Book Review: Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is a beautiful book, a joyous book but also a sad and thought provoking book. It is also possibly the best book that I will read this year, and I look forward to owning my own copy when it is published later this year.

This is a collection of stories from childhood through to adulthood and every place in between, stories from the UK and around the world. Each one is wonderful and unique in it’s own right and yet as a collection I don’t think I’ve ever come across one that is so well put together before. They are a nature insight, a personal story with feeling. Whether it is Golden Orioles or Fallow Deer, Swifts or Goat tipping (I’m not telling – you’ll have to read the book), these are all unique stories but instantly relatable.  Written with love and emotion; sometimes they make you smile, sometimes they make you cry and sometimes they send you off into your own personal rabbit hole about a particular species.

I savoured every story, I took my time reading and in some cases rereading a story, I learnt new things about species that I thought were familiar and new things about species I’ve never come across before. I was reminded about times I’ve had similar experiences and felt moved to go out and explore and experience something for myself.

I can’t recommend this book enough, whether you are drawn to natural history books or not this is worthy of your time and money and if you know someone who is into their natural history then this is probably the perfect gift for them.

Now I’ve finished reading, I want to go back and read the whole book again, although I will probably wait until I get my hands on a publication copy.

Vesper Flights is published on 27th August 2020 by Random House UK, Vintage

From the Publisher:

Animals don’t exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.

From the bestselling author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world.

Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved writing along with new pieces covering a thrilling range of subjects. There are essays here on headaches, on catching swans, on hunting mushrooms, on twentieth-century spies, on numinous experiences and high-rise buildings; on nests and wild pigs and the tribulations of farming ostriches.

Vesper Flights is a book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make the world around us. Moving and frank, personal and political, it confirms Helen Macdonald as one of this century’s greatest nature writers.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.

Book Review: The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes

The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Line That Divide Us by Nick Hayes

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

We’ve probably all done it, whether our transgression has been inadvertent or deliberate but we’ve all been somewhere we shouldn’t have actually been I’d wager.

In the Book of Trespass, Nick Hayes sets out to document some of his adventures trespassing and the laws that surround this “crime”, whether it be from The Vagrancy Act, The Enclosures Act or the building of Walls such as the Great Wall of China, The Mexico Border Wall or even the non-existent wall between North & South Korea, the author covers this in detail. This is however taken at a level that everyone can understand. The law is ultimately complex but this book doesn’t descend into too much legalise or become a textbook on the act of trespassing, although it does way heavy on the page count at times.

Each chapter takes on the name of an animal (fox, dog, cockroach, hare – to name a few) and each chapter tackles a different aspect of trespass, linked to that animal. Beit from the Great Trespass on Kinder Scout, through to protest camps such as the Greenham Common and Heathrow Airport camps or “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, all are covered alongside the direct experiences of the author.

The book covers the heroes – such as Roger Deakin and the villains – such as Nicholas Van Hogstraten, when it comes to trespass or preventing legitimate access and many of these I was already familiar with.

It is however the authors own personal experiences that stood out for me in this book. It would have been easy to write a summary of trespass across the ages, but he has actually been out an experienced it first hand, and it is these first hand experiences that bring the book together and make it work so well. These tales settle amongst those tales of history and the relevant laws and rules and pull the book together to make it a fascinating read.

Does the author fall foul of those laws he sets out to break? Well I’m not telling, you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out, but the adventure and history are worth the read alone.


The Book of Trespass is published by Bloomsbury and will be available online and in all good bookshops from 20th August 2020.

What the Publisher Says:

A meditation on the fraught and complex relationship between land, politics and power, this is England through the eyes of a trespasser.

The vast majority of our country is entirely unknown to us because we are banned from setting foot on it. By law of trespass, we are excluded from 92 per cent of the land and 97 per cent of its waterways, blocked by walls whose legitimacy is rarely questioned. But behind them lies a story of enclosure, exploitation and dispossession of public rights whose effects last to this day.

The Book of Trespass takes us on a journey over the walls of England, into the thousands of square miles of rivers, woodland, lakes and meadows that are blocked from public access. By trespassing the land of the media magnates, Lords, politicians and private corporations that own England, Nick Hayes argues that the root of social inequality is the uneven distribution of land.

Weaving together the stories of poachers, vagabonds, gypsies, witches, hippies, ravers, ramblers, migrants and protestors, and charting acts of civil disobedience that challenge orthodox power at its heart, The Book of Trespass will transform the way you see England.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.

Book Review: Walks With Sam by David W. Berner

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars.

Sam is a dog. A black golden doodle and on his walks with his owner David the two of them discover not just their local neighbourhood but also their feelings about it and some of the things that are going on in it.

