Subtitle: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs
Best book plug ever: ‘After reading Lyall Watson’s splendid celebration of the pig, if anyone calls me a swine I shall take it as a compliment.’ —Desmond Morris*
This book was, I think, a biggish** deal when it appeared in—yeep—2004. I bought it relatively soon after it came out—in hardback no less—because I’m a bit of a natural history nerd, especially the frivolous end when I don’t have to remember a lot of Latin names and derivations and blah. Watson actually gives you all these, but he does it so charmingly and with such a lively and immediate description of the critters in question that all the sober stuff doesn’t have a chance to oppress your spirits. What I remember best about it is that it was one of the first books I read after the move out of our old house AND I NEEDED CHEERING UP. It fulfilled this function admirably.***
I’ve never been friends with a pig† but I’ve known too many people who have, not to be sure that there’s something there to get to know.†† Watson has been friends with lots of pigs. He may even be slightly cracked on the subject.†††
. . . Although I don’t find the opening lines nearly as eye-catching as a paragraph a few pages later, this arising from an encounter from an aristocratic Tamworth boar: ‘ . . . the Tamworth boar’s stare was unnerving.
‘I have since learned that pigs are past masters of the art. They grow up on the game of ‘Who Blinks First?’ and can hold their ground against anyone. Each time I join a herd of pigs, in captivity or in the wild, the same thing happens . . . no one bats an eyelid or breaks visual contact until I concede defeat . . .’ Italics mine.
Here is more about THE WHOLE HOG although on my screen at least there’s some inept silliness where the first few paragraphs are repeated, but keep reading:
And, just by the way, I am SO JEALOUS of his childhood in Africa, and especially of his warthog. Sic.
Read the book.
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* Quoted toward the end of the book: ‘The paradise of my fancy is one where pigs have wings.’ G K Chesterton^
^ For some reason Watson seems to leave mythological pigs mostly alone. Okay, they’re mythological, but Circe and the Gadarene swine get a look-in. For those of us who raised ourselves on fairy tales and legends and so on, the fact that two of the Norse Vanir rode big scary heroic boars predisposes us to respect and be interested in pigs.
** Not to say piggish . . . ‘Cats look down on you; dogs look up to you; but pigs look you in the eye as equals.’ —Winston Churchill
*** Even if he’s mistaken about the lack of ‘rocking pigs’ for kiddies to ride on. I’ve seen pigs with saddles on merry-go-rounds too.
† Unless you count Wilbur.
†† I’m a meat-eater but I don’t actually like pork much. This may make it easier to be chirpy and engaged about pig personalities. I’m afraid I pass over the cookbook in the first review.
††† Or was. This was his last book. He died much too young.
This is a hugely enjoyable fantasy-adventure page-turner and first-rate post-flu cranky-convalescent distraction. I hesitate to call it ‘horror’ since the squick factor is pretty low—low enough even for me—but it does have some very unfriendly ghosts. Being murdered can do that to a person. And on the subject of page-turning, I recommend you set aside enough time to read the last hundred pages in one go. Once our intrepid ghost-stalkers enter the Red Room at Combe Carey Hall, the most haunted private house in England, you are not going to want to put the book down till the end. I was given an ARC: I notice the book’s not actually out till August. But you can still put it on your TBR list.
The England of Lockwood & Co has a Problem: ‘. . . Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago, and no one’s got a damn clue why. . . . you can find mention of scattered ghostly sightings cropping up in Kent and Sussex around the middle of the last century. But it was a decade or so later that a bloody series of cases, such as the Highgate Terror and the Mud Lane Phantom, attracted serious attention. . . . At last two young researchers . . . managed to trace each haunting to its respective Source . . . and for the first time the existence of Visitors was firmly imprinted on the public mind.’ So far so conventional. But (as I keep saying when I’m wearing my author hat) there are no new stories, only good, bad or indifferent retellings of old stories. This is a good retelling. The world-building does that excellent thing where the out-there goofballery of the set-up leads to clearly sensible and practical applications: ‘We ducked out across the road, stepping over the open drain or “runnel” of running water that separated the pavement from the tarmac. The wandering dead were known to dislike moving water; consequently narrow runnels crosscrossed many of the great shopping streets in the West End, allowing people to walk in safety well into the evening. Earlier governments had hoped to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive. Aside from ghost-lights, the suburbs fended for themselves.’ Lockwood & Co are three kids—you’re washed up as a ghostbuster field agent by the time you reach voting age—Anthony Lockwood, the narrator Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins the library geek. (This ‘modern’ London has electricity and telephones, but no computers and no internet. If you want to do research, you go to the library, and Lockwood & Co’s records are kept in box files.) And they have the Talent.
