There is nothing much better than sitting back with a cup of tea or wine and cracking a big fat, dense, non-fiction book. The reading journey is slow and labored. Looking up the Sword of Damocles, the history of the Louvre, or a Republic of Congo map, takes time. Sometimes I barely make it through 3-4 pages before falling into a rabbit hole of interest, happily googling obscure factoids.
And I’ve had so many WOW moments:
~In the Hippodrome of Istanbul stands the Serpent Column rendered 2500 years ago of melted Persian weapons from an ancient battle. This iconic figure was referenced in classical literature, and its twisted shape with the three snakeheads is featured in many old drawings, maps, and paintings of the city. Constantine the Great had it moved to Constantinople in 324, and it is still there! (The three heads are gone, but the twisted-column remains.) ~Istanbul, Thomas Madden
~During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was much speculation about Marie Antoinette’s son Louis the XVll after the French Revolution. What happened to him? Many imposters claimed to be the lost dauphine, and Mark Twain even featured a character masquerading as the prince in his classic Huckleberry Finn. This book solves the mystery. ~The Lost King of France, Deborah Cadbury
~What has directly or indirectly killed over 52 billion people? The mosquito. Even our DNA has reacted to this fact. Scientists have learned sickle cell anemia is a cell mutation evolved to combat mosquitos in the human body in Africa. At one time this was beneficial, but with longer lifespans this mutation has had dire consequences for African Americans. ~ The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, Timothy Winegard
~The Medici family dominated Florence for two centuries. Their financial support underpinned the Italian Renaissance, and the paintings, architecture, and sculpture still adorn the city today. Members of the family were well connected to many of Italy’s historical figures: Galileo, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their name also figures strongly in history with 2 popes and a French queen on their family tree. ~The Medici, Paul Strathern
As one ages, one becomes more calloused, and life ceases to surprise us. Reading these books brings back the wonder and curiosity of childhood.
With time I have adopted some rituals adding to my book enjoyment. I now read them on my Kindle because I can define challenging words effortlessly. Also, I use my phone for maps and images. (The newer Kindles can probably do this.) Funny enough, I love buying the book too, and putting it on my shelf. It’s my version of a trophy for finishing the book. Also, it can open some fascinating conversations with friends.
Exploring the complexities of this world through big fat non-fiction books is definitely part of a life well-lived.
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."