Being a Reader

I love the the long dark evenings that arrive with the colder months. Between holidays that I pretty much ignore, bad weather, and chilly temperatures, I have a lot of time to stay home and read.

I often keep several books going at once. I am reading one Regency romance now with an eye toward doing a blurb for the author. I’m also reading The Dip, by Seth Godin, subtitled, “A little book that teaches you when to quit and when to stick.” That one’s kinda off topic for me to be honest–a bathroom book. For nighty-night reading, I’m working my way through Ellis Peters’ Felse Investigations series. Scrumptious writing, meticulous research, and good plotting. Yum!

But if I had to pick one title to do a book report on, that would be Being a Human by Charles A. Foster.

The fundamental question of the book–Who are we and how did we get to be this way?–inspired Foster to live as a Cro-Magnon hunter/gatherer and then as a Neolithic farmer. The better to describe the impact of the Enlightenment on human development, he relied on his experience as an academic with fingers in so many smarty-pants pies I’d need another blog post to list them.

The book is sad in a lot of places–we’re befouling our own nest and have the dubious distinction of being the only animal that goes to war against its own kind. Nonetheless, the fundamental message is optimistic: If we’ll remember who we are, we can step back from much of our wrongheadedness, and live happier lives without imperiling our very planet.

As hunter-gatherers, our challenge was to get by with the fewest possessions necessary to eat, sleep out of the cold and wet (mostly), and get along with our neighbors. When you have to haul your worldly goods from place to place as the caribou move or the seasons change, your life can depend on traveling light. For nearly all of our behaviorally modern history, dying with the most toys was the definition of insanity.

When you reply on the natural world directly for everything, your quality of life depends on the breadth of your skill set. To thrive, you will need to know how to find dry tinder under a foot of snow, how to tell a great story, how to make a bunny into a boot, and what every cloud formation presages in terms of tomorrow’s weather. Honed senses and lifelong learning were our hallmarks of success, and any chance to acquire a new skill was worth investigating. Heaven help the hunter gatherer who decided to go for him MBA and then coast…

When you don’t own real estate, real estate doesn’t own you. The whole concept of private real property, upon which mono-crop agriculture, colonization, social hierarchy, kingdoms,  and a zillion other evils are built, was foreign to our nature for the huge majority of our history.

When the small band you’re born into is all that stands between you and death on a bad day, you take the well being of your kith and kin nearly as seriously as you do your own.

Foster is not suggesting that eight billion people can inhabit the planet in the same manner eight hundred thousand of our distant ancestors did, but he does make a case for a legacy of values that are highly relevant today. Eschew consumerism, stay passionately curious, treasure your people, treasure and respect nature for the miracle it is.

Those values resonate with me–admittedly often in the breach–and Foster makes an eloquent case for why they should.

So what about you? Read any good books lately?



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8 comments on “Being a Reader

  1. Oh, I adore Ellis Peters!! Any day with a Peters book is a good day, indeed.

    My most favorite book of 2022 has been What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher. I don’t normally enjoy gothic novels (I’m a big scaredy- cat) but this book is MAGNIFICENT!!!!

  2. I do not like these dark gloomy days much where it’s dark at 4pm.So I tend to read more in these long nights.At the moment Im listening to an old author Daphne du maurier it’s called Jamaica Inn.I think films have been made over the years of this story.A tale of smugglers and wreckers off the Cornish coast and on the bleak Bodmin moors.I go to bed early get under the covers and with headphones and kindle proceed to be scared out of my wits.I’m half way through and my imagination is running wild_______I’m there and it’s bleak.This story is not really a suitable calm read before sleep but I am hooked.Books do that and I love being transported into different worlds.Most of all I love HEA stories.Between you and Mary Balogh I find contenment.Thank you.

  3. I own the Ellis Peters Felse collection both in paperback and e-reader editions. I have most of the Cadfael in paperback and am working on the e-reader versions as I feel indulgent. Her Heaven Tree trilogy written as Edith Pargeter would go with me to a desert island together with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, for sheer volume, if nothing else.

    I have recently acquired the e-version of Catherine Aird’s Sloan & Crosby series, prompted by a sale advertised on Book Bub. Lots of fun. I enjoy Heyer’s detective novels, as well.

    For 2022 my new book of choice (other than Grace Burrowes’ offerings) would be Simone St. James’ Book of Cold Cases. It’s another choice for a dark and stormy evening when it might not matter if you don’t sleep all night.

  4. I adore Ellis Peters’, too!! The Cadfael series is supremely satisfying. 🙂 I have not read the Felse series, though. I should give it a try once my life calms down.

    I’m going to be pedantic and super annoying here about the post, though. It’s not _technically_ true that humans are the _only_ species of animal to war against its own kind.
    One example: different tribes of lemurs will fight and kill each other for territory.

    But, I agree that humans are befouling their nest! First World humans have gotten used to comfort as a right. That is something I would absolutely be willing to attribute to humans in rich countries. Also, humans as a species no longer have the natural ebb and flow of nature. In nature, when there are too many wolves and not enough wolf food, the wolf population drops. Then, there is too much wolf food because of the lack of wolves, so the wolf population increases. Humans just increase their population despite conditions. I don’t know how we could do otherwise, though. This is a bigger situation than my brain can handle.

    I seem to be harumphy today, for which I apologize.

    Most of my reading these days is related to Alzheimer’s. To answer the question, though… the last good book I read was “Miss Desirable”. Catherine and Xavier’s story was delightful! 😀

  5. Matthew Perry’s “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.” It is heartbreaking. I read it not because I liked Perry as an actor, but because I can relate to his ravaging disease of addiction. Luckily, mine was brief and, with help, fairly easily controlled. Not “cured,” only brought under control. But addiction IS a disease (not a moral failing) and Perry has suffered mightily because of it. I found myself in tears for his suffering and then in tears, thanking God that I did not suffer the way he did and continues to suffer.

    But, you do not need to have been touched by this horrible disease to appreciate reading this honest and heartbreaking book. Truly an excellent book.

    (Forgive the name “Anonymous.” Not sharing names is a basic tenet of AA, where anonymity is prized.)

    • This is about his study of racism and how it is passed along. This is amazingly thorough and deep. I was spellbound through the whole thing. Totally 5 star profound.