Mountains of Madness: a Scientist's Odyssey in Antarctica - John Long
I read this after the role playing expedition we did that was partially set in Antarctica: it's an autobiographical account by an Australian palaeontologist who specialises in ancient fish. It's not great writing: it is the narrator's diary, with minimal rewriting, and not the writings of a great diarist either. Despite this, I found this book peculiarly memorable: a strange mix of drunken jollies, fieldwork, amusing practical details, and the danger and majesty of Antarctica.
Britain in the Middle Ages - Francis Pryor
I am a bit of a Francis Pryor fan. He's like the Bryan Blessed of Archaeology: loud, bearded, entertaining, with a suspicion of being more than a little bit of a loon. He writes well and enthusiastically with a number of detours to recommend favorite items of architecture or pubs. I enjoyed the previous work, Britain AD, even though it didn't entirely convince me: this one is less controversial, and emphasizes the technological and agricultural change between 410 and 1066. I thought it was fascinating.
Mairelon the Magician - Patricia C Wrede. A children's book set in an alternative Victorian Britain with magicians. I think I would have loved this if I'd read it at 12: nowadays I am a little jaded with the whole 'child living in appalling conditions gets a lucky break and discovers she is Special' plot, and it wasn't quite well enough written to compensate for that.
The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum: Dry Store Room No. 1 - Richard Fortey.
They do like their long titles these scientists, don't they? Although it's described as a social history of the Natural History Museum, what it really is is a collection of amusing anecdotes interrupted by empassioned pleas for the importance of taxonomic research. He's an entertaining writer with a number of strange tales to tell, and although I must say I've always been a bit dubious about the value of endless jars full of pickled beasts and endless drawers full of dried bugs, he won me over. Well, mostly.
Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin
In a way this fitted in with John Long's book on Antarctica, as well as the Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, even though it's in a different genre. All three books are set in the same world and call on some of the same research, and Neil Shubin is also passionate about taxonomy. The book takes a number of features of the human body: hands, arms, vocal chords - and traces the reasons these are the shapes they are by reference to fish. It's surprisingly compelling, though I did feel a little preached-at at times. I got the impression that Shubin desperately wants to convince people who don't believe in evolution as a process at all, but I'm not sure that those people will buy or read this sort of book.
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Another children's book: I think aimed at rather younger kids. It's about a girl who finds her way into a different version of her home, where there are people with buttons for eyes. When she returns to her proper home, her parents are missing. I liked this book because the heroine was so competent and sensible. She was the kind of heroine that doesn't leave you screaming 'NO YOU FOOL!' but nodding appreciatively. Also there was a helpful cat. It has a weird dreamlike quality to it.
The Working Lurcher: The Traditional Skills - Jackie Drakeford
(I've read 'The House Lurcher' by the same author as well only that doesn't seem to be in this heap of books.) I read this because I wanted to understand more about Az and what he might have been bred for. It covers the various different crosses that are commonly used to breed lurchers (she is very much in favour of 'mostly sighthound' : at one pont she refers to herding dogs as 'curs'. And the whole vexed issue of bull breed sighthound lurchers - well, she's not keen on them at all!) I was interested to discover that her 'foundation' sighthound was a rescue greyhound which (against all the precepts of most rescues) she used to breed a line of successful hunting dogs... It also covers hunting rabbit, hare, fox, deer and birds. Although there is a disclaimer in the front saying that the book was written to describe the situation before the 'hunting with dogs' Act came in, there are a few little references that make it fairly clear that she expects at least some of her audience to use their dogs for poaching. This amused me somewhat.
I was hoping that there would be more detail in this book about specific training methods, but it seemed a bit vague on that topic. It was fascinating to read that a well trained working lurcher can be trained to a particular prey and ignore foxes, cats, sheep or even deer (this is well against the rescue orthodoxy, where ex-working dogs are usually not homed with cats or livestock as they are expected to be 'keen') but I would have liked to know exactly how she went about that!
Queen Emma and the Vikings - Harriet O'Brien
I think the reason I wanted to read this was mostly the format of the title : Protagonist And The Monsters! But it's a good book and rather a sad story of a woman that I'd not really had a mental picture of before. She makes a good case for her as an important figure to understand the reigns of Cnut and Harthacnut. You do tend to end up after reading most of the histories I've read of this period with an impression of the women as basically a sort of jewellery, handed from ruler to ruler as a status symbol: there is an element of that here, inevitably, but you do get a sense of a person too.
On Guerrilla Gardening - Richard Reynolds
This is a book about gardening without permission on land that doesn't belong to you: primarily, neglected unused land, road margins, poorly maintained civic beds. It's part practical manual, part a cry of protest by the landless, part history. I found it quite inspirational. I kind of wish I'd read it when I was working in Liverpool, which is an awful city for bad civic gardening. I took to carrying a knife with me as I went about the city so that I could release the many trees that were strangling to death on their own tree ties. I assume there must have been funding for planting trees, but not for removing the ties once the trees were established, there were so many with horrible swellings and scarring. If I'd thought, I could have carried seed and scattered it too. I do rather have enough garden of my own, nowadays - but Callington is a town that could do with a bit more interest. I shall think differently about spare plants and cuttings from now on...
OK, that's enough books for now.
In non-book news, I went to see Measure For Measure today, in the Theatre Royal in Plymouth with (rather unexpectedly) Alastair McGowan playing the Duke. I'd not seen or read the play before, but now I can see why it is not one of the more popular ones, what with the complexity of the plot and the rather mixed-feeling ending. Still, it was definitely worth watching. I liked the way the lighting made the best of the (fairly simple) set.