Book of the Week, May 26th 2018

They say no news is good news.  But what that means, of course, is that the stories in our newspapers and TV bulletins tend mostly to be bad news. And in turn our view of the world is coloured by this tendency.

This book analyses that negative influence on our world view – and it is a dramatic bias. In a survey people were asked a series of questions about such important issues as levels of child poverty, disease, deaths from natural disasters and many other important world trends. Most people believed the world to be in a much worse state than it really is. And the difference was so great that even journalists, scientists and politicians were less accurate in answering these questions than chimpanzees picking answers at random!

The bias runs through all the media. The unusual and dramatic always attract the most attention. One death from a bear attack in Sweden, for example, generates acres of news print while numerous deaths resulting from domestic violence are barely mentioned. When such distortions affect political decision-making and budgeting the result can affect every one of us.

This book is both a call to look more carefully at the world and manifesto for rationality and good sense in all walks of life.

Sceptre hardback, £12.99

Book of the Week, May 19th 2018

After six gruelling years working as a junior doctor Adam Kay’s medical career ended abruptly after a particularly traumatic experience.  He had recorded his journey from House Officer through to Senior Registrar in dairies and, discovering a talent for writing and performing, he turned his experiences first into a stand-up musical comedy show and eventually into this award-winning book.

It is by turns both shockingly funny and heart breaking as he describes the people and situations that are faced daily by junior doctors.  As his speciality he chose obstetrics and gynaecology, known in medical school as “brats and twats”.  And he has some hilarious stories to tell, some involving extremely unusual objects and his patient’s most private parts! But there is also the pain and loss when things don’t go to plan and the drama of emergency operations.

The book also documents the effect that working a 97-hour week can have on the lives of our young doctors; the stress, the cancelled holidays and the fractured relationships. Written as mass demonstrations against recent NHS ‘reforms’ were taking place he observes that in fact that the £3 an hour parking meter outside was actually earning more than he was!

Picador paperback, £8.99

Book of the Week, May 12th 2018

It’s pretty clear how some birds got their names. Blackcap and whitethroat for instance are simply descriptive. Or cuckoo and screech owl where the song or call is referenced. Then there are birds like the woodpecker or flycatcher whose name describes their behaviour.

But for most birds the name is a puzzle. The bearded tit is neither bearded nor a tit!  And what of the isabelline wheatear? Could it be named after Princess Isabella, sixteenth century ruler of the Netherlands? Isabella vowed not to change her underwear until the siege of Ostend was over. Unfortunately, it lasted three years and the colour of her undergarments became known as Isabelline!

There are names which are older than the Anglo-Saxon era.  Auk is from old Norse, rook is Germanic and the word goose, our oldest bird name,  has been tracked back to the steppes of eastern Europe, more than five thousand years ago.

This is a fascinating exploration of our birds, tracing their names through history, folk lore, literature and science and spiced with the intrepid adventures some distinctly eccentric ornithologists.

Book of the Week, May 5th 2018

This moving and compassionate novel features Jen Maddox and her 15 year-old daughter, Lana.  They have the kind of fractured and turbulent relationship, not unusual between parents and their teenage children but one night, midway through a painting retreat in the Peak District, Lana disappears without trace.

After four days she is finally found. She is cut, bruised, hungry, cold and wet but is unable to explain where she has been or what has happened. The longer Lana remains silent about those four days, the more concerned and worried her mother becomes.  Suspicion falls upon some of the eccentric characters on the retreat but at the heart of the story is Lana’s disturbed adolescence and her family’s struggle to understand her.

Issues around social media, teenage depression and relationships are handled with insight and with humour as the truth of those missing days is slowly revealed.

Penguin Hardback, £12.99.

Book of the Week, April 28th 2018

It is so easy to overlook the interesting things we walk past every day,

For instance, the pillar box just outside our shop is really a rather special large capacity, double aperture George V model!  One of a good many rare pillar boxes amongst the 107 located around Colchester.

During the last war London’s first line of defence against a possible invasion force centred on Colchester. Known as the Colchester Stop Line, the town became a heavily fortified anti-tank ‘island’. Many of the defences can still be seen. There are concrete blocks peeping from the shrubbery of front gardens in Old Heath Road and others clearly visible beneath the trees in Castle Park.

Look up at Jumbo and see 15 bricks carved with the initials of the Water Works Committee members. They are 30 feet high as a result of a badly organised and much delayed foundation stone laying ceremony!

In the rocks of the roman wall there are some ammonite fossils dating from the Jurassic period 100 million years ago.

Packed with pictures, this book highlights Colchester’s fascinating hidden secrets and should set you off on a fresh exploration of our town’ s rich history.

Book of the Week, April 14th 2018

Cockshutt Wood is a few acres of mixed woodland in Herefordshire and this is a diary written by an award-winning countryside writer. It records the last year he spent managing the wood, detailing day by day, the seasonal ebb and flow of life amongst the trees.

It is full of fascinating history and country lore; how to collect the sap from a silver birch to make a syrup or country wine or, if you are really brave, how to peel and pickle ash keys! We learn that half the world’s bluebells grow in Britain and in times gone by the white substance from their mashed stalks was used to glue the feathers onto arrows.

On April 13th he records the arrival of swallows and warblers and wonders exactly ‘how Darwin’s theory of evolution explains how the first warbler decided to fly 5,000 miles to summer in Britain’.

Each chapter is sprinkled with poetry and literary references making this a rich celebration of one small wood through one year.

Hardback, £14.99.