But things keep going wrong for them: ‘Yes, the Mortlake Horror was driven out, but only as far as Richmond Park. . . . Yes, both the Grey Spectre of Aldgate and the entity known as the Clattering Bones were destroyed, but not before several further . . . deaths.’ Which is why Lockwood decides to accept an obviously crooked commission from the extremely wealthy and also extremely creepy owner of Combe Carey Hall. And then of course things go even more wrong. . . .
Love love love. I read it quite a while ago, but I’m disorganised, absent-minded slime, and it went into a pile of Things to Recommend and . . . um . . . got buried by some of my yarn stash.
Anyway. I am sitting here rereading it and remembering how good it is. I know zip about graphic novels, despite the efforts of various people—including our forum mod Black Bear—to get me started. I can’t even remember how I first tripped over mention of FRIENDS, but I do remember that I was intrigued enough that I managed to google myself to First Second’s web site http://www.firstsecondbooks.com/ . . . where they serialise some of their new list on line before it’s available in print. And there, a year and something ago, was FRIENDS WITH BOYS. As I recall at that point all of it was up—the system seems to be that they put up new panels of the current serials Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—and I got about halfway through it before (a) my clicking finger got paralytic cramp and (b) I KNEW I HAD TO HAVE IT.*
It’s been out a while now, but you can still read the first twenty pages on line and get hooked: http://www.friendswithboys.com/ **
The little come-on says:
Being homeschooled and raised with three brothers had its problems, but Maggie’s life is about to get a lot more complicated as she faces her greatest trial yet – entering public school for the first time!***
Also there’s a ghost.
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* I have complicated feelings about the free-online thing of stuff some of us need to earn our livings from. I asked Penguin to hang less of PEGASUS than they’d planned to . . . but then there is KES. And graphic-novel clueless dweeb that I am, I probably wouldn’t have taken a sight-unseen flyer on a graphic novel about a bunch of high schoolers—I am sixty years old and am mostly pretty frelling resistant to high schoolers^—however highly recommended. But getting to read as much of it as I wanted totally worked with me. I BOUGHT IT. Waiting for it to arrive was a ratbag, although to be preferred to fatal tendonitis.
^ Even if I did just write a book about a few of ’em
** Although if you find that you’re now jonesing for more Faith Erin Hicks while you’re waiting for your copy of FRIENDS to arrive, quite a lot of NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG is up right now: http://www.nothingcanpossiblygowrong.com/comic/page-001/ ^
^ Oh. Which seems to have a new page up every weekday. And the book is published next month, so put an Ace bandage on your clicking finger and get going.
*** I wish to state for the record that while I wrote the bulk of SHADOWS after I read FRIENDS WITH BOYS, my heroine’s name was already Maggie.^
^ Although Lucy may be my favourite character in FRIENDS. I’ve always liked the name Lucy too . . .
Subtitle: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense.
. . . Oh, God, she’s recommending a book on CHRISTIANITY.
