What I’m Reading Wednesday: February 1, 2023

I wound up ending with several finished books over just a couple of days at the end of January, so let’s start with a few brief reviews.

Eager, by Ben Goldfarb: A natural science nonfiction title that looks at the impact of beavers on (mostly) the US’s economy and land expansion in the early years of the nation, as well as this amazing rodent and the ways in which beavers influence the ecology of a place. The US landscape that we think of as being here for millenia really isn’t that old. While native Americans did hunt beavers, the arrival of Europeans who viewed the rodents as both pests to get rid of and “reclaim” land for agriculture as well as a cash export commodity meant that thousands of beavers were killed for both of those reasons from the east coast to the west, and in doing do, the early European settlers drastically changed the landscape of the US. Having beavers dam up a creek does more than create a pond – it serves as a breakwater for snow melt or monsoonal flooding; it deposits silt and creates an area where plants decompose under the water, enriching the soil; it prevents excessive erosion and the removal of topsoil and vegetation; it creates an environment where wildlife of all kinds thrive, from fish to birds to insects, to larger mammals. Goldfarb presents many important reasons to view beavers as a keystone of local ecology health, discusses the pushback from farmers and ranchers (who still tend to view them as pests), but why the efforts to recolonize “dead” landscapes with these helpful creatures may be more important than we all thought. Well written, entertaining and full of a lot of food for thought – a recommended read at 4 stars.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold: Billed as “true crime” but really more a social/women’s history book, this extensively researched book looks at the lives of the 5 canonical victims of Jack the Ripper in late Victorian White Chapel. Rubenhold approaches this book from the perspective that each of these women was an individual with a story to tell. While she mentions the murders in the introductory chapter, this book is NOT about the Ripper, per se. Instead, she traces the life of each of these five women, debunking myths about their lifestyle (and proves pretty emphatically that these woman were not all prostitutes, as the press claimed they were), as well as creating a richly detailed picture of Victorian England in the late 19th century. I learned TONS about jobs available for middle and lower class people (I didn’t know what a chap-man or chap-book was, but I do now!), the role of women in the home and in the workplace, the military, the shipping industry, workhouses, and how society classified women living without the protection of a male partner. This book identifies social stressors that led to each of these women being in a place and position where they would be vulnerable to the Ripper, but also breathes life into each of these women who lived. She calls them out as mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and in doing so, creates real people behind the headlines. Excellent read and highly recommended if you enjoy history – 5 stars.

Finally, I zoomed through Sarah Addison Allen’s Other Birds. My friend, Katie, sent me a copy and this is a sweet, light fiction about a young woman who is hoping to learn more about her mother and about herself. Zoey never knew her mother well (she died when Zoey was quite young) but now that she is 18, she decides to move to the small island town of Mallow, off the coast of South Carolina, where her mother has left her an apartment in trust. Zoey meets the residents of the small group of apartments at the Dellawisp, each of whom also has a story of their own, from Mac – the big chef at a local theme restaurant, Charlotte – the henna artist who is a bit bohemian, to Lucy and Lizbeth – the sisters at odds with each other. Zoey comes to befriend all of the residents and in doing so, finds out about herself, what it means to have a found family, and how much her mother loved her. A mix of some magical realism and chick lit vibes with this one. I enjoyed it as a nice palate cleanser from the other nonfiction titles I read at the end of the month.

Currently, I am reading Beheld, a historical fiction set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the early years of that colony’s history and I just started a buddy read with Nicole @bookwyrmknits of Nettle and Bone (which I’m listening to on audiobook) and am already enjoying immensely!

8 thoughts on “What I’m Reading Wednesday: February 1, 2023

  1. Eager sounds really good! And I’m looking forward to our Nettle & Bone buddy read—I haven’t gotten far enough in yet to make any real comments, but I love Kingfisher’s work so I’m sure this will be a fun buddy read!

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