Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book Feast

A couple of months ago I came across (and wrote about here) an account of the work of Daniel Everett with the Piraha people in the Amazon in THE EDGE, and it fascinated me. So I was delighted yesterday when his book DON'T SLEEP, THERE ARE SNAKES landed on my doormat from Profile books. I've only read the notes, the preface and the prologue so far but already I am caught up - there is so much here.

First I went through the notes trying to mouth the Piraha words to myself; some of the sounds only the Piraha make. Then in the preface that some science 'can be pursued by lone individuals...feeling lost and over their heads, yet challenged to bring out new knowledge over their difficulties.' and I find that encouraging, as if it is a message to anyone who slogs on alone. Then, in the prologue, he describes waking up one morning amongst the Piraha. They are running in great excitement to the beach, and yet when runs too he is unable to see why he is there. For Daniel Everett and his six hear old daughter, the beach is empty - only the Piraha can see the spirit that is standing there.

The writing is great, he draws me into the jungle immediately with his detail: the babies trying to keep their mothers' breasts in their mouths as everyone starts to run; the leathery skin of the children; and the callouses on their bottoms because that is how a Piraha baby chooses to move around - shuffling rather than crawling (the sensible choice, I think - it was my modus operandi too).

Unfortunately this now means I have three books open and I am desperate to read them all: last night I couldn't sleep and happened to pick up FRED AND EDIE by Jill Dawson - a book that has been tempting me for some time since I read her book WILD BOY (which I thought wonderful) and also WATCH ME DISAPPEAR (also good). FRED AND EDIE seems to be in the wonderful category too - at least so far. The other book is QUANTUM THEORY CANNOT HURT YOU by Marcus Chown - which is just as good as his other books, and something I wish I'd read long ago (like alongside the dreaded Quantum Mechanics course at university).

However, I am going to have to put them all aside until later because I have to do some writing of my own, but as soon as I've finished I am going to slink off into a corner somewhere and indulge myself and just read.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Clare
So glad you like the look of Don't Sleep! It's an amazing book. The bit I really like from the prologue is the last paragraph:
'The Pirahas have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing towards the great abyss with a smile.' Brave and true...
Looking forward to seeing what you think of the rest of it.
Rebecca Gray

Thu Oct 23, 12:48:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

I hope you enjoy Fred & Edie - Jill Dawson is the author who has excited me most in the last couple of years. I'm eaking out the titles I have left - only 'Watch me Disappear' and 'Trick of the Light' to go. I recommended 'Magpie' too by her!

Thu Oct 23, 03:13:00 pm  
Blogger stu said...

The fun thing with reading lots of things at once is that you end up with these strange, composite plots in your memory, where bits of all of them sort of crash together.

Thu Oct 23, 04:54:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Hi Rebecca - yes, that's a stunning quote! Daniel Everett sounds like an inspiring man. This has gone to the top of my pile - and intend to indulge myself this weekend.

Jem: I expect Jill Dawson has another in the pipeline as we speak (er, I mean write) so maybe we won't have to wait long!

Yes, Stu - I like that crash - I am also frequently surprised at how all these disparate things chime with each other and sometimes connect.

Fri Oct 24, 09:11:00 am  
Anonymous sceptic said...

Concerning "Don't Sleep There are Snakes": maybe it's well written, but do also look at the paper downloadable from (click on the title to get the paper) - not only the sections devoted to linguistics but also the remarks concerning mythology and culture.

Fri Oct 24, 12:24:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Sceptic - I have downloaded the paper. I am enjoying the book very much, though, I have to say.

Sun Oct 26, 11:44:00 pm  

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