2018 In Books : February

1802BooksA monthly list with review-ettes of the books I’ve read, because I can’t remember everything any more. I also get distracted – despite my best efforts, there are SO MANY BOOKS of course – so occasionally an entry will span more than one month. 

February has been filled with octopuses, cartoons, ghosts and more ghosts…


Other Minds / The Octopus, The Sea and The Deep Origins of Conciousness : Peter Godfrey-Smith (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux) (not yet finished)

Anyone who saw The Blue Planet will know how fascinating octupuses are. Far from being creatures with a blob for a head and eight wavy tentacles, they are fascinating and clever creatures (though maybe not clever in the way mammals are clever. I bought this book off the back of seeing an octopus cover itself in shells to disguise itself, and after catching Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks discuss their book ‘Science-Ish’ on the radio. One of them became very voluable about the amazing lives of octopuses, I tweeted him and a book purchase was inevitable.

Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher (and scuba diver) which makes this book all the more fascinating. He is less concerned with the biology of the animal (though there’s a very good chapter on evolution) or in what they do in a  behavioral physchology way. Instead his approach is to look at the way the octopus mind works, and our own. He examines octopus society in detail; they are solitary creatures but live in communities; they think with their arms (mind blowing) as they evolved a different nervous system to e.g. mammals.

We’re taken to ‘Octopolis’ off the eastern coast of Australia to meet the resident octopus group and their humans. Researcher Matthew Lawrence has been working with this community of octopuses for so long they “…seem to treat Matt differently from everybody else. Once […] an octopus grabbed his hand  and walked off with him in tow. Matt followed, as if he were were being led across the sea-floor by a very small eight legged child” How amazing is that!?, I woke my husband up to ask.  I tend to read in bed.

I am up to Chapter 4 ” What It’s like – how does it feel to be an octopus? “. Well,  I’m dying to find out I can tell you.

The Trouble With Women : Jacky Fleming (Square Peg)

I have had Jacky Fleming’s cartoons pinned up about the place for years, ever since the first ones came out on Leeds Postcards. Very early IT related ones “What do you mean printer cannot be found?! It’s THERE you idiot machine, THERE” and the girl with the spiky black hair and pink bow “You don’t look like a feminist”…”watch out, we disguise ourselves as HUMAN BEINGS”.

The Trouble With Women is rooted in the idea that, at school, you only learn about two clever women, one of them is  Marie Curie “the only female scientist since women began”  The rest of the historical women had hands and heads that were just far too small to do anything geniuslike. So men did it all…OR SO THEY SAY…while women stayed in their Domestic Sphere (you can see the domestic sphere on the book cover). This is a quick read an still and hugely funny and effective skewering of patriarchy.  Even though, as we are surely aware, all feminists are completely humourless, aren’t they?

The Winter Ghosts : Kate Mosse (Orion)

This is another fabulous novel from Kate Mosse with the action taking place in the Languedoc.  Set in the early 1920s, a young man grieving his elder brother’s death  in the first war takes a winter trip to the Languedoc. After crashing his car during a mountain storm he finds himself a room in a mountain village. A pall of sadness seems to shroud the place – as it does so many places even six years after the Armistice,. Forced to stay the night he meets a mysterious and beautiful young woman at the local fète, or could he have dreamt that in the fever he wakes from a day later. Did he also dream the brawl at the same party, and the fear aamong the villagers that seemed more than play acting as part of a historical pageant…he is desperate to find Fabrisse, as she has asked him to, and the rest of the people who fled from the fète.

This is a story of  loss, grief and remembrance, as well as having the trademark tricks of the mind/dream state (or supernatural?) elements Mosse uses so well in her longer novels.

The Travelling Bag And Other Ghostly Stories : Susan Hill (Profile Books)

More ghosts! These are the short story kind, and there are five in this volume, all properly creepy. The title story concerns a deadly prank played on an adversary – death by something I would not like to die by either, and a haunting of the perpetrator afterwards. In “Alice Baker” office workers are troubled by their quiet new colleague, who carries a strange smell around with her. Alice Baker very much reminds me of the stories you’d get in ‘Misty‘ comic – a supernaturally themed comic for girls from the late 1970s/early 1980s; yes it was seen as totally appropriate reading matter for pre-teens back then (and certainly explains my subsequent reading habits).

Misty would always give you a ‘proper ending’ as my Mum calls them. You don’t get a proper ending with some of these tales; but why not get hold of a copy,  put all the lights in the house on, sit down to read and find out for yourself.


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