This is a transcription of ‘Namibia Cam and Two New Books — 26 January 2024’
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Melissa: Coming up, a story about the fairy folk.
David: An Iranian immigrant searches for home.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I just moved a book to the top of my TBR based on a recommendation from one of our supporters on Patreon. Hi, Amanda! Thank you for the book email! She wrote, ‘I just read a book that made me think of you! ‘Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries’ by Heather Fawcett. The voice felt similar to Veronica Speedwell because it’s told in first-person, and Emily is very smart, but their characters aren’t too similar.’
Melissa: That is a solid sales pitch. I love Veronica Speedwell, and what could possibly be wrong with an encyclopedia of fairies? So I went poking around, and this is what I learned. Amanda is not the only reader who loved this book. It has 4.5 stars on Goodreads after more than 54,000 reviews.
Melissa: It’s the first book in a fantasy series written for adults, and it features a Cambridge professor named Emily Wilde. She’s described as a) curmudgeonly and b) the foremost expert on the study of faeries. According to the flap copy, she is, ‘not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party… and she prefers the company of her books, her dog, and the Fair Folk.’
Melissa: I love her already.
Melissa: This is the story of her excursion to Scandinavia to formally document the existence of fairies. When she arrives in the village, she is not given a warm welcome, AND she has to deal with her professional rival Wendall Bambleby. Not only is Wendall annoyingly handsome and charming, he also has secrets.
Melissa: All of that sold me. Then I started reading it, and it got even better. It’s told in the form of Emily’s journal of her trip. YES!
Melissa: In other good news, the second book in the series ‘Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands’ was released last week. I think back-to-back books about fairy adventures are just what this winter needs. They’re best read in order, so start with ‘Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries’ by Heather Fawcett.
David: My book is ‘Martyr!’ — with an exclamation point, like it’s a musical or something – from Kaveh Akbar.
David: This premise will sound like a lot, and it probably is. ‘Martyr!’ centers on a character named Cyrus Shams. Cyrus is a 20-something poet. He’s living in Indiana; he’s the son of Iranian immigrants. When he was young, he lost his mother when her plane was accidentally shot down over Tehran by the US Navy. And now, his father has recently passed away. He is newly an orphan, rootless, and having an existential crisis about it.
David: Then he learns about an artist – an artist who is terminally ill and living out her final days in public at a modern art museum in New York City. And Cyrus decides to go visit her. But it’s funny! I mean, a little bit. Parts of it.
David: The writing is beautiful; this is the first novel from a man known for his poetry. The author is also a first-generation Iranian immigrant living in the Midwest.
David: The author Lauren Groff — she wrote ‘The Vaster Wilds’ — said, ‘This is the best novel you’ll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, and homesickness.’ It just came out this week. It’s ‘Martyr!’ by Kaveh Akbar.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
Melissa: January can be tough for me. The sparkly lights and jolly songs and cookies of Christmas are gone. It’s cold and gray, and there are no good holidays for months. So I’m consciously collecting little things that make me happy. I do Yoga with Adriene every morning. I put an extra sugar cube in my tea. And I recently discovered a live stream camera that’s bringing me a lot of joy.
Melissa: It’s called Namibia Cam. It’s pointed 24/7 at a watering hole in the Namib Desert in Namibia. Let’s get oriented. Picture Africa in your imagination. Namibia is on the west coast — the Atlantic side — on the northern border of South Africa.
Melissa: Now let me tell you some amazing facts about the Namib Desert.
Melissa: The name comes from the Nama language, and it means ‘vast place,’ or ‘there is nothing,’ or ‘place of no people.’ That’s no joke! The desert is about 31,000 sq miles or 81,000 sq meters. For context, that’s about the size of the US state of Maine. And it’s almost completely uninhabited by humans except for a few small settlements of indigenous people.
Melissa: Fact #2: The Namib is considered the oldest desert in the world. It’s been arid for between 55 million and 80 million years. For comparison, the Sahara is only 12,000 years old.
Melissa: Finally, you may have heard of the Skeleton Coast. That’s where Namibia’s reddish sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a constant, heavy surf and blinding fog. Which means there are also the broken bones of about 500 ships scattered along the coast, including centuries-old wooden galleons and more modern steel-hulled ships. Sailors who survived the wrecks were often done in by the endless surrounding desert.
Melissa: Namibia is very dramatic. But it can also be very cute.
Melissa: A few decades ago, this area was overgrazed and barren. A business group bought a bunch of the farms to create the Gondwana Namib Park. They knocked down the fences and set up a conservation area. Animals were gradually reintroduced, and now they roam wild but are monitored by gamekeepers and rangers.
Melissa: In 2006, they built a waterhole in an open plain for the animals that live nearby. And they pointed a camera at it so we can watch the animals any time of day or night. We’ve gotten in the habit of checking in our animal friends after dinner, and sometimes, I put it on while I’m working to see who’s hanging out at the watering hole.
Melissa: There are lots of Gemsboks. Those are brown and black gazelles with two very long straight point horns on their heads. There are also groups of Springboks. They’re smaller antelopes with horns that curve in toward each other to almost make a heart shape.
Melissa: We’ve seen several flocks of ostriches, and until this webcam, I’d never seen them drink. And it’s pretty amusing. They bend down and kind of stab their beaks forward to scoop up the water, then they stand up straight to elongate their necks so gravity can pull the water down their long throats.
Melissa: We’ve also seen jackals that look very much like foxes, and cape foxes which are very small and cute, and a herd of zebras, and one day, an excellent warthog stopped by to roll around in the mud, much to the annoyance of the gemsboks.
Melissa: We also saw a giraffe. It was very majestic. He was far off in the background of the shot and slowly swaggered to the watering hole. The springboks did not want to mess with him.
Melissa: Oh! We also saw a few cape hares, but so far, they’ve only come to the watering hole at night. According to my research, two feral horses live in this part of the desert and sometimes make an appearance. And I’m still hoping to see a cheetah, or a leopard, or a honey badger. Fingers crossed!
Melissa: I’ve wondered where the animals sleep because there is NOTHING in the video except red-brown dirt and the little watering hole. According to the FAQ, there’s grass, trees, and bushes about half a mile or one kilometer from the weel. So I can rest easy.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the books we talked about today and more on Namibia and the delightful watering hole.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Joe McDaniel/Unsplash.
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