Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ten Interesting Things I Learned from Books in 2009

And this will be my last post on 2009 books. I thought it would be fun to share ten interesting things I never knew and that I learned while reading in 2009, things that have stuck out in my mind. Here you go:

1. Some people are born with their hearts on the right sides of their bodies instead of the left. I actually encountered this fact in two different books I read in 2009: Stitches by David Small and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

2. There isn't much evidence for the long-held notion that Bram Stoker based his Dracula on Vlad the Impaler. However, "Dracula" in the Wallachian language means "Devil," and this nickname was given by Wallachians to anyone thought to be courageous, cruel, or cunning, including Vlad the Impaler. Legends in Blood: The Vampire in History and Myth by Wayne Bartlett and Flavia Idriceanu

3. There are some pretty cool things that my corpse could be used for to benefit science. However, there are also some pretty horrific things. And corpses don't get to choose. Therefore, I think I will stick to my plans of having my ashes sunk in a coral-friendly container, so I can guarantee new life will come from my death. Stiff by Mary Roach

4. The Hutchinson River (and thus, The Hutchinson River Parkway) was named after Anne Hutchinson, who (probably a bit off her rocker, but still), dared to challenge Puritan theology, providing some pretty clever reasoning, that made her foes look quite foolish, when brought to court on charges of heresy. Nonetheless, she didn't win her case and was banished from Massachusetts, eventually (via Rhode Island) ending up in what is now New York, where her river runs freely. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

5. Postmasters in 19th-century Russia were almost universally loathed (precursers to contemporary Americans' convictions that all postal workers are crazy?). The Tales of Bielkin by Alexander Pushkin

6. Suburban Connecticut has not changed much at all over the past 50+ years. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

7. The idea of state-dependent memory is not a 20th-century one. I actually must have first learned this in some psychology course in the 1980s, and then again when I read the book in the 1990s, but (being unable to recreate the states I was in), I'd forgotten it. Perhaps I will remember it going forward. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

8. Food critics not only get to eat at great restaurants for free and get to write about it, but they also sometimes get to play detective, and the really lucky ones get to interview famous authors about their food habits, likes, and dislikes. Eating My Words by Mimi Sheraton

9. There is this very cool-sounding device for crossing a river that is located out in the wilds of Alsaka. I envision it, based on the book's description, as almost like a boxed-in ski lift across the river. I'd love to ride it one day, but I'd love even more just to get to Alaska (preferably, not the way that Chris McCandless did). Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

10. Children from other countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, who had the right features (e.g. blond hair and blue eyes) and whose parents had been imprisoned or killed during WWII, were taken by the Nazis and passed off as German children for adoption by German parents. The Search by Maureen Morant


Anonymous said...

All interesting to read. I didn't know that about #10. It seems contradictory with Nazi ideology. Why was it done?

Susan said...

I enjoyed reading what you got out of the books! Lovely encapsulation and way to catch up to tardy book reviews! I might have to do something similar, myself, being sadly lacking in doing reviews for four months!!! Happy new year to you and Bob, by the way!

raych said...

Nerdy sidebar because I am married to a med student and am absorbing a medical education by proxy:

The girl in Fearful Symmetry has situs inversus, which is where ALL the major organs are on the wrong side. This doesn't usually present health problems (although it makes diagnoses complicated if the person doesn't know they have the condition, which they often don't). Dextrocardia, where just the heart is on the wrong side, or situs inversus with levocardia, where everything swaps EXCEPT the heart, cause complications because the heart is jockeying for space.

I will now return to my poindextering.

Emily Barton said...

Lilian, I'm not really sure. That part wasn't really explained (it's fiction). I assumed, based on a bit of a focus on Nazi youth, that it had something to do with the idea that the regime would last forever, and that once these kids (not Jews, of course) were old enough, they would be recruited.

Susan, Happy New Year to you, too! I suppose this is quite a good way for those who are behind on reviews to encapsulate a little.

Emily Barton said...

Raych, thanks for the nerdy sidebar. I guess (surprise, surprise) the only organ that really matters to me (until, of course, someone tells me there is something terribly wrong, say, with my spleen or my kidney) is the heart, so I paid more attention to it than anything. In thinking about it, though, you are, of course, right that in Fearful Symmetry it was situs inversus. In Stitches, it must have been dextrocardia (the woman eventually died of it).

litlove said...

What a great idea for a post! I loved all of these, and they all came as news to me. I didn't even know you COULD have your organs in different places!

Stefanie said...

You learned some interesting things from your reading in 2009! I know my mail carrier is crazy. He prefers to walk across my yard through the 3+ feet of snow instead of up the nicely clean and shoveled sidewalk.

Melwyk said...

I didn't know about the organs switching sides either, how fascinating!

As for #10 it does seem rather contradictory, but it happened all over Eastern Europe (including Ukraine). There is a new juvenile book on this topic by Marsha Skrypuch that I am planning on reading.

nigel patela said...

Item 2: In Albanian "devil" is "drachio" however they actually spell it.
I've always heard that the Wallachs were descendants of "Romans" but never knew if that meant Latin speakers or Greek speaking Byzantines.