Britannia Obscura

Everyday, I hand select an article for MCAT CARS practice.

Whenever you practice for the MCAT CARS section, make sure you time yourself. Students do not realize how much of a factor timing has on their performance. Being timed is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different. If you don’t prepare yourself for the timing, you will definitely mess up. That’s why I always recommend having a timer. Give yourself a certain amount of time to finish the passage.

February 18, 2018 – CARS Passage of the Day

Question of the Day: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

There’s something interesting about the timing of this book: it arrives at a point when we are becoming untethered from the maps of our land. Drivers no longer see, even peripherally, details to the left or right of their highlighted route as fixed by their satnav; the idea of having an A-Z in the car, let alone using it, strikes an increasing number of people as rather quaint. You may as well keep a starter handle in the boot.

So perhaps this makes us more receptive to the idea behind the book: that there are alternative topographies, ways in which the UK has been mapped that do not consider the contours of the land, or the twisting of its roads, or even the boundaries between land and sea. Dr Joanne Parker, whose day job is senior lecturer in Victorian literature at the University of Exeter, has compose​d​ a short book based around five different ways of “imagining our relationship with the land that we live in”.

She starts with the land beneath our feet, with “the caver’s map of Britain”. Somewhat frustratingly, there isn’t an example of a map of a cave, there’s just a conventional map indicating the major caving sites. But the following chapter is eye-opening, and goes some way to explaining the lack of specific maps: cave systems are still being discovered and are often enormous; you could fit York Minster into Yorkshire’s Gaping Gill, ​which ​also contains Britain’s tallest unbroken waterfall, twice the height of Niagara.

After this Parker turns to the megalithic shape of Britain, and we suspect this is a subject close to her heart – her biography says she lives on Dartmoor, “next to a pub allegedly built around a standing stone” – but she doesn’t let her enthusiasm run away with her. This level-headedness serves her well, two chapters later, when she discusses ley lines and an astrologer says that when he stands in the paddock where he believes two ley lines meet, “it’s the psychic equivalent of a large Scotch”​. He also says Milton Keynes is sited to take advantage of another ley intersection and “draw positive energy into the city”, an assertion that could be greeted with some scepticism, although who knows? After all, MK Dons had a good season last year.

Perhaps to accommodate readers who have been drumming their fingers during the chapter on ley lines, the megalith and ley line chapters are separated by a good historical overview of the UK’s remaining canal systems. After ley lines there is a chapter about invisible lines: the flight paths and regions that define Britain’s airspace. Here we go from the earliest balloon ascents – wayward affairs that could take you miles out to sea if you were unlucky – to the ins and outs of living near Heathrow (​and ​don’t think that living miles away will save you from aircraft noise – just ask the people of Waltham Forest, living underneath the crossroads to the approach routes of Heathrow and City airports).

In the end, this is a book whose main purpose is as a spur to reflection and further thought. It could have been much larger. “For every chapter here, countless others could have been written,” Parker says. In her introduction she alludes to bird-watchers’ maps, sociological maps, climbers’ maps and the “five shadowy regions” of British prehistory, “each distinguished by regional fashions in crockery, ornaments, weapons and buildings”. In her afterword, she mentions other possibilities: the Arthurian map of Britain, the distribution of radon-affected areas, cold war nuclear shelters … you could probably come up with a few ideas yourself. This is the fascination, virtue and charm of the book: it meanders and wanders in surprising directions, so that our minds can, too.

Adapted from theguardian.

Review

Leave a comment below with what you understood to be the author’s main ideas. Ask about this daily passage in office hours/workshops for help.

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This was an article on Literature.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin

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38 Comments


  1. author thinks = book is interesting, pos towards parker

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  2. A book based on various alternative maps found in Britain. + Tone

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  3. Relationship with aspects of Britain and emotion it evokes

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  4. purpose of book- use lines to provoke thought

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  5. author’s describing the book >> imagining the unbounded land in the map of Britain

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  6. highlights of parker’s book (tone= positive)

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  7. land= can be looked upon in many ways
    we lack specific maps

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  8. Main Idea: Book = intriguing timing, eclectic

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  9. Book = alternative topographies of Britain = fascinating + provoking

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  10. Alternative maps exist, featured in the book.

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  11. This book is a perfect reply to our increasingly GPS driven world: it makes us want to see the details of a map.

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  12. The author of the book explores various topics so that we (the reader) can better imagine our connection with the land and increase our awareness of it.

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  13. MIP: uk map book=interesting= thought provoking
    Tone: neut

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  14. book = opens readers mind to alternative topographies, author likes book

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  15. MI: Parker book reflects on maps of Brit, + tone

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  16. Many different ways we can study our land

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  17. Book = reconnecting man and map through reflection

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  18. Dr. Parker’s book about our relationship with land = disregard map/boundaries = fascinating -> imagination with surprising directions of our minds

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  19. Book advocating connection to UK through land –> provoke thought

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  20. Book= provoking imaginative and creative thinking about our land (=Britain)

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  21. MIP: UK can be mapped in various ways
    author likes book

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  22. Book=alternative topographies of UK=for further thinking=interesting book (author’s opinion )

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  23. books purpose=wandering thought + reflection

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  24. different types of maps = possible

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  25. MIP: book describes specific land contours; tone = + for book

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  26. MIP: Encourage broader thinking of maps and what they can represent , Tone = Positive and inspired

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  27. Introduction to JP’s book on British Maps.
    JP’s book=various perspectives to form British maps+perspectives still open

    Reply

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