August 29th, 2011

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 17

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  1. Bemelmans, Ludwig — Madeline's Rescue (50 pages)
  2. Rennison, Nick — Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide, Eighth Edition (508 pages)
  3. Rucka, Greg & Steve Lieber — Whiteout (120 pages)
  4. Rucka, Greg & Steve Lieber — Whiteout: Melt (106 pages)
  5. Orwell, George — Homage to Catalonia (267 pages)
  6. Moore, Brian — Catholics (87 pages)
  7. Chatwin, Bruce — The Songlines (296 pages)

Page count: 3812.

Chatwin's The Songlines combines two of my interests: singing and books about travel.

This book is ostensibly about the Aboriginal songlines. Australian aborigines sing their world, so to speak. Their history, their creation stories, their geography, pretty much everything is captured in songs which are passed from generation to generation. And these songs create an oral map of their world, with songlines, belonging to different family groups, delineating a very complex territorial map. Chatwin travels to Australia specifically to gain a better understanding of Aborigines and their songlines, and the narrative of his experiences is fascinating.

But this is so much more than just a book about a group of people or a culture. I was blown away by the depth and subtlety of thinking on such a vast range of subjects. Midway through the book, Chatwin announces that he originally intended to write about nomadic cultures, had spent a lot of time in the Sahel living amongst nomadic tribes, but realised he didn't have enough material to write an entire book about nomads, so instead he will now open up his notebooks and quote excerpts. Perhaps it sounds cheeky, but it turns into one of the most brilliant devices I have encountered in my recent reading. What begins as ruminations on nomadism and its origins evolves through philosophical, historical, anthropological, archaelogical, psychological, biological, and you-name-it-ogical explorations of not just nomadism but evolution, the impulse to travel, song traditions in various cultures, aggression versus pacifism, and so much more, citing experiences throughout northern and South Africa, South America, Europe, central Asia, Australia, and more. And though at first these passages seem tangential to his study of the aboriginal peoples, they obliquely provide deeply satisfying and related insights.

I have been recommending this book to anyone who will listen, and it has propelled Chatwin to my list of favourite authors. It is one of the most deeply satisfying nonfiction books I have ever read, and I look forward to devouring more of Chatwin's writing.