I read an article in the New Yorker – I steal my ideas from wherever I can, which, according to Pablo Picasso or Steve Jobs, take your pick, makes me a great artist – in which the author Kathryn Shultz made a list of the ten best facts she learned from books this year.
Immediately this struck me as a good way to finish the year for a young book blog.
So ten random facts I learned from books this year – in no particular order:
- The Marseillaise was written by the dilettante poet Claude Rouget de Lisle, an engineering captain in Strasbourg, overnight at the request of the town’s mayor. He titled it Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin (War Song for the Rhine Army) but it failed to catch on. It was left to a regiment of Marseille to make it popular – hence it’s known today as La Marseillaise. (Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures by Stefan Zweig)
- Federico García Lorca knew how to play the organ (he sat down and played it in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos. (Sketches of Spain by Federico García Lorca)
- Sir Edward Pellew freed over 3000 Christian slaves in Algiers in 1816 after he forced the surrender of the town. (Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain by Stephen Taylor)
- According to Peruvian Indian legends, a pishtaco is a monstrous ‘man’ who kills lonely travellers in the Andes to extract their body fat. (Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa)
- Priam’s original name was Podarces. (Ransom by David Malouf)
- Petrarch was one of Europe’s first ‘tourists’. (The Great Sea by David Abulafia)
- A gusle is a single stringed violin used in the Balkans. (The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson)
- The island of Malta was given to the Knights of St John by the Emperor Charles V (Carlos I of Spain) – and the Knights were not impressed with the gift. (The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford)
- In 1955 eight men were lost overboard from the Colombian destroyer Caldas due to the ship being overloaded with contraband. (The Story of a Ship-Wrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez)
- The Spanish dictator Franco declared civil marriages that took place during the Second Republic (1931-1939) void, retrospectively making thousands of children illegitimate. He also forbade women to work or own property without their husbands’ consent and single women were not allowed to leave home before the age of 25 without parental consent. (Spain: What Everyone Needs to Know by William Chislett)
Try the links: You never know what you’ll find at the other end. 🙂