I finished one more book in February, The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland (book 18 for the year, so still on pace to read 100), and I’ve read two so far in March – The Saturday Big Tent Wedding by Alexander McCall Smith and Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive one of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich.

I won’t say much about The Saturday Big Tent Wedding, because I’ve already written a few times about how I enjoy McCall Smith’s style (and ability to publish so many books per year!) and how these are wonderful escape books, yet don’t completely feel like just reading for pleasure (books with no real redeeming value beyond enjoyment like say, everything by Meg Cabot — not saying I don’t love it, just saying some books give you more than just pleasure).  I like to read books that give me an escape, plus a little something else. But, hey sometimes I also just want the escape — that’s definitely where I am right now, having picked up The Bride Wore a Size 12 (a Meg Cabot mystery romance type book), Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (actually hoping this will be a bit more than just an escape), and the next book in The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series in my last trip to the library.

I think I’ll give Woolly a half-hearted recommendation.  The book is, as the lengthy title suggests, about the scientists working to revive woolly mammoths from extinction.  The main scientists in the book are attempting to do this using genetic engineering – so taking elephant cells, using CRISPR to swap in woolly mammoth genes (woolly mammoths died out recently enough that we have some of their DNA as opposed to say dinosaurs, when you find a fossil you cannot make Jurassic Park happen because the DNA has all degraded and disappeared entirely), turn this into an embryo, and grow a woolly mammoth in a man-made womb.  If you can point out all the science I got wrong in that sentence, Woolly is not for you.  It is extremely pop-science-y — they are making it into a movie and that makes perfect sense because this is not a science book, it is a story about scientists.  I know basically nothing about science (took Rocks for Jocks in college to fulfill my requirement) and even I wanted a little more science.

The book did make me very curious about whether woolly mammoths could help fight climate change — one of the arguments for bringing back mammoths is that their weight churns permafrost, actually lowering its temperature and keeping it from melting — if the permafrost in the artic starts melting significantly (which…it pretty much is going to as far as I understand unless this woolly mammoth thing really pans out) it will be the largest source of greenhouse gas on the planet.  I’ll plug The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert here, which is still pop science, but which I liked much more.  It’s not as uplifting as Woolly, basically Kolbert suggests that yes, the ways humans live on the planet is causing a massive die-off, but hey, the earth has been through mass die-offs before so give it 65 million years and just want to see the next speciation event! Whenever I’m sad about how awful people are, I kind of think, well, we won’t be here forever — wonder what awesome stuff will come after us??

The Owl Killers is fiction set in the middle ages/medieval England.  It’s kind of a cross between The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis, Catherine Called Birdy, and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.  Which is to say it involves a priest who doesn’t keep his vows, a rebellious well-born teen girl, and a whole lot of suffering plagues and famines etc.  The basic premise is that a bunch of women have come from continental Europe to form a beguinage, a community of women who aren’t nuns but live together in sort of a commune situation raising kids and crops and helping their neighbors and do take vows of celibacy while they live there.  Nuns who can leave any time they want? This is a real thing that did happen in continental Europe, but apparently never really took off in England, so the novel is kind of an exploration of what would it have looked like for women to come and try to set this up?  Answer: the men do not care for it.  These women are witches etc.  But it is more complicated than that, and the book itself is pretty hard to put down.  It’s told from the point of view of several different women, all of whom at one point or another you’re really rooting for.  If you enjoy Geraldine Brooks, you will like this.

Currently reading: The Bride Wore a Size 12 (I HAVE NO SHAME!) and My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain. Open to any recommendations of additional books that will get you through the dreary months of winter when you just don’t want to be sad any more.