What I’ve learnt from reading fiction – part 8

Hi and welcome to the eighth edition of What I’ve learnt from reading fiction, the series the hubby unwittingly instigated by daring to ask me what I had learnt from reading fiction. Well, the answer is: more than I ever realised I could! And if you think I enjoy rubbing the hubby’s nose in that… you’d be absolutely right 😂 Here’s what I learnt from reading fiction in the last couple of months:

  • Dogs use each nostril separately so it’s like they smell in 3-D and they can also smell as they breathe out (whereas humans can only smell when they breathe in). (Off-Target, Eve Smith)
  • Batten disease is the common name for a whole range of rare, fatal, inherited disorders of the nervous system. It usually begins in childhood and one of the most noticeable symptoms is seizures. I looked it up and I’ll save you the clinical mumbo-jumbo but the essence is that it’s caused by a defect in a specific gene. (Off-Target, Eve Smith)
  • There are floating barnacles that use crabs as hosts to reproduce. The female barnacle sheds her own shell and most of her body, and burrows into the crab, latching on underneath its belly. After she lays her eggs, the female crab tenders them as if they were her own. And if the barnacle happens to land on a male crab by mistake, she triggers hormonal changes that effectively switch its sex and render him infertile, so he behaves like a female and protects her eggs. Nature is cruel but also pretty awesome. (Off-Target, Eve Smith)
An infected red king crab with an egg sac of the parasitic barnacle (Photo courtesy of Leah Sloan, article on Alaska Public Media)
  • A side effect of pregnancy I’d never heard about is that fluid retention in the eye or behind the eyeball can make the cornea change shape. (The Christmas Murder Game, Alexandra Benedict)
  • Another thing I’d never heard before is “bubble and squeak”, apparently a British dish. Knowing spotted dick I should probably know better than to be surprised at a funny name for a dish. (The Christmas Murder Game, Alexandra Benedict)
Bubble and squeak featured on Wikipedia
  • Tortoises smell with their throats, or more specifically: the roof of their mouths, which is where their vomeronasal organ (or Jacobson’s Organ) is located. This is apparently common in reptiles. Tortoises also empty their lungs before they go into their shell. They can’t breathe like we do, by expanding the ribcage, they have other muscles to draw in air.  (The Midnight Man, Caroline Mitchell)
  • It’s been a while but I finally came across another collective noun, this time for a group of cats: a clowder of cats. I love it! (The Midnight Man, Caroline Mitchell)
  • I enjoy watching ballet! Wondering how I learnt that from reading fiction? I listened to Midnight in Everwood and I loved it, which made me curious about the novella it got its inspiration from: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. So I read that and got curious about the ballet it inspired. So I watched that on YouTube and I enjoyed it so much, and definitely much more than I would have thought I might. I also found I know a lot more music by Tsaikovski than I’d realised. (Midnight in Everwood, M.A Kuzniar)
  • I learnt so much about the run-up to WWII. I never realised the insidiousness of the Nazi party and Hitler, nor how early on it all started. I didn’t know about the myriad of small changes in legislation and in daily life that robbed the Jewish people of every and any quality of life and peace of mind long before the actual war kicked off. (The Gathering Storm, Alan Jones)
  • Fear of bones is called cartilogenophobia and the people who suffer from this condition may even be afraid of their own skeleton. (Frozen Charlotte, Alex Bell)
  • Like a baby cat, a baby rabbit is called a kitten. Slightly unoriginal perhaps, but good to know. A baby hare is called a leveret. (Wonderland: An Anthology)
  • I learnt how to survive, well, everything. The dos and don’ts of prepping for Doom’s Day (or COVID 2.0) – make sure you have a few (medical) encyclopaedias cos the internet will be down. How to check whether a limb is going into sepsis: draw a line just above the presumed sepsis, if the skin above the line becomes affected, you know it’s sepsis and you’ll have to amputate. Speaking of: you don’t want to use a chainsaw cos the bone will splinter and the splinters will cause infection. If the skin above the line remains unblemished, you must not amputate: it’s not sepsis and the extra loss of blood will kill the patient. (How to Survive Everything, Ewan Morrison)
  • I learnt a thing or two about lobotomy, including that the name derives from the action itself: the drilling into the brain and taking the core of some tissue in the frontal lobe, lobe-otomy. Could have figured that out myself, yet I never did. The man who brought this practice to the US was Walter Freeman II and while he was a psychologist and a neurologist, he was not a neurosurgeon, which means he had no business poking around in people’s brains. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I found out a Nobel Prize was actually awarded to the “inventor” of the lobotomy: the Portuguese neurologist Moniz in 1949. (I had so much fun telling the hubby all about lobotomies, especially when he asked how on earth I knew so much about them, and I could tell him: I read it in a book 😏) (The Lobotomist’s Wife, Samantha Greene Woodruff)
  • Jumping spiders can jump up to fifty times their own body length, although they have very little leg muscle, instead they have some sort of biological hydraulic pumps: valves in their legs release high-pressure jets of blood, allowing the legs to extend and propel through the air. Fascinating but more than slightly disturbing. (Shut Your Eyes Tight, John Verdun)
  • I learnt about international news reporters, what that job is like and what kind of entourage of fixers and translators etc. they might have. (The Shot, Sarah Sultoon)
  • I learnt about the continuing struggles and rivalry between England and France and their respective kings, the plights of English Huguenots and professions like silkweavers, and the portraitist Joshua Reynolds, whose faulty technique in mixing paints meant certain colours in his paintings started to fade or crack as time passed. (The Fugitive Colours, Nancy Bilyeau)

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 2part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7. 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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