Yesterday was the first Saturday of March and I really couldn’t think of how to get my Six Degrees of Separation chain started. This month, meme host Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best has chosen Phosphorescence by Julia Baird as our starting book.
I know what this book is about, despite not having read it, but I came unstuck trying to build a chain around the healing power of nature and being in the moment. And then, when I read a couple of other people’s chains, I decided that I couldn’t come up with anything half as good, so I’ve gone random again. The thought that kept popping into my head was the shell grotto in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock.
The grotto doesn’t phosphoresce exactly, but I recall a description of it glittering. In my mind, this was as a phosphorescent creature glitters. I also thought about what mermaids might have been, which led me to think about sailors of the past and the search for longitude.
Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before is a fictional memoir of a shipwrecked sailor involved in the search for longitude. I have a vivid memory of another character who owned a lot of maps. This made me think about a book I abandoned halfway through.
I love maps and I know Simon Winchester is rated as a popular historian, but boy was The Map that Changed the World dull. It’s very rare that I abandon books, because I’m a stubborn reader, but Winchester’s lack of imagination to fill in the blanks, and lack of sympathy for or sense of William Smith’s personality left me feeling that I hadn’t learnt anything about the “Father of Geology” but knew a lot about the author’s prejudices and presumptions. Geology is something that I’m interested in but not an expert on, and it’s where I’m headed next.
The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury charts the rivalry between Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen. Mantell discovered a mass of ancient bones in a Sussex quarry, but it was anatomist Richard Owen who identified and explained what they were, securing his own fame at Mantell’s expense. Someone else who contributed to our knowledge and understanding of dinosaurs, and who was also unrecognised for her contribution for a long time, is Mary Anning.
Tracy Chevalier wrote a brilliant and human account of Mary Anning’s life and struggles in Remarkable Creatures. I found it moving and thought Chevalier captured the time and place well.
I’m going to end on a book I haven’t read, about another woman whose contribution to a significant piece of scientific understanding has also been overlooked.
Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox sounds an interesting biography of the crystallographer whose x-ray photographs and research notes, passed to Watson and Crick without her permission, proved the helical structure of DNA. It’s one that I’ll keep my eyes peeled for next time I’m allowed inside a secondhand bookshop.
This month I’ve travelled from things with natural illumination to a woman obscured by the fragility of the male ego. I’ve jumped from a book about finding awe and wonder during dark times in the world around us to books about the scientific discoveries across time that have helped us to understand the world around, beneath and within us better.
Where would your chain take you? Why not visit Kate’s blog to find out what books other people have chosen?