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Snake

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Member Reviews

Snake is a fantastic inclusion in the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series. It perfectly captures the quirky and whimsical mood I have come to expect from the series. It easily covers a wide range of topics from ophidiophobia, mythology, snake cults and a myriad of other factoids and symbolism.
The snake is death and rebirth simultaneously, a crawling contradiction.

Am not sure it helped me with my snake phobia, but by the end of the novella I was definitely thinking "humans are really weird."

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Academic for the reading copy.
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Reactions to snakes are notoriously variable from screeches of fright to having nightmares to giddy excitement.  My experience has been all three.  Like Erica Wright, I used to fear snakes before knowing much about them.  Now I seek them out deliberately and document and photograph them, though admittedly still do jump from time to time!  

Wright's book details how humans over time have felt/feel about snakes.  To some they were a necessary part of life. 
 They've been revered and despised, charmed and symbolic, worshipped and killed in "sport".  Mythology, religion and symbolism were extremely important and impactful historically.  Still are but now we are discovering snakes will apparently have a future in treating illnesses.

"Misunderstood" is the first descriptor which comes to my mind when contemplating snakes.  Before researching and handling them I thought they would be slithery and slippery but they are dry, leathery and incredibly strong.  When wrapped around your arm their powerful muscles easily hold up their heads.  In nature I've seen them hunt and mate for hours, locked into a beautiful dance.

This book is an interesting mix of facts, history and anecdotes.  The writing is so easy to read and the author has a great sense of humour (nope rope!).  Those who fear them or are on the fence, please take the time to learn more about these beautiful creatures...highly rewarding.  This engaging book offers fascinating personal perspectives, a nice complement to encyclopedic reads.  

My sincere thank you to Bloomsbury Academic and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this enthralling book in exchange for an honest review. 
 Much appreciated.
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Snake by Erica Wright is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early September.

A book written with equal amounts of respect, awe, and fear when Wright makes references to snakes in history, traumatic personal experiences, and in pop culture. Her scattered, meandering prose would work much better as a radio/blog piece or short-form video than a full-on Object Lessons book.
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Part of the Objects Lessons series, a collection of short books which take a look at everyday objects, encouraging the reader to see them in a new light. Snake is part textbook, part memoir, as Erica Wright details her own experiences of the fascinating animals, paired with facts about them and their links to mythology and symbolism.

I have to admit, I’ve had a fascination with snakes since I was a kid. They’re intriguing animals, often portrayed poorly, sometimes harmless, sometimes dangerous, and much less scary than spiders. As Wright explains, they’re often linked to evil, to the bad guys, whether it’s in the Garden of Eden or the prince’s right-hand, er, snake in Robin Hood, or even the intriguing, unusual hairstyle of Medusa.

Wright does a great job of giving her own experiences alongside everything else, and there wasn’t a moment in this short book – which could really be considered a long essay – when I felt the text was boring or dry. One thing I found really intriguing was that Wright herself has a fear of snakes, but set out long ago to expose herself to them, and learn what she could about these animals.

There was nothing particularly new here (‘we might be born with a fear of snakes and spiders’ is one of my favorite factoids) for me, but it’s still an engaging read, told in a conversational tone that allows the reader to really follow it, without it becoming over-bearing or perhaps too academic. The ties to the snake as symbol, links to femininity, negative connotations and the like were laid out well and do provide food for thought, made better by the way it’s all laid out and connected.

I think this is a really good book that does well to dive into the snake, in an easy to follow manner while conveying a lot of information. It’s interesting, and worth checking out, especially if you want to know a little more about these fascinating animals.

Rating: 5 Stars
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There are something like ninety books about reptiles and amphibians on my shelves, which I’ve accumulated over the past two decades. Almost all of them put the author’s expertise on the subject front and centre: these are books by hobbyists who have raised generations of reptiles in captivity, field naturalists with decades of experience finding them in the wild, or herpetologists with deep CVs and institutional authority. Credentials, in this field, matter. What, then, to make of Erica Wright’s Snake, out today from Bloomsbury, a slim volume from someone with no experience with them whatsoever?

