March Reading 2023: Richard Fidler and baggage. Observation notes 115-116 and Reading Note 62

Being in the thick of Autumn Semester plummeted my recreational reading to a dismally low seven books (though during lockdown years, this would have been quite the achievement) across the month of March. This thick of it includes making time today to write this post despite having nearly 200 assessment submissions waiting for me to mark. So I will be quick!

Observation note 115: Moral to the story is “do not read books when you are overwhelmingly busy”. Of the seven books, I rated none of them above a 3.5/5 stars. At best, I was only partially engaged, and at worst, I was bored and annoyed. So why did I even bother to read the books? Well…they were all library reservations which I had waited for months upon months for them to arrive. They had all been on my TBR for a long time, and some of them I had deferred from borrowing several times, so I gave up and just borrowed them at a bad time instead. I realise this is due to my own reading baggage*. Despite knowing I was strapped for time, I persisted where I probably should not have. I think that I did most of the books a disservice. I hope to post about some of them in the next week or so (after marking has been completed). I have drafted notes for the other books I read in March but I will only discuss one in this post.

Reading Note 62: Richard Fidler’s The Book of Roads and Kingdoms.

Cover: A mosaic like design in orange, blues and greens.

The blurb: A lost imperial city, full of wonder and marvels. An empire that was the largest the world had ever seen, established with astonishing speed. A people obsessed with travel, knowledge and adventure.

When Richard Fidler came across the account of Ibn Fadlan – a tenth-century Arab diplomat who travelled all the way from Baghdad to the cold riverlands of modern-day Russia – he was struck by how modern his voice was, like that of a twenty-first century time-traveller dropped into a medieval wilderness. On further investigation, Fidler discovered this was just one of countless reports from Arab and Persian travellers of their adventures in medieval China, India, Africa and Byzantium. Put together, he saw these stories formed a crazy quilt picture of a lost world.

The Book of Roads & Kingdoms is the story of the medieval wanderers who travelled out to the edges of the known world during Islam’s fabled Golden Age; an era when the caliphs of Baghdad presided over a dominion greater than the Roman Empire at its peak, stretching from North Africa to India. Imperial Baghdad, founded as the ‘City of Peace’, quickly became the biggest and richest metropolis in the world. Standing atop one of the city’s four gates, its founder proclaimed: Here is the Tigris River, and nothing stands between it and China.

In a flourishing culture of science, literature and philosophy, the citizens of Baghdad were fascinated by the world and everything in it. Inspired by their Prophet’s commandment to seek knowledge all over the world, these traders, diplomats, soldiers and scientists left behind the cosmopolitan pleasures of Baghdad to venture by camel, horse and boat into the unknown. Those who returned from these distant foreign lands wrote accounts of their adventures, both realistic and fantastical – tales of wonder and horror and delight.

Fidler expertly weaves together these beautiful and thrilling pictures of a dazzling lost world with the story of an empire’s rise and utterly devastating fall.

Way back in the Before Times, I named Fidler’s Ghost Empire (Reading Note 10) not only as my favourite book of 2019 but in my Top 10 books of all time. Richard Fidler is a radio presenter on the Australian public broadcaster ABC where he conducts these sublime hour-long interviews with relatively unknown but incredible people (on the rare occasion he will interview someone famous but only if they are amazing like his interview with Angela Lansbury). A few weeks earlier, a friend of mine asked me who would I invite to my ideal dinner party and Fidler was on my very short list. So when I heard that he would be the first author at my local (and reknowned) bowling club’s new monthly book group (interview with an author), I grabbed my friend Monica and I was there with bells on!

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April with a touch of May

I just realised that it has been a while since I wrote in my own shallows so I am going to use April’s Bingo sheet and SuperWendy’s super convenient TBR challenge topic of “Something Different” to describe my last 2 months of life as well as my reading:

 

Now (contemporary)

I have been incredibly busy. After a 12 month break, I am now teaching Digital Literacies at my uni’s pathway college. The content is really engaging and it is proving to be quite a different teaching space to what I am used to.

Dark Apollo

I continue to work twice a week at a public library in a ‘burb far far far away from my home. I am in awe of the excellent study culture in the community I work for. It is such a buzz seeing youth so deeply engaged in their studies. I am also a deselector for my library and there are times when deselecting feels like I am the more ominous Apollo of the Library World. The Apollo that brings down plague and pestilence to the world. Kill me now, for I hate deselection yet it has somehow become my specialisation over the last decade of library work. There are some gratifying moments like when you get rid of a book caked in snot but pleasssse, pleeaaaaase someone in the library world give me a selection job. I miss it desperately. Deselection makes me just want to tell all authors and publishers to give it up and stop fucking writing.

 

Burning library

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March 2017 ShallowreaderBingo write up

Lately, I have been whining a bit about being in a reading slump but in actual fact, I am only in a novel/fiction reading slump. The rest of my reading is pretty much buoyant and happening. So much so that I’m hitting those Bingo Squares for March. I could have doubled up on some of the squares but I have gone with only one square per reading. And I still fail at my own game as I can’t seem to score a straight run, dammit!

The circled squares for March are: Love thy neighbour, Bodily fluid, redundant, It's all Greek to Me, Comfort and Pretty.

Aaron Blabey's BustingBodily Fluid

I would argue that Aaron Blabey is in the top five Australian picture book authors evah! And his latest book Busting is a very funny, verse book about holding your wee in and bladder control.

Lou is BUSTING for the loo.
But the loo has quite a queue.
So what on earth is Lou to do?

This is an excellent book not only for kids who are being toilet trained but for anyone who enjoys the occasional toilet humour or struggles to find a toilet alternative. Continue reading