What I’ve learnt from reading fiction – part 5

Hi and welcome to the fifth edition of What I’ve learnt from reading fiction! I had a long spell of the lazies, completely ignoring notes and photos I’d taken of fun little factoids I learnt from reading fiction, and often even forgoing taking notes or photos, thus counting on my memory to actually remember stuff – never the best idea – BUT I got over my laziness, dug up notes and photos from last year and jogged my memory by having a look at the books I’ve read so far this year and here we are!

So let’s have a look at what I’ve learnt:

  • I learnt some more collective animal nouns! These always make me happy. A clattering of jackdaws, a watch of nightingales, a stare of owls, a mutation of thrushes, and pigeons form a passel, which means an indefinite quantity, very apt! (The Night Visitor, Lucy Atkins)
  • Doesn’t always have to be animals: the collective noun for historians is an argumentation. (The Night Visitor, Lucy Atkins)
  • Apparently you can teach a jackdaw to mimic the human voice. How one would go about that is still a mystery to me. (The Night Visitor, Lucy Atkins)
  • The common names of household beetles include: larder or bacon beetle, cigarette beetle and biscuit or drugstore beetle. I will save you the photos, they are not pretty. (The Night Visitor, Lucy Atkins)
  • The effect in photos, where an element is in focus and parts are out of focus, that latter part, that blur, is called bokeh. Here’s a photo of a very pretty blue tit with a lovely bokeh effect in the background. (After Sundown, edited by Mark Morris)
  • Friluftsliv is the Norwegian itch for the outdoors, the idea that life is best lived outside, in nature. (The Nesting, C.J. Cooke)
  • Norway was the first country to introduce paid paternity leave, and it once knighted a penguin. I had to look that one up and long story short: the Norwegian King’s Guard adopted a king penguin in the Edinburgh zoo, naming it Nils Olav in honour of the lieutenant who arranged the adoption and King Olav V of Norway. Nils Olav was initially given the rank of visekorporal (lance corporal) in the regiment and he was promoted each time the King’s Guard returned to the zoo, until he was knighted in 2008. (The Nesting, C.J. Cooke)
Sir Nils inspecting troops of the King’s Guard. Photo made available for reuse under the OGL.
  • A corncrake is a bird, who knew?! (The Nesting, C.J. Cooke)
A corncrake featured in The Irish Times. (Mind the bokeh!)
  • I’ve been learning about and getting a feel for the reign of Henry VIII through the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. Truly fascinating, and because the thriller aspect usually takes the front seat, you never realise you’re learning about history.
  • I learnt about the inner workings of a news station (The Source, Sarah Sultoon) and the job of lighthouse keepers before automation. (The Lamplighters, Emma Stonex)
  • Pitman is a kind of shorthand that looks like squiggles. (The Hermit, S.R. White)
  • I learnt about the refugee problems in Dover. (This Nowhere Place, Natasha Bell)
  • I found out more about snowboarding, the moves, the sponsoring, the risks. (Shiver, Allie Reynolds)
  • I learnt about the diamond business and Botswana culture. Also that kubu is the Setswana word for hippo. (Facets of Death, Michael Stanley)
  • I learnt about interbellum-Norway and the Norwegian prohibition era. I had no idea the Roaring 20s happened in Norway too, with bootleggers selling illegal hooch. (The Assistant, Kjell Ola Dahl)
  • It was once believed that one could heal from syphilis by sleeping with a virgin. Gross. (Daughters of Night, Laura Shepherd-Robinson)
  • Puss and Mew was an intricate system of selling and buying gin in the Georgian era. Only mentioned in passing in the book, but the author shared the fascinating story in a Twitter thread. I’ll summarise it here. Gin Acts had been passed to prevent the sale of cheap unlicensed gin, through paid informants who snitched on the sellers. Mayhem ensued until one man saw a loophole in the 1738 Gin Act: informants had to know the name of the person renting the house that was selling the gin and the authorities were not allowed to break into locked houses. So he sublet a house, nailed a wooden cat with an outstretched paw to the window and advertised that a cat living in the alley would be selling gin the following day. When curious customers came knocking, calling out Puss, he answered from the other side of the shuttered window: mew, mew mew mew to signal that gin was available. The buyers paid through a slot in the cat’s mouth and gin would flow from the spout under the paw. This is why Old Tom became a new nickname for gin and many modern gin brands still have cats on their labels. (Daughters of Night, Laura Shepherd-Robinson)
  • Iceland has a tradition called Yule Lads: thirteen Yule Lads bringing presents to put in the children’s shoes in the thirteen days leading up to Christmas. (Girls Who Lie, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir)
  • Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. (The Last House on Needless Street, Catriona Ward)
  • Dead bodies found floating on the surface of the water are unlikely to have drowned, especially if they’re face down. When a person drowns, their lungs fill with water and they sink. Bodies that float are usually dead when they hit the water. We’re talking recently deceased here, not taking into account all the chemical processes that kick in when a body starts decomposing. (The Islanders, S.V. Leonard)
  • WWII in Venice was something I never really thought about, but when Richard Armitage tells you all about the Jews being hunted, the Germans invading the city, and the partisans leading the resistance, you listen and learn. (The Garden of Angels, David Hewson)

Well, that’s it for this time, but I’m sure I’ll be back! In the meantime feel free to check out part 1part 2, part 3 and 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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