Good weather has led to a slower pace in February’s reads. My birthday also meant new books and one which I am savouring. I set the goal to read 52 books in 2021. A book a week seems doable. However, I don’t want to rush a book for the sake of hitting my target. I may read less, I may read more, but I want to read well.
Landmarks – Robert Macfarland
This book took me unawares because my copy came with no synopsis. On the covers and within those first pages includes 24 reviews and 15 references to people/organisations saying it is their book of the year. Sounds promising!
A quick flick through explains the gist. The author lists a variety of terminology for natural landmarks varying in different dialects. Being Cornish, I know several terms which mean nothing to outsiders but much to the locals. ‘Emmets’ is one you may have heard of, our name for the tourists, which translates as ‘ants.’ I’m also learning more, not that I am seeking them, but they crop up like spring bulbs in conversation. My father has turned to farming during his retirement, and he likes to tell me of the new Cornish farming terms he’s discovered.
Between these, the author writes about other nature writers and their own books, which I wasn’t expecting. They read like long winded book reviews. My assumption was the author would take the opportunity to delve into the regional dialects, investigate the traditional professions which are dying out and the disappearing natural world. It felt like a missed opportunity and highlights why a synopsis is useful!
The best chapter was about children and their curious tendencies to explore and make up their own names for what they see. Our lifestyles mean we are very much removed from nature. Words like ‘acorn’ and ‘bluebell’ were removed from the Junior Dictionary in favour of tech orientated words. Incidentally, tech often reimagines terms from nature, like cloud, stream, torrent, field, mouse, apple, blackberry and web.
The lists of terminology are interesting yet limiting. There is a preference towards Gaelic and nothing to aid in the pronunciation. Each has a theme, yet the final list was a shoehorn of random words without one. Perhaps a later, extended edition will make an appearance? I think it would make for a better read.
The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
After reading Canton’s The Oak Papers last month, I requested this book for my birthday. For anyone interested in nature, it is a wonderfully informative book. It is set in bite-sized chapters which are easy to digest.
Humans have a tendency to look at nature as an outsider, not understanding we are very much a part of it. Equally, what we identify as human behaviours are also being played out in nature. Trees are sociable. Trees help the weak and sickened trees around them that are struggling. They have families and warn others of danger. However, human activity has imbalanced the natural world. Untouched, ancient woodland is now a rarity, and few trees are left to grow old. They grow in regimental plantations or alone in urban environments. Trees live at a pace alien to us. There is a drive to plant new woodlands to tackle climate change, yet a century after planting, the communications between the trees beneath the surface still has a long way to go to reach the scale of an untouched ancient woodland.
This book has echoes of Richard Power’s Overstory, which I read last year. Wohlleben has the same passion for trees which comes across vividly and I didn’t feel much was lost in translation of his original work.
Longbow – Robert Hardy
This is an out of print book I am savouring. The longbow is the English (and Welsh) equivalent to Japan’s samurai sword. Crecy and Agincourt are two famous battles where the use of the longbow drove the fate of the battle.
Aelfred’s Britain – Max Adams
Honestly, I can’t help buying books from this period. It’s tying in well with me finally biting the bullet and watching Vikings. I’m refraining from pointing out all the historical inaccuracies. I tell myself the TV writers are like the writers of old who improved the narrative by adding Aelfred burnt the cakes and St Cuthbert appeared to him before the battle of Edington.
It’s an informative read and one I’m enjoying at a leisurely pace.
What have your February reads been?