Gloom I experienced in California. (Beast, Matt Wesolowski)
  • In the coldest months in the coldest regions of northern countries such as Sweden, there is so much permafrost and it runs so deep that people cannot just be buried. The earth must be thawed first and for this, heating devices are used. Makes total sense of course, but I never thought about it until Inge (the Belgian Reviewer) told me in response to my previous post. She learned it from Red Snow by Will Dean, and in the meantime I’ve read it myself, so I’m counting it as something books have taught me. (Red Snow, Will Dean)
  • Also, before we had the adequate technology to heat the ground, bodies had to be kept in stock rooms until they could be buried (Burial Rites, Hannah Kent)
  • Last time I told you that I’d learned that a group of pandas is called an embarrassment, and now I’ve learned that a flock of ravens is called an unkindness (poor birds!). The same book also mentions a murder of crows, but I knew that one, I learned it from Sons of Anarchy – who says TV shows can’t be educational 😉 (The Library of the Unwritten, A.J. Hackwith). A flock of seagulls, on the other hand, is a colony. This book too mentions a murder of crows, not surprisingly, given the title. (Come Join the Murder, Holly Rae Garcia)
  • More bird vocabulary: a cormorant is an aquatic bird. I couldn’t recognise it if my life depended on it but at least now I know it exists. (The Guest List, Lucy Foley)
  • The typical Icelandic wool sweater is called lopapeysa and an important Icelandic artist is Kjarval (The Creak On the Stairs, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir)
  • More animals: a group of coyotes is called a band. Almost as cool as a murder of crows. (He Started It, Samantha Downing)
  • There is a spot in the United States where you can stand in three states at the same time (Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma), it’s called the Three Corners. I already knew there’s a spot where the borders of four states meet (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico), the Four Corners (so imaginative), but I hadn’t realised there was a Three Corners too. (He Started It, Samantha Downing)
  • More fauna, bear with me! I learnt of the existence of the macaroni penguin! When I looked it up, I realised I already knew the creature by sight, but I had no idea that its name was so… delicious? (The Split, Sharon Bolton)
  • The same novel taught me about South Georgia, a remote British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Geography has never been and never will be my strong suit, so I had to look it up, because the only Georgias I knew of were the US state and the country adjacent to Russia, but they didn’t match how South Georgia was depicted, so I knew I was missing something. (The Split, Sharon Bolton)
  • As a rule there is no joint custody in Japan. After a divorce the child is assigned to one parent, and often never even sees the other parent again. I found that shocking because joint custody is so common in Belgium (bar exceptions where a parent is deemed unfit), I kind of reasoned that it’s the arrangement most countries strive for these days. (What’s Left of Me Is Yours, Stephanie Scott)
  • The wakaresaseya industry in Japan: there are agencies that specialise in breaking up couples, by seducing one of the partners and gathering incriminating evidence. (What’s Left of Me Is Yours, Stephanie Scott)
  • There is a rare shark species called the goblin shark. I looked it up, it looks like this, good heavens am I glad it’s rare! (The Harpy, Megan Hunter)
  • Knoll is an actual word! I knew of Triton Knoll, the offshore wind park, but I always thought “knoll” was just a name, not a word, until I came across it in a book. (Bone Crier’s Moon, Kathryn Purdie)
  • Another beastie: the ibex. When I looked it up I realised I knew the actual animal, I just didn’t know the English name for it. (Bone Crier’s Moon, Kathryn Purdie)
  • Four is an unlucky number in many Asian languages, because it resembles the word “death”. (The Waiting Rooms, Eve Smith)
  • The little cavity between the clavicles is called the “suprasternal notch”. Finding out the English name made me look up the Dutch name, as I had no clue what it’s called in Dutch, and it’s a word I’ve never heard of, so reading in English even helps me to expand my native language 😉 (The Waiting Rooms, Eve Smith)

One more book I’d like to mention, although I shouldn’t because it’s not fiction so it doesn’t belong in this list, but I learned a lot from Forensics by Val McDermid. If you’re at all interested in forensic science, I cannot recommend this one enough! It’s full of examples and anecdotes and that makes for a really fun read, even for readers like me who are not at all science buffs. I listened to the audiobook and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Well, that’s it for this time, but I’m sure I’ll be back with a part 4! Do you feel you learn from the books you read? And if you do, do you consider it a nice little extra, or is it an prerequisite, do you read to learn?

Whatever your reasons for reading, I hope you have fun doing it, happy reading xxx

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