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.
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!Continue reading