For a while I couldn’t read anything

Contributor: Caroline Mead

For a while I couldn’t read anything, as I had a very short attention span. I suspect I was a bit stressed about the pandemic. But the best way we’ve been encouraged to help contain the pandemic is to stay at home. I’ve been working from home since March 2020 and normally commute in a lift share for two hours a day. More time in general, and more time at home, has meant I’ve read more books.

I’ve also, for a long time, had a resolution to read all the unread books in my house. This seems like a good opportunity to start reading them. But there are loads and I haven’t made massive inroads yet.

Over the summer I took part in a Virtual History Race with a company called Secret London Runs, who normally do themed running tours of London. The idea of the Virtual History Race was that you run 5k to an interesting historical site, and tell Secret London Runs all about it. The published runs were all fascinating. I ran to the 12th century Leper Chapel in Cambridge (chapel of the Leper Hospital, and one of the oldest complete buildings in Cambridge), because frankly King’s College is a bit of a media whore, and the Leper Chapel is much cooler.

I won the race! My prize was a book called Dr James Barry: a woman ahead of her time by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield. It tells the tale of a woman who became one of the most respected surgeons of the century, rising to a position no woman would ever have been able to occupy, whilst passing as a man called ‘Dr James Barry’. It’s not necessarily something I’d normally read, so it was interesting to get my teeth into it. I generally read it after work in my garden, whilst sipping on elderflower cordial (another lockdown activity – didn’t read the recipe properly and made 8 litres!).

This got me on a path of reading all the unread non-fiction in my house. One of the highlights was The Missing Lynx by Ross Barnet, which uncovers the mystery of all the missing mammals that used to roam the UK: lions, lynxes, bears, wolves and bison, and brings them to life using fossil evidence whilst positing what might happen if there are reintroductions. (There has long been a campaign to reintroduce lynxes as a top predator, and recently, Kent Wildlife Trust has been advertising for a Bison Ranger, to manage a reintroduced bison herd.)

I’m now reading a book called Other Minds: the octopus and the evolution of intelligent life by Peter Godfrey-Smith. It looks at the mind of octopus and how its tentacles are so packed with neurons that they almost think for themselves.

I find it comforting to remember that we’re animals too, and clearly not the most intelligent animals either. We’re not that important, really.


1 comment

  1. What a lovely contribution ! ‘The Missing Lynx’ sounds great, and lynx would be my favourite reintroduction from that list, except for Bison. I live in Kent and saw the job adverts for Bison Ranger, but they got 100 applications, which is one of many reasons why I’m still at home with books like ‘Other Minds’ (superb), and not bison ranging. P.S. Nothing wrong with 8 litres of elderflower cordial surely!

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