Reading is entertainment but it can also be education – new words, myths that turn out to be reality and vice versa. Here are just a few of the things I learned from the books I read this week. Click on the title of the book to read my review.
Whilst reading Juliet & Romeo, David Hewson’s retelling of the story that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I was intrigued by reference to the fishermen using cormorants that are trained to catch fish.
It transpires this is a traditional fishing method which originated in Japan and China many centuries ago. The fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird’s throat which prevents it swallowing larger fish which are held in its throat. However, the birds can swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up.
You can find some amazing photographs of the practice here.
Staying on the bird theme, in Mr Peacock’s Possessions by Lydia Syson, mention is made of a practice called ‘blackbirding’. Indeed the alternative name for the fictional island on which the book is set is ‘Blackbird Island.’
‘Blackbirding’ was the shocking practice of coercing people through trickery, such as posing as missionaries, and kidnapping them to work as labourers. It came to prominence in the 1860s when ‘blackbirding’ ships would sail the Pacific seeking workers to mine guano deposits on the islands off Peru. Later, the ‘blackbirders’ focused on supplying indentured labourers for the sugar cane plantations of Queensland and Fiji. Those “blackbirded” were usually the indigenous populations of nearby Pacific islands.
Next, we’re off to the Scotland and the fictional island of Seal, one of the locations in I Will Find You by Daniela Sacerdoti. In the book there are a number of references to a feature of the landscape called machair.
As I now know, machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile, low-lying grassy plain. It refers to the dune grassland that occurs on the exposed western coasts of Scotland and Ireland, formed partly by sand made up of crushed shells blown ashore by Atlantic gales. It is a habitat renowned for its diversity with an abundance of wildflowers, rarer species such as orchids and hollows favoured as nesting places by corncrakes (as mentioned in the book).
Source: Visit Outer Hebrides
Now we’re moving south to Cornwall, the location of the historical mystery The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield. One of the many things I enjoyed about the book was the author’s inclusion of some Cornish dialect words.
How about ‘braggaty’ meaning spotted, mottled or ‘clitter’ meaning a confused noise.
Source: Cornish Culture
Finally, it’s back to Italy and That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. One of the many things I loved about the book was the luscious descriptions of Italian food. A reference to a drink, nocino, that I’d never heard of caught my eye.
As I now know nocino is a walnut based alcoholic drink, common in the north of Italy. It is made with green unripe walnuts, has a syrupy consistency and is a dark oily brown in colour. Its aroma is distinctly nutty and it’s strong: 40% alcohol by volume or 80 proof.
Source: Italy Chronicles blog
What fascinating facts did you learn from your reading this week?