rocks, royalty, and the romans: Mark Kurlansky’s Salt

saltI enjoy reading non-fiction, and one of the best bits of reading this genre is that you can, occasionally, look at a book and think, “Wow, someone wrote an entire book on that?” with equal parts bemusement and fascination.  Salt was such a book for me.  I knew, of course, that salt was an essential part of a healthy diet (and a large part of some un-healthy ones…), but, beyond that fact and a vague sense that salt was a good cleaning agent, and you could use it to exfoliate, I didn’t really know what a book that went on about salt for over 400 pages would be like.

It turns out; it’s pretty good. Kurlansky kept me entertained for the entire book, and it was good enough that, a few days ago, I picked it up to read again. Even the second time around, it’s still a very entertaining book.

Kurlansky does an excellent job of tracing the history of salt through what I thought of as “the better-known bits of history” (the American Civil War, the Roman Empire, English colonization), but he especially shines at drawing out the part salt had in the daily life of everyone–whether it’s a peasant in medieval France or American settlers struggling to become self-sufficient and independent. There are enough small details to make the entire story of salt flow, and it is easy to follow the story of salt as it darts around the world (following the rise and fall of empires, as it happens).

Salt is everywhere, and it turns out to be a fascinating subject–especially because the modern vision of salt is as a danger (and a sneaky, occasionally hidden one at that), but the story of salt, and how it saved and supported people as they travelled and lived all over the world is one worth knowing–and it is a well-written one, at that.

reading, royalty, and the written word: Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader

uncommonreader Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader is one of those books that seemed to be everywhere at once.  Everywhere except the library, obviously, where the wait for the book was over a month. After reading it, I completely understood why it took so long to be returned: if the previous library-users have the same impulses I do, they waited to return the library copy until they had a copy of their own–because after reading this book once, I just knew it had to live in the house permanently.

Bennett’s Uncommon Reader is separated from the common man by years of breeding, tradition, and training.  She is, in fact, so far away from the common man that she rarely notices the emotions or reactions of those around her. Of course, when you are Queen of England, it must be easy to lose sight of what may happen to regular people so confusion about the rest of the world is perhaps to be expected. Confusion about libraries, though, and reading is a universal trait, I think, and one that Bennett mines with aplomb to create what is basically a love story about books and words. Continue reading

secrets, strangers, and sadness: Sarah Singleton’s The Poison Garden

thepoisongarden I was lucky enough to get this book, Sarah Singleton’s The Poison Garden, in one of the give-aways that Simon and Schuster (UK) have on Facebook. (I know! I’m occasionally unimpressed by Facebook for a variety of reasons, but free books? get me every time.)  Now, to the book at hand.

First, I feel I must say that the children in this book, Thomas and Maud, are both charming and appropriately childlike.  Although Thomas is the central character and the main focus of the book, Maud has a delicate force and power all of her own, and I appreciated the attention that Singleton paid to her. Thomas, a little older and more suspicious than Maud, reacts to all of the strange situations he finds himself in with bravery, but he also (as many children his age would) looks to those around him for support.  Although much of that support is questionable (and possibly deadly), it is still a refreshing change from the nearly-adult independence found in a number of children in fiction. Continue reading