What I’ve learnt from reading fiction – part 9

Hi and welcome to the ninth 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:

  • NASA has two logos, one is nicknamed the meatball, the other the worm. The meatball came first, it was designed in 1959 when NASA as we know it was created. The meatball was replaced by the worm, but reinstated in 1992 when the worm got pulled back. Since 2020 both are in use, the worm as a secondary logo. (56 Days, Catherine Ryan Howard)
  • I knew that quinine is what gives tonic water its bitter taste, but I had no idea it’s also used as medication to treat malaria. (The Children on the Hill, Jennifer McMahon)
  • I can’t remember in what book, but I read that all polar bears are lefties. Obviously, that was something I had to look into, and as it turns out, they are not! Polar bears are generally ambidextrous, not left-pawed, which is in fact a common misconception, an arctic legend if you will.
  • Tarantulas can temporarily blind you if they flick their hairs in your eyes. I sincerely hope I never get close enough to find out, I wouldn’t be temporarily blind, I’d be permanently dead due to a heart attack. (Mr Jones, Alex Woolf)
  • In America, six people a year are killed when they are shot by their dog. I have no idea how that might work, do let me know if you do! (The Daves Next Door, Will Carver)
  • Just south of San Antonio, Texas, is the site of Texas’ most famous ghost story. I read up on this. An intersection of the roadway is crossed by railroad tracks and this is reportedly the site of a fatal accident in which a train collided with a school bus full of children in the 1930s or 1940s. As the story goes, if you park your car directly over the tracks and shift into neutral, the ghosts of the children will push it uphill, out of the way of an oncoming train. Numerous accounts have been stated that cars do in fact inexplicably move on their own and mysterious prints are seen on vehicles. Others allege they have heard the voices and laughter of children while at the site. But! There are no official records of any of this. Also, the road is very slightly inclined which would result in the natural rolling of a car parked in neutral, and the fingerprints could easily be those that were already there. So there is most likely nothing supernatural about it, but it does make for a fab ghost story! (The Daves Next Door, Will Carver)
  • There is an immortal jellyfish species! I found this on Wikipedia: its scientific name is turritopsis dohrnii and it’s biologically immortal because it is capable of reverting completely to a sexually immature, colonial stage after having reached sexual maturity as a solitary individual. Theoretically, this process can go on indefinitely, effectively rendering the jellyfish biologically immortal, although in practice individuals can still die due to predators or disease. (The Daves Next Door, Will Carver)
Check out the immortal jellyfish on https://immortal-jellyfish.com/
  • Female caribou are the only female animals that have antlers. (The Gone and the Forgotten, Clare Whitfield)
  • I learnt about seal hunts and how they are organised and regulated in Canada these days. I was happy to learn that hunters need the necessary permits and that the authorities are coming down hard on poachers. I also didn’t know that seal hunting is allowed as a kind of culling system, like with certain forest animals, and that the manner in which the animals are killed is also highly regulated so as to prevent suffering as much as possible. (Whisper of the Seals, Roxanne Bouchard)
  • Every galaxy we know of has a black heart, i.e. a black hole at its heart, in essence because of the basic rule of gravity: objects attract each other and eventually form bigger objects. And the biggest objects are also the darkest. Hence black hearts. (Black Hearts, Doug Johnstone)
This is Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy as captured by the Event Horizon Telescope in May 2022
(Credit: EHT Collaboration, CC BY-SA)
  • The official name for broken-heart syndrome is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, but calling it a “broken heart” is actually not that accurate since everything from a car accident or asthma to public speaking could cause it. (Black Hearts, Doug Johnstone)
  • I learnt a new Scottish word: dreich, which means dreary, especially to describe the weather. (Black Hearts, Doug Johnstone)
  • In the Netherlands, they have something called the lonely funeral project. If someone dies and there’s no one to claim the body or to attend the funeral, a local poet researches the person, writes a poem about them and reads it at the ceremony. I’d never heard about it, but researching it I found it’s also been done in a couple of Flemish cities, it is called “de eenzame uitvaart”. There are even a few published collections. (Black Hearts, Doug Johnstone)
  • I never knew that of all the senses, smell has the longest evolutionary history. It goes back to how single-celled organisms interacted with their surrounding chemicals. It explains why we have over one thousand types of smell receptors but only four light sensors. It’s the only sense that bypasses the thalamus. Scents go straight to the brain’s olfactory bulb, which is directly connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus. It’s why smells trigger such detailed memories and emotions. (The Botanist, M.W. Craven)
  • I learnt about a neurode-generative disorder called ABBS or acquired Breeg–Bart syndrome. It’s an extremely rare variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, one of the motor neurone diseases. (The Botanist, M.W. Craven)
  • And another Tilly Bradshaw fun fact: concealed doors, for instance in bookcases, are called Murphy doors and there are several firms in the UK who specialise in them. (The Botanist, M.W. Craven)
  • Octopuses have nine brains, which I’d heard before. What I didn’t know is that they only mate towards the end of their lives, sometimes only once. The male usually dies soon after, if not from natural causes, then because the female kills him and eats him after mating. To avoid that, one species has developed a detachable penis that swims over to the female. She keeps it (or multiple ones simultaneously, even) in her mantle until she wants to fertilise her eggs. This detachable appendage is called an argonaut. Seriously, you can’t make up these things, nature is crazily brilliant! (Black Lake Manor, Guy Morpuss)

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, part 7 and part 8. 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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