Wild Summer Reading

Feral book by George Monbiot, sitting in the grass

June’s read became July’s, readily interrupted by the growing pile of ‘how-to-sort-your-dog’ books (embarrassing, I know). Once I recovered from my brief hiatus into behaviour modification theory, I relished returning to the Appalachian woods where Kingsolver’s ‘Prodigal Summer’ is set.

If you want a dose of fresh air and organic thinking, I’d heartily recommend this book. It weaves ideas on our relationship and responsibilities to the natural world in to some very readable fiction. Kingsolver creates beautiful sentences and charming characters (the grumpy old man being my favourite).

Tom and I are off this weekend to indulge in a fresh pile of books for the summer break. We’ll be out in the Island countryside for much of the holiday so I’m sticking with the wild theme and choosing Feral for one of this month’s read. I also want to buy a book on log cabins; I won’t be building one any time soon, but it’s fun to entertain the thought.

Any holiday reads to recommend? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram. Join in with Laura’s Year in Books here.

Just A Wee October Read

James Yorkston tour diaries book being held up

I have been a dedicated lover of James Yorkston’s gentle singing since our long past summers spent in the muddy fields of Green Man Festival, when it was just us and 2000 other stinky revellers.

All heaped together in the Big Top, a fug of smoke, with the rain dripping steadily off the canvas door, relaxing to his gentle humour, circling guitar, and the surprise beatbox accompaniment of a particularly keen soundman.

I defy anyone to not fall in love with JY’s music. His songs have stuck with me all through my fickle musical swings, like a ship’s mast in a storm.

So, this wasn’t to be any ordinary tour diaries. And yet, his ordinary stories were exactly what made it so wonderful. The natural, poetic patter that is so evident in this tune came through in his writing.

Yorkston pulled out delightful details from his touring days – things that weren’t intricate plot devices or building to some greater symbolism, just interesting things that caught his eye. A perfectly lovely read from a not-exactly-rock-star.

For November I’m indulging my love of nature writing with this beautiful recent hardback (awarded the Samuel Johnson prize only yesterday!) My November shall be full of visions of hawks and austringers.

With thanks, as always, to Laura who inspired this year of books.

In Praise of the Whale

Whale soft toy

Whales are incredible creatures. Their great size, and calm intelligence, living in the great unknown of the ocean depths. Catching sight of one is certainly memorable; if you meet someone who has, they will no doubt delight in telling you all about it.

Given Tom’s love for these animals, our house has gradually accrued references to them: books, prints, and even a hand stitched toy. When he read Leviathan, he was full of interesting facts and strange stories about these beautiful mammals. So when the author came to town as part of the Isle of Wight Literary Festival, we simply had to go.

Philip Hoare whale talk

Philip Hoare is one of those genuine outdoorsmen: strong and wiry, with creased shorts (I imagine he never wears trousers) and a bucketful of tales to tell. It was wonderful to spend an hour listening to him. He’s clearly inspired by oceans, this vast expanse of water about which we know so little (“We know more about the surface of the moon, than we do the bottom of the sea.”) He told of his first sighting in Provincetown, and his later trips swimming with sperm whales in the Azores. A true storyteller, with wonderful experiences enhanced by his rich knowledge.

Feeling inspired, I went home and ordered his book. But Tom went one better and started crafting away: a papercut of the odontocelli, about which Hoare told us so much. These days Tom can often be found at the table cutting out beautiful shapes and interesting quotes.

When I asked him why he loved whales so much, he said it was the hardest question he’s ever had to answer. Perhaps he isn’t asked many tough questions, or perhaps the deep affinity many of us feel with these mammals is hard to explain.

Whale transfer tattoo

Saltwater and Wildness: A September Read

Book "Dip" by Andrew Fusek Peters on the beach

Ever since Michelle reminded me of the delights of an ocean dip earlier this year, I’ve been seeking out saltwater whenever possible. In celebration, Tom gave me this beautiful book for my birthday.

Peters shares stories of his various wild swims through each month of the year, interspersed with his thoughts on recovering from depression and the healing powers of water. He is clearly a water rat: searching out the hidden swimming holes on even the most unlikely of trips, and diving in with little regard for inclement weather. The photos are beautiful and the clear passion he shares for this pastime had even me, the most fair weather of wild swimmers, braving the depths this autumn.

Rusty walking along the beach at Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

Freshwater Bay is the perfect grown-up swimming hole: a steep shore that plunges quickly into deep water, with pebbles that leave the water crystal clear and encourage noisy families to head off to sandier bays.

The harbour is sheltered and there’s a small contingent of lifers: hardy old swimmers who are out here every day, their presence reassuring you that diving in is not completely bonkers.

Photo collage of swimming at Freshwater Bay

I’m starting to see how addictive this wild swimming business can be. The ice cold shock of the first plunge pulls you in to a single moment, before the edge of the chill subsides and you’re left rolling about in the buoyant water like a giggling fish.

This is pure and simple joy, with added tingly-fresh skin, and the promise of coffee and cookies on the beach. Can’t get much better than that. It’s a revelation to me that this adventure needn’t be the sole preserve of the summer holiday.

Dip was a book that soaked in to my blood and gave me the courage to take a quick paddle even in this autumn chill. And I doubt I’ll be able to stop at one.

Book "Dip" by Fusek Peters on the beach at Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

An August Read: Fire Season

Fire Season book amongst flowers

I love those books that present themselves to you quite by accident. I found this one when killing time before a meeting, and leafing through the sales shelf.  Connors writes of his time as a fire lookout in the wilds of New Mexico.

Tom and I visited one of these fire lookout towers several years ago in California. The long journey out to the tower, and the intimidating scale up the ladder to get to the top, all made it feel so distanced from the everyday.

The guy was super friendly and his tower was kitted out with a few quirky creature comforts, including on old Nintendo system.  He spoke of what a desirable job this was, but one that only appealed to a certain character. Days hanging out in the wild, staring at the huge vista all around you sounds pretty appealing to me.

Connors’ writing drew me straight in. He has a natural way of writing about the big country and his tiny part in it, weaving history, conservation and politics in to the individual anecdotes of his months looking out for wildfires in the Gila National Forest.

It’s clear that Connors never felt bored during his time alone, and his book never drags. I relished the descriptions of wild country, and his perspective on our place in it. The very best kind of nature writing.