Wright writes crime novels and poetry, edits a literary journal and teaches writing: not the profile of someone who writes a book of short essays on snakes. But she has gone and done that very thing. Snake, part of the Object Lessons series of short books “about the hidden lives of ordinary things,” is possibly the most different of all the books about snakes I have ever read, simply because she does not fit that profile. Snake is by someone who was wary if not afraid of them as a child, but came to them as an adult.

“It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment when I decided to immerse myself in snake stories: grandmothers killing copperheads, rock stars injecting themselves with venom, and physicists studying sidewinders. Perhaps it started with my 2013 road trip to the Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival in Claxton, Georgia, or just as likely with seeing my first anaconda—impossibly large and surprisingly active—at the Tennessee Aquarium. A decade ago, I spent a summer obsessed with Titanoboa, a prehistoric marvel clocking in at around forty feet and weighing over a ton. My childhood was filled with close encounters, and I’m sufficiently embarrassed by the number of times I jumped at discarded snakeskins (or even occasionally a thin stick). I better remember the moment my phobia was pricked with sympathy: watching video footage of rattlesnakes being brutalized for sport at what’s called a roundup. I’d never thought much about people killing snakes before, but seeing the animals slaughtered in front of a cheering crowd, hands full of corndogs and hearts full of bloodlust, flipped a switch inside me.”

In their multiple field guides about snakes, Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas make the point that peoples’ attitudes about snakes are strongly polarized: they either adore them or despise them; there’s very little in between. (Most people are neutral toward lizards; everybody likes turtles.) Most of us started young and began proselytizing at our classmates; Wright is coming to the subject both late and from the other group. She has a lot of catching up to do, and Snake is the diary of her journey. It’s a personal book describing her attempts to encompass the subject.

Because it’s an Object Lessons book, she only has 25,000 to 30,000 words in which to do it. Wright covers a lot of territory in a hundred and ten pages, most of which is familiar to me but new and astonishing to her. The book’s brevity necessitates a hummingbird’s attention span: a single chapter may segue between several related subjects; chapter six starts with Versace and passes through considerations of Medusa and leather before ending up talking about the Florida python problem, for example.

It’s also a book that focuses less on the biology and more on the cultural freight. Because there is a ton of cultural freight involved with snakes; and outside books on rattlesnakes, or attempts to debunk old myths in the hopes of having fewer snakes get killed, other books don’t pay nearly enough attention to that question. It’s a subject few old hands handled well, but it’s one that interests me a great deal, and I’m happy to see Wright grapple, for example, with the symbolism of snakes in the post-Irwin era, where social media is full of sneks and danger noodles with snoots to boop.

But it’s too brief and too introductory—for me. This is a rare book about snakes: one that is not for me. Those who’ve spent their lives with snakes will find this book a bit exasperating, like an Olympic athlete listen to a new swimmer extolling the virtues of water. But if it’s introductory, it’s also not for children. It’s a rare thing: a beginner snake book firmly for adults. The market for such a book is uncertain, but it is also certainly untapped.
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This book is well-researched, informative, humorous, and gave me, as someone with a lifelong fear of snakes, a few things to appreciate about the otherwise horrifying danger noodle. I liked the author's straightforward prose, and her analysis of poetic works that center snakes as creatures of beauty, rather than classical terrors. Her anecdotes about family run-ins with venomous snakes raised the hairs on my neck, as well as her deep dive into pentecostal preachers who use snakes as religious props. I'm still so very scared of snakes, but reading this book, at the very least, allowed me to see them through somewhat friendlier eyes. That being said, I refuse to entertain anyone that owns one as a pet. Stop it. Just stop.
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Erica Wright's Snake is part of the Object Lessons series, books aimed at shedding light on the hidden lives of ordinary things (coffee, the ocean, bookshelves, hair, personal stereos, eye charts; I'd go on because despite their ordinariness you can see how a book about these items would be fascinating, but I digress).