This is no epic travel piece, it is a more sedate, local amble or series of ambles around Sam and David’s local “patch” which they discover they don’t know as well as they thought but by the end of the book know it and themselves much better.

This is a well written and captivating set of stories, each based around a walk experienced by human and hound. There are some of regulars, like the crazy man and others that they meet along the way. It is in part a journey of discovery with both partners at different times in their lives and in part about the actual journeys they take together.

If you liked Travels with Charley or Travels with Macy or similar stories then you are probable going to like Walks with Sam too.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.

Book Review: “Into The Tangled Bank” by Lev Parikian

Into The Tangled Bank – In which our author ventures outdoors to consider the British in nature by Lev Parikian

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lev Parikian takes us on a nature tour from lying on the pavement outside his house looking at a common blue butterfly to ringing birds on Skokholm island. As he points out “Nature means different things to different people”, and he covers all sorts of perspectives including his own and those of famous naturalists such as Charles Darwin, Gilbert White, Gavin Maxwell and John Clare along the way.

This is a well drawn tale of what nature means, it doesn’t go into a lot of heavy detail or tales of mass destruction and loss of species and habitats but nor is it a lightweight view either. It is well observed of nature, of naturalists and those that wouldn’t call themselves naturalists but are exposed to it everyday.

If you like your natural history with a little humour then you will enjoy this, what Bill Bryson did for the travel tale and the secrets of the universe, Lev Parikian might well do for the natural world. Learning how to catch Manx Shearwaters for ringing or the multi-modal uses of the average back garden all take the reader to see the more humourous side of nature.

I do have one gripe about this book however – the use of footnotes. They were heavily overused in the text and ultimately became quite distracting, constantly nipping to the bottom of the page to see what the little asterisks, cross or other reference point means. In my opinion many of these footnotes should have been incorporated into the main body of the text. They were relevant and would have added more there rather than being relegated to the bottom of the page, sometimes with three or four others, and with some pages that were more footnote that main text.


About the Author.

Lev Parikian is a birdwatcher, conductor and author of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? He lives in West Longon with his family who are getting used to his increasing enthusiasm for nautre. As a birdwatcher, his most prized sightings are a golden oriole in the Alpujarras and a black redstart at Dungeness Power Station.

Into the Tangled Bank – In which our author ventures outdoors to consider the British in Nature is published on 9th July 2020 by Elliott & Thompson at £14.99.


[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

 

Book Review: The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones

The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I’ve been aware of this author for a while, I have a number of his books on my shelves all of them packed full of words, their meanings and etymology.

The Cabinet of Calm is no exception, but it is also different for it is a collection of words to find solace in troubling times. Prescient then you might say, given that we’ve all been under some form of lockdown for a while and our futures have an amount of uncertainty in them. Given the lead in time for books though, that seems unlikely. (Although it is a question I did ask the author when we spoke (see below)).

As with all of this authors books, I come away having not just learnt new words, but also fascinated about their origins and some of the historical significance associated with them. In some cases wondering why they ever fell out of modern usage and why I’m reading about them for the first time. This is a book that you can read from cover to cover or pick up time and again and learn something new.

In The Cabinet of Calm there are words to soothe all manner of life’s stresses and tests, whether they be about your relationship, for grieving or just because you feel a little bit down or disappointed. There are words that you will never have heard of before, but may well find hard to forget. Whether they are words like Worldcraft – which is the knowledge you gain by living your life; or Zenobia – which derives from the third century and relates to impostor syndrome; this is book which will broaden your vocabulary and widen your knowledge of language and it’s origins. It will make you smile and chuckle and get a little slack-jawed with a “well I never”.

There are 51 words arranged in an A to Z but in each one there are even more words. Learn how storks feet relate to your pedigree (see the video below) and how you might term the different types of friend that you might have – jolly-dog, shop fellow, inkweaver – to name a few. There are words here that I will use again and again and the book is one that I will return to repeatedly. Everyone should have a copy of the Cabinet of Calm on their bookshelves, probably next to that dictionary and thesaurus you haven’t picked up for a while but will now be inspired to look at in a different way.

Bring The Cabinet of Calm into your lockdown world and have soul soothing home language lessons par excellence.

A Video Conference with Paul:

 

About the Author:

Paul has a Masters in Linguistics and is a language blogger from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. His obsession with words began with a child’s dictionary he received as a Christmas present when he was eight years old. As @HaggardHawks he has tweeted obscure words since 2013 and now has a social media following of over 75k, including the likes of JK Rowling, Robert Macfarlane, Susie Dent, Richard Osman, Greg Jenner, Ian McMillan, Rufus Sewell, Simon Mayo, Michael Rosen and Cerys Matthews.

HaggardHawks.com brings together the entire HH network including a blog, books, quizzes & games, the 500 Words YouTube series, Instagram gallery and newsletter. He regularly contributes to the media.

