We humans share a fascination with the weather, and more often than not, with rain. I’m an eastern seaboard American; I’ve lived both in the northeast and in the Caribbean climate of South Florida. Each location has its own particular type of rain – and I love the rain in all its forms. I love rainy weather and I love listening to rain fall against windows and plopping into puddles. As a Cannonballer I love reading books near an open window on a rainy day catching the new, clean smell the rain leaves behind while devouring the words in front of me. But Cynthia Barnett has me beat; her fascination with rain stunned me and led her to writing over three hundred pages on the subject.
When Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge called for a book about nature it was not a surprise that I located a book on the topic, and so Rain: A Natural and Cultural History was added to my list. But while this book should have been like catnip to me, I instead had a rough go of it – Barnett, in the words of Cheryl Strayed, writes like a motherfucker but reading her book often left me unsatisfied. There was something about the structure of the sections and chapters that felt like a meandering as opposed to a thoughtfully structured narrative. In the bluntest way I can think to say it, this book bored me from time to time
What Rain does well it does very well. It aims to weave together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain. Barnett’s writing flowed easily and blended from one topic to the next with great ease, there were no uncomfortable changes in style or failures of writing mechanics. The authorial voice matched the subject and when it was engaging it was very engaging. But, when it is not working the book is merely a potpourri of rain facts. We get the history of the Mackintosh raincoats. Then there’s a chapter on rain in literature and a stop in India where villagers extract the scent of rain from the monsoon-drenched earth and turn it into perfume. There’s just too much going on and I struggled to keep my attention on the page.
Barnett hits her stride when she’s exploring the cultural significance to discoveries made in hydrology and detailing the effects of climate change. After thousands of years humanity has finally managed to change the rain. As climate change upends rainfall patterns and increasingly severe storms and drought affect us globally, Barnett shows rain (or its lack) to be a unifying force in our shared history and future. The book would have been better if she’d focused on that or written a more tongue in cheek book about rain mythologies and rain inspired industries.
Read Harder Challenge: Read a book about Nature
CBR10 Bingo Square: Home, Something, Home (Cynthia Barnett was born in Ft. Myers, FL about an hour and a half from my childhood home.)