Revisiting “Under The Rock” by Benjamin Myers

I first read “Under The Rock” last year when it came out in hardback and it has now just come out in paperback from Elliot & Thompson Books.

At the time I first read it I wrote:

Very much a book of the landscape, nature and the human interface I read most of this in just over a day. It was over too soon, and I know it’s a book that I am likely to revisit again and again. It’s also shaped how I look at the world now, giving me a different lense through which I see things.

Under The Rock was one of my top books of 2018 and the publishers have asked me if I would revisit my previous review which I’m pleased to do as it has given me a chance to reread the book – perhaps a dangerous thing to do, because will the book be the same second time around? Well I’m pleased to say that it was, and perhaps more so, as although the writing was familiar and I remember large parts of the book, there are also things that I don’t remember or missed first time around. This time my read took me a little longer giving me more of a chance to absorb the telling.

The book is essentially autobiographical about the period in the authors life when he moves to Mytholmroyd from London and begins to explore his new home. His walks and discoveries mean that the book is also biographical about his new location, it’s history, former and current residents. The “Rock” of the title is the overshadowing (Hathershelf) Scout Rock and the authors tales are interwoven around its presence. They are of nature, social history, character tales and stories of the surrounding areas, the moors, Myer’s