Cabinet of Calm – Soothing Words for Troubled Times:

Is published by Elliott & Thompson on 14th May 2020, at £12.99. Find your local independent bookshop by searching on the local bookshop finder.

The book has also been on a blog tour, and you can read other bloggers thoughts via the blog addresses below:

[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw: A Review

Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes you read a book that you can’t put down or one that you don’t want to end, it’s rare to find a book that does both of those things but Matt Gaw’s latest might just be that book.

 

The day my review copy arrived in the post I was by coincidence standing on my back door step at 2.30 in the morning waiting for my dog (he’s older and sometimes gets up in the night for a wee). I was marvelling at the fact that the streetlight that normally lights up our back garden was out (as are all the ones nearby since the local council decided that it could save money by turning them off between midnight and 4am), and that I could see a little more of the night sky than I perhaps normally would. This is one of the topics (light pollution not my dog) that the author covers so well. We’re so used to our artificial light that if you never miss something until it’s gone, how do you square the circle that when you remove artificial light there is so much more to see!?!

Matt Gaw takes this and more besides and goes out into the dark (and the light) to examine these issues in more detail. From how artificial light or a lack of darkness can affect not just us, but also the other inhabitants of our planet the wildlife, he goes to places such as Dartmoor where it’s darker and to the lights of London and his home town of Bury St. Edmunds. Comparing and contrasting these environments he writes eloquently about the beauty and dangers of the dark as well as the hazards of the light.

Like his last book, Matt also risks life and limb to bring this book to the reader, suffering for his art seems to be a particular hazard adventure for this author.

I really couldn’t put this book down at times and I suspect that perhaps the subject matter will not be one that many people will have thought that much about, but Under The Stars, is a book that could easily change all of that. Well written, with some stunning prose, his research with the right mix of historical facts and real life, it will make the reader think again about light and dark, and the night sky.

About the Author: Matt Gaw is a writer and naturalist who lives in Bury St. Edmunds with his young family. His first book is the highly acclaimed, The Pull of the River: A Journey into the Wild and Watery Heart of Britain [see my review here]. His journalism has been published in the Telegraph, Guardian, Times and BBC Countryfile Magazine and his broadcast credits include BBC1’s Countryfile, BBC Radio 4 Extra and BBC Radio 5 Live. He edits Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s magazine and runs nature writing workshops for children and adults. He also writes a monthly country diary for the Suffolk Magazine.

Under the Stars – A Journey into the Light is published in hardback on 20th February 2020 by Elliott & Thompson.

[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

 

All Work and No….Well You Know What I Mean TWTW # 57

I’ve tried to write this post several times. Each time I’ve wanted to rant about the General Election. I’ve  just tried to write about it again, but I can’t. I just can’t


So in more positive news, I’ve managed to secure client work, that if I’ve got my timetabling right will take me through to nearly the end of February. One item fell off of the list but was replaced by something else. So work looks like it’s going to be busy. It might mean that these posts also get a bit curtailed over the coming weeks, including this one.


Outside of work I’ve not done a tremendous amount else really. I did manage to read Past Tense by Lee Child over a couple of nights. It’s unusual for me to be able to stay awake long enough to read very much in the evenings, even more so as it just felt like the author was going through the motions. It did cross my mind that there were at least another 100-pages that might have been in an earlier manuscript that got ditched at some point during the editing process, a storyline that never played out. Who knows. It won’t be making my favourite books of the year (if I get around to writing about it this side of Easter 2020).

I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and read some of the books that have been on my shelves for a while, and to not buy too many “new” books. Partly this is to try and create some space but also it seems daft to have so many books sitting there that I haven’t read yet. I don’t mind having lots of books, but it would be nice to think that I’ve actually read some of them!


I’ve been continuing to listen to The Whisperer In Darkness this week. The next three episodes were released on Monday and the reminder are due to be released this Monday (today as far as the posting of this goes). I’ve been really enjoying it. The series writer Julian Simpson, posted a little bit about the research that sits behind the episodes this week which you can read here. You can also find an iTunes link to the episodes in that post, if you haven’t been able to make the BBC website work for you.


I’m also looking forward to some of the radio that’s on over the Christmas period. I picked up a copy of the Christmas Radio Times in the week, and I have to say that there is bugger-all on television over the Christmas period, but the radio section looks pretty good.


Right that’s it for this week. Off to Somerset for client meetings this coming week, but otherwise I’m at my desk, nose down for the remainder.

The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare’s excellent book “The Light in the Dark” is out in paperback today. I read it last year in hardback, but wanted to mention it again as the paperback is released, as it was one of my standout books of 2018. It’s a timely read as although as the subtitle suggests this is A Winter Journal, it starts in the last days of Autumn and finishes in the first days of Spring.