I love snakes. Don't turn and run if you're anti-snake, Wright isn't fond of them herself. But she gives them a fair shake, and delving into why snakes seem to hold a sense of evil is part of this fascinating account of what snakes are all about and the unfair (and sometimes fair) qualities we ascribe to them. Although snakes often inspire fear, they are also the symbol of medicine. The snake is a true contradiction, "a living embodiment of duality."

Scientists believe that the medicinal potentials of venom are far-reaching. A drug for blood clots created from studies of the saw-scaled viper has been on the market since 1998. Neurotoxins might one day be used to treat brain injuries and Alzheimer’s. Some experts believe that we could see snake venom playing a role in treating Parkinson’s and breast cancer, as well. A substance that strikes fear into so many hearts could be used to restart those very organs.

Wright recognizes that humans are also creatures of duality, with the power to be menacing or helpful, destructive or redemptive. "Irrational fear justifies a lot of cruelty," and if we fail to understand the serpent we run the risk of losing a valuable resource. Wright explores the snake in voodoo, church, pop culture, science, conservation, and social media. Britney Spears, David Letterman, Steve Irwin and scientists studying robotics all have snakes in common. A baby cobra still had 150,000 followers on social media eight years after he escaped the Bronx Zoo. We are fascinated with snakes, we just need to understand them more. Wright's Object Lessons installment is a great place to start.
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Snakes scare the f*** out of me! I’ve had repetitive snake bite dreams when I was a kid and it still is a nightmare to watch snake horror films.. But I requested this book about SNAKES to know more about them. Its like the saying “know more about your enemies”.

Before requesting this I never knew Object Lessons was a series and I’ve added other books to my tbr. This book particularly deals with atmosphere of snakes, their nature, what they represent right from the mythology times to the current fashion/art creationism. Wonderfully written but repetitive at times, I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a science + nonfiction + informative read!
 
3.75/5 ⭐️

Thank you Bloomsbury Academic, NetGalley and Erica Wright for the arc. This review is my own and is not influenced in anyway!
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When I reviewed Object Lessons = Political Sign my main negative was that the author cherry picked some interesting anecdotes, it worked as a monograph but he was too much like me as a person - and so our references (and shared outlook) were too similar to be thought provoking. Erica Wright, who has penned the superficially similar in tone and outlook Snake is not a alternative music skate-punk turned self-styled political pundit. She's a poetry editor. That is just about enough diversity to give it a better tone for me. A poetry editor that lived in a snake riddled house who is now perhaps a snake obsessive. And whilst it feels that she used to be a bit interested in snakes and became much more interested in them to write this book, that is fine. In many ways its preferable. This is the breeziest of the Object Lessons I have read, it comes in, it knows we are all interested in the deadly venom and the biblical stuff and - you know - has she ever been bitten by a snake?

He route is also nicely circuitous, she understands I think really well that a book like this might be read in one sitting but like a snake can meander through robotics (modelling snake movements), to Will Ferrell doing a skit on the Today Show not about snakes. There a moments of self reflection and memories about snake encounters but this is mainly been put together to enjoy as a book you dip into, each of its short chapters takes an aspect of snakedom (and those who charm and sell their oil) and goes to town. Is there a greater thesis, I thought at the time not, but the slipperiness of the subject gives a greater meta-textual meaning - discover and fall in love with your fears and you will fear no more. I think Wright probably also would want you to do that with poetry, though she will be happy with rehabilitating the humble snake.
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I found this book extremely interesting. I found the way the author explored the duality of snakes and what they represent in iconography interesting. There were times I found this repetitive but it was a nice bit size look at the perceptions of snakes in the media and general public. overall really enjoyed it.
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Even if this short book belongs to a series called “Object Lessons,” the author will probably agree with me that snakes are not a thing, but a wonder of nature with a PR problem. Still, the theme of the series makes this not a biology or ethology textbook, but a wonderful reflection of how humans view the snake as an object. There is plenty of information on these creatures, but there is also art, culture, folklore and even some poetry. Animal lovers will cringe at some paragraphs about the abuse that humans have brought on them throughout history. I once was walking by the river behind my office and saw a big, fat gopher snake. I immediately went closer (there are no poisonous snakes where I live, but it still left me in the minority of living creatures, along with mongooses and Eve whose first instinct was not running away), so I share Wright’s fascination with these beings. Reading and learning more about them was a wonderful experience. Even if you’re afraid of them, give this book a chance. It may just change your mind. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/ Bloomsbury Academic!
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Given that I had to read this book with my feet off the floor, I'm not sure why I requested this. Snakes creep me out a little bit, nethertheless this was full of really interesting and really highlighted things I'd never thought much about before like how a snake is often seen as a dangerous, potentially deadly creature, yet it features on many medical logos.
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An excellent addition to this fascinating series.The author focuses on snake their symbolism place in history to modern times.Well written informative an in depth look at snakes#netgalley#bloomsburyacademic
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Snake by Erica Wright is an extremely interesting take on how the snake itself is portrayed in media and culture, I really enjoyed this read and feel as though I would think about things a lot more deeply in the future.