Well, yes. And I’ll probably do it again.* And it seems like an apposite thing to do on the day that the new Archbishop of Canterbury is sworn in.** However, we’re starting with the shallow end here. UNAPOLOGETIC is for the general reader, although perhaps especially a few subgroups of The General Reader. Group A: Those who wonder what is the matter with Richard Dawkins. Is his underwear too tight? Is that why he’s in such a vicious mood all the time? There are lots of mild-mannered unbelievers out there—I’m married to one. If someone gets in my face to scream about their innocence, I look around for the smoking gun. Group B: Fans of Francis Spufford. That would be me. I loooved I MAY BE SOME TIME*** and while I threw THE CHILD THAT BOOKS BUILT across the room kind of a lot in this case that’s a compliment.† I loved the writing and the premise, I just didn’t agree with a lot of his choices. ††
Group C: people who would be interested in an intelligent, thoughtful person, and this one happens to be an award-winning professional nonfiction writer at that, writing about being a Christian, including how cranky Richard Dawkins makes him. The GUARDIAN published an extract from the beginning when the book first came out:
. . . which I will risk saying is not my favourite part of the book: it’s a bit too Richard Dawkins-y. But it does give you a flavour of the sharp, focussed, this-world way he writes, and that being a Christian hasn’t made him pudding-brained.
I liked the book a lot. Peter’s brother-the-priest sent it to me, but it was already on my radar. And I’m not sorry either.†††
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* I’m blazing—well, no, make that fumbling—my way through books on the contemplative/mystical end of this religion I got hoicked into six months ago, with occasional forays into books about St Benedict and St Francis and the orders they founded, not forgetting the Poor Clares and St Scholastica. All the best people are nuts, including the religious.
** Who is on record all over the shop for being against open homosexuality. Apparently you can love your gay friends just so long as they stay in the closet where they belong. ARRRRRRRRRGH. I may have to found my own Jesus cult. We’re inclusionary and all our bishops are women.^
^ Biased and unjust? Yup. The minute the CofE gets its head out of its fundament about a few of these basic little issues we’ll renegotiate.
† It isn’t usually.
†† Hmm. That would make a good blog post. Some night I’m feeling fiery and hyperbolic.
††† You have to read either the article or the back of the book.
Since Peter never writes me GUEST POSTS any more I decided to steal a link to some of the new things happening over on his shiny new website.
” . . . I opened a file titled “Preface” and found something I’d written when it was decided that some edition of the first volume of our Elemental Spirits series, Water, ought to have a preface. I don’t remember the ins and outs of it, nor why it isn’t in the edition on my bookshelf,* but we seem to have cannibalised our efforts and come up with a composite. You will find the remains of mine, In the Mermaid Tavern: The Sea Witch, in the Short Stories section. . .”
There now. More free fiction. And KES tomorrow night.
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* Because it took 1,000,000 years for your wife to write two short stories for FIRE and Putnams decided to reissue WATER in a matching edition^ and to make it a little more interesting they asked us to write a little ‘new material’. They didn’t want a whole new story or stories–which, with my track record, is just as well^^–just a sort of teasery type of thing. Like a preface. Well, we couldn’t write a preface–the nearest we’ve ever been able to come to collaborating is this alternating short stories business^^^–so we did a very condensed sort of alternating-stories thing. I don’t remember any more and I can’t find our copies of the second edition of WATER which are SOMEWHERE in Third House’s attic, but presumably THE SEA WITCH didn’t make the final cut, probably because I was having trouble not writing more novels and Peter had written about twelve short stories in frustration. Maybe he’ll find a few more in some other file.
^ The original hardback illustration had been done by Trina Schart Hyman. Siiiiiigh. She’d really liked the idea of the ELEMENTALS series, and had done roughs for all four. But the other three were too rough to use and she isn’t around any more to finish them. Sometimes my being hopeless hurts more than other times.
^^ With SUNSHINE, DRAGONHAVEN, CHALICE and THE FRELLING PEGASUS TRILOGY, all of which began life as ELEMENTALS short stories, we could have had FLOWERHAIR AND THE WATER GOBLIN+ and HETTHAR, GELJDRETH AND THE EYE OF NEWT and . . . no, no, no, let’s not go there.
+ May I just say that neither Kes nor I would put up with Dvorak’s version of the story
^^^ And an unfinished novel written in emails between an English boy and an American girl. Guess who let the side down there too. SIIIIIIIGH.