It’s a tale of feelings and emotions and mental health and mental wealth, stories of the author’s family both in times of joy and pain, observations of the world both rural and urban and the passage of time across those darker months.

I can’t emphasise how much I like this book, it is so incredibly well written, and open about the authors personal winter and such an engaging read. I sat down with my copy to remind myself one afternoon last week, and ended up finishing the book again in bed that evening.

If you’re looking for an engaging read or even something for a present for someone this Christmas then I’d recommend The Light in the Dark.

Wintering. A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt: A Review

img_20190912_150521920Wintering. A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is Stephen Rutt’s second book this year, I reviewed his first, “Seafarers” and noted that he’d set the bar very high for himself in terms of his next book. Well, here it is and I’m pleased to say that the bar is very much maintained and possibly exceeded with Wintering.

Like Seafarers there is an element of autobiography from the author, but again this is a biography of the birds, or at least the time that they spend on our shores when visiting us from their summer breeding grounds.

Rutt interweaves his life in Scotland, as he is finishing his previous book, with his interactions and observations of the different species of geese. With visits to other parts of the UK he sees other species and in each case interweaves his observations with those of the likes of Aldo Leopold, Sir Peter Scott and others. Like Scott he also mulls the ethics hunting / eating geese and that the role of goose is more than just as wildlife – foodstuff, feathers for quilts & clothing, guard animal etc, and perhaps that a goose is for more than Christmas.

As with his previous book Rutt writes openly and his style is such that it is like being next to him when he’s in the field, he writes with skill and the observations of the geese are beautiful. As the author found, the geese are captivating and so are his descriptions of them. As I write these words a skein a dark-bellied brent geese fly over my home and I’m thinking back to the words of the book and whether there’s a black brant amongst them (something that I’ve yet to see!)

The historical research and references add depth to the story. If I have but one complaint it is that the book is on the short side and it left me wanting for more, but then wintering geese don’t visit us for long either, so perhaps that’s a reflection of their stay.

I’d also like to give a hat-tip to Elliott & Thompson Books. I’ve reviewed a number of their books this year and I am consistently impressed with the quality and beauty of their covers and bindings.

If you’re stuck for a Christmas present this year for someone who’s “into their birds”, then getting them both Wintering and The Seafarers would make them very happy, but then again why wait for Christmas!

Wintering. A Season with Geese by Stephen Rutt is published by Elliott & Thompson on the 26th September 2019

 

That Wet Dog Smell TWTW # 29

It’s raining outside as I write this and my office smells of wet dog as it was raining when we went for our morning walk too. It’s still quite warm though, although thankfully not too humid.

I seem to be behind with a few things at the moment, this weekly post included.


I’ve been doing quite a bit of chutney making and pickling this week. Another batch of pickled gherkins have been added to the store cupboard (about 5 jars worth), and a gooseberry and red onion chutney. This latter mix made 8 jars almost exactly, leaving me only a teaspoon worth to try. It was very good, and I have great hopes for it when it matures (in about a month). It looks like the sort of chutney that will work well with cheese and cold meats and possibly just to be eaten straight off of the spoon!


The wind had blown over the sweetcorn on the allotment and I’ve had to stake each individual plant to keep them upright. Hopefully they’ll survive the experience, although as a plant sweetcorn are very intolerant at having their roots disturbed. A shame if they don’t make it as they have already started to form cobs.


I’ve been reading “Irreplaceable” by Julian Hoffman this week. It is a great book and I thoroughly recommend it. It is also in some ways a depressing book. It is about those wild places and species that we have lost or might loose to what some people would call “progress”. I was familiar with some of the stories, but if you’re not it’s probably even more eye opening particularly with respect to some of those sites that are supposedly “protected” but in reality are not. I had quite a rant about it in my journal:

I finished reading “Irreplaceable” this afternoon. It really is an eye opening book. Although several of the stories were already familiar to me – many of them weren’t and it is truly shocking what we are doing to this planet in the name of progress. It feels that many of the current decision makers – the politicians, councillors and others just don’t care (or understand). They see progress as “at any cost” and that very often means at the expense of those things that we should hold most dear. Many of the stories are the sorts of things that I could all too easily see happening locally here because of weak leadership and low morales where a developer could easily sway the council with promises of “economic growth”, “more jobs”, “greater income for the local area”, when it’s all about the money, money, money; when in fact that is probably the last thing it should be about and the fact that many of the things that would suffer cannot simply have an economic value attached to them. They are our lifeblood, they support our health, our welfare, our mental prosperity and so many other things. All too often the decision makers simply do not give a shit about such things, that are mere travails, are inconsequential, of no meaning and no value!

Well it’s about time for a change and putting some of those things at the heart of such decisions.