Thank you NetGalley for providing me with an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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A thoroughly enjoyable read that whisks you around the cultural significance of snakes. For such small creatures, they harbor such symbolism and I really loved how Erica Wright broke it down in a quick fun read that included her personal experiences with snakes.
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This was an insightful read about snakes and how we view the snake in modern culture today. I liked the points the author discusses throughout this short novel. Everything was well written and structured. This was a fun short read in between the others novels I read.
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This series of books – the list of which will soon breach a second page in every edition, so long it's getting, no matter the font shrinking – is designed to discuss semi-academically something we routinely find around us, or don't realise is culturally significant enough to have a non-fiction book dedicated to it.  They're not for the specialists regarding each and every topic, for they're designed to be for the lay browser, in a collect-the-set fashion.  And for the second time only (I discount 'Egg' and 'Whale Song' as by-products) we look at a living entity – the snake.  Now, I did actually realise there was cultural significance about this critter, and I don't normally find it around me at all.  I've barely met a slow worm, let along one of the more regularly considered British snakes; the only one I touched was held by a handler in a shopping mall for some event or another.  I wouldn't normally be drawn to reading about them.  But the beauty of these books – when they get it right – is that they let you read about the results of reading around them.

This author, for one, has had a connection to the subject that makes the production of this text look effortless.  We get autobiography here, which is par for the course for this series, but here it's well-written, welcome and interesting (as opposed to too many under this umbrella).  She's been around them since hating them as a child, but is more than enough of an able researcher to provide for a heck of a lot of the cultural references, semiotics and so on of the serpent, from "Paradise Lost" to Britney Spears.  But it's not only the connotations of the legless reptiles that is here, for we get plain fact too – the man who has handled three million of them over decades of work with them and admits they would never actually be a pet, in contrast with lots of people who have them under the microscope of a bedroom tank wall, and in contrast to the nut-job religious ceremonies involving them.

It's not a perfect volume, unfortunately – there are a few 'yes – and?' sections, such as two pages about First Lady couture, that don't really go anywhere, and the last couple of chapters seemed to be a bit too waffly, the author spent in her arguments.  But I did like it for proving so convincingly that the snake is good and evil, death and rebirth, both alien and needing our love.  It's yin and yang personified – the ambulances speeding victims to receive antivenin have a picture of the things on the outside, of all things (although we're told that's a modern cock-up, without more elucidation, dammit).  On the whole, four stars feels a touch generous but about right.
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Snakes by Erica Wright is an interesting look at snakes and their relationship with humans throught history and modern culture. As a snake owner of a ball python, I think I was looking more for a factual history of snakes and their evolution as a species. This book is geared more towards those who are more weary or who have a passing fascination with snakes from a distance. For someone who owns or doesn't have a problem interacting with snakes, this book might not bring a lot of new information to the table regarding humans and their attitudes towards snakes, which can range from dangerous ineptitude to paralyzing fear. The book has many good stories and personal anecdotes from the author regarding interactions with snakes.  Altogether, this is a good read for anyone that wants to learn more about snakes and their history with humans.
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I've read several other books in the Object Lessons series and they're always thought-provoking, quirky and inventive. Each book takes an everyday object and examines it from various perspectives - historical, social, ecological, cultural or mythological - offering unexpected angles on things that we might have taken for granted our entire lives. But the subject of this book is less 'everyday' than the others, at least for those of us in the UK. Erica Wright's throwaway comment that, 'If you've never killed a snake yourself, you probably know someone who has,' definitely isn't true for me, but perhaps I just associate with particularly unadventurous non-snake-killing types. Wright is American and this book feels very heavily weighted towards a US perspective, whereas the other books I've read from this series manage to take a more universal approach. While there's plenty to fascinate in Wright's discourses upon all things serpentine, her book lacks the firm narrative command that some of the other writers in this series have achieved. Instead, Snake has a slightly frustrating, meandering quality that means we dart from subject to subject without really getting our teeth into the topic. 

