People - and by people I mean non-readers - often ask me what I gain out of reading. I'm never quite sure how to answer this question. Quite apart from the pure pleasure and escapism, the reasons I read are as muddled as Schrodinger's Cat. My answers also tend to be influenced by many variables, including my mood at the time, the seriousness of the question, stage of life, and environmental factors.
But, all digression and diversions aside, one of the main reasons I read is to gain knowledge. There are people who would say that fiction doesn't teach you much that is useful about the "real world". I disagree.
Among the random bits of general knowledge I have picked up about the world we live in are...
Honey doesn't spoil as long as you keep water out of it
Ahhh Margaret Atwood...the reigning queen of speculative fiction and dispenser of wise facts. It turns out that this factoid is as true as true can be. The oldest lump of honey found was 5000 years old. As to why you shouldn't get water in honey, it's because honey is naturally very low in moisture, which means that few microorganisms and bacteria can survive in it - hence why it doesn't spoil if kept dry.
Paper burns at Fahrenheit 451
I know there is some dissension about this, and debate over whether Ray Bradbury really meant celsius or Fahrenheit. Bradbury has clarified before that he meant specifically book paper, and not glossy magazine paper or newsprint, which would invariably burn at different temperatures due to quality. Anyway, the scientific community seems to grudgingly agree that Fahrenheit 451 probably refers to the ignition temperature, or the point at which the paper starts to burn.
Coca-Cola roast beef
Apparently the best pot roast in the world is made from rump roast and a big bottle of Coke. Who knew? I've never tried making this before because it requires stuff that you can presumably get only from the US, or American specialty shops. Where, for example, would I get Campbell's Mushroom Soup or Lipton's Powdered Onion Soup in New Zealand? Anyway, anyone who's brave enough to try this one (google Ruth L. Ozeki and My Year of Meat), let me know how it goes!
A nuclear winter would plunge Earth into eternal twilight
Thank you especially to Cormac McCarthy for hammering this fact home, with the bleak and dreary grey skies of The Road. In a scenario of substantial-to-severe nuclear winter, fires would scorch forests, sending out toxic clouds of ash into the atmosphere, essentially acting as a dark shield between Earth and the Sun. No sun, no crops, no food, widespread pollution, famine and illness. Grim picture, innit?
What are some random facts that you've learnt from books?