Wright's extended essay on snakes comes from a deeply personal place. She frequently reiterates her childhood phobia of snakes (ophidiophobia is the official term), and this book results from her recent efforts to appreciate snakes in all their forms. Lengthy sections focus on two peculiarly American forms of engagement with snakes, which take on the quality of an ethnographic study. First, there's the gruesome custom of 'rattlesnake roundups', which still take place in the Midwest, at which snakes are gathered and then slaughtered in bloody profusion. Sometimes beauty queens are crowned for the occasion and given the honour of first kill. Then there's the more respectful, but equally dangerous tradition of snake-handling in certain 'signs-following Pentecostal churches', a potentially lethal practise that has led to several deaths, and which is recorded in a 1967 documentary called Holy Ghost People. Wright points out that very few churches continue to handle snakes during services nowadays (around twenty-five are legally registered, though there are sure to be unregistered churches in states where the practice is illegal). The practice derives from a passage in Mark's Gospel, when the resurrected Jesus speaks of his followers, who 'will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all'. A case of the Bible being taken alarmingly literally.

Fortunately Wright also casts her net more widely, looking at snake symbolism and even delving deep into the Paleocene era, 58 million years ago, to conjure up an ancestor of modern snakes: Titanoboa cerrejonensis. This enormous serpent, found in fossilised form in Columbia, was so thick in body that its diameter would come up to a man's waist; it could reach forty feet long and weighed around a ton. She notes that snakes are often mimicked by other species which hope to discourage predators, such as the caterpillars who travel head-to-toe in a long, snaking line. She covers the exotic arts of snake charming and belly-dancing (the two were only combined relatively recently, by circus bosses looking for an attractive sideshow act), and considers the medicinal effects of snake oil. On the same theme, she includes the story of the American rock singer Steve Ludwin, who has been injecting himself with snake venom for the last thirty years. It's all very rock 'n' roll. Ludwin has, unsurprisingly, spent several periods in hospital, but he's come through, developing anti-toxins in his own blood which might help to treat others suffering from snake bites. And Wright also notes another case of celebrity-meets-snake, in the form of Britney Spears's notorious performance at the 2001 Virgin Music Awards while toting a seven-foot-long Burmese python named Banana.

This is all good stuff, but I felt that Snake fell down when it came to the cultural and mythological role of snakes. Sometimes it feels as if Wright has just Googled 'snakes' and drawn on whatever she found without weighing up the reliability of her source. She tells us that Mount Tsurugi in Japan is said to be guarded by an enormous serpent which protects 'King Solomon's treasures' (or, according to your source, the Ark of the Covenant). In fact, rumours of an enormous snake on the mountain are much more widespread - thanks to eyewitness testimony from 1973 - than the theory that the mountain houses Biblical treasures of any kind, but Wright gives the impression that both legends are equally established. Other cultural beliefs about snakes are mentioned only in passing. For example, it's fascinating that the snake, shedder of its skin, has become a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation to so many peoples, from the Ancient Greeks to the Mayans. I'd have loved to hear some stories about the Feathered Serpent in Central American mythologies, or to learn about the Temples of Asclepius, where non-venomous snakes slithered freely around the floor. Wright does write interestingly about the caduceus of Mercury, which seems to have become the sign of the medical profession only accidentally, having been confused with the staff of Asclepius himself.

But there's such a rich treasury of cultural snake-lore out there, with connections crying out to be made between different societies, and I was frustrated that some obvious links weren't followed up. There's a passing reference to Nüwa, the creator of mankind according to Chinese mythology, who is shown as a snake with a woman's face. But there's no link to the parallel tradition in Christian art of showing the serpent in the Garden of Eden with a woman's face (although of course the snake's role in Eden is mentioned at some length). I was doing some research into that artistic tradition recently and it opened up a whole series of fascinating ideas about deception, seduction and wisdom, some of which would tie in well with other points that Wright makes. I wish she'd written a little more about snakes in Western religions and history. Poor Cleopatra is named in passing, but surely deserved a little more space. Wright does mention the intriguing Festa dei Serpari at Cocullo in southern Italy, where snakes are draped over the statue of San Domenico di Sora on 1 May every year. She notes his role as a healer from snake-bites, and suggests that the festival developed from pre-Christian worship of the goddess Angitia; but it would have been more interesting still to follow that rabbit-hole down a little way, and to consider other religious systems in ancient Europe which associated goddesses and snakes. One major omission from the book is the tradition of the Minoan snake goddess, whose cult morphed in Greece into that of Athena. Her monumental statue at the Parthenon showed her with a snake curled around her arm: a symbol of wisdom, but also a throwback to a much more ancient religious association. This all suggests that there was a stark dividing line in the reputation of snakes: before Christianity, they were regarded as harbingers of wisdom and healing. Afterwards, they became slithering, untrustworthy emblems of deceit.

I was also frustrated by occasional digressions which have nothing to do with the theme. These should be concise, tightly-focused books rather than opinion pieces. For example, Wright uses the connection of snakes and female sexuality to write about injustices done to assault victims, who are blamed for having incited their attackers by dressing in a certain way. She moves from serpent-handling churches to a faintly sarcastic passage about how Christians follow certain Old Testament passages to the letter, but conveniently overlook others, such as those which might require them to sacrifice their children. And, several times, she dwells on the way that our abuse of the planet and 'taking our superiority for granted' has led to cataclysmic destruction. Now, I completely agree that women should wear what they darn well like without fear of attack or blame. I agree there's a climate crisis and, if pressed, I suppose people do have a pick 'n' mix attitude to the Bible. But I don't think that a book about the cultural and social history of the snake is a place for discussions of this sort. There are also unnecessary personal anecdotes, such as Wright's memory of the time she slept in a cave. This isn't completely unrelated, as she goes on to write about snakes in cave art and on ancient pottery, but her own memory of being in the dark in a cave takes up much more room than the cave-art comment. Of course, a book like this should have some elements of the author's personality, to prevent it from being too dry, but it's a delicate balance. In Snake I often felt that the fascinating subject was overshadowed by the author. A tighter editorial eye could have been useful.

The narrative looseness doesn't take away from the intrinsic fascination of the topic, however. Whether they're familiar visitors to our back gardens, or exotic creatures only glimpsed in terrariums at the zoo, snakes exert a particular pull on the human imagination. With tales of serpent-handling churches and venom-injecting rock stars, this is a refreshing introduction to the ways that humans and snakes have interacted - even if I'd have liked more detail on history and culture, and slightly fewer anecdotes about Wright's own life. Whether you're wary of these slithering creatures, or strangely attracted to them, this is likely to throw up intriguing ideas for future reading.

The review will go live on my blog on 1 September 2020 at the following link:
https://theidlewoman.net/2020/09/01/snake-2020-erica-wright/
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This is more straightforward than some approaches in this series as Wright shares facts, stories, oddities and speculation about snakes. There's a fair amount touching on the reception of serpents in art, literature and culture but perhaps less than I expected. It's good though on the duality inscribed on snakes, both fear and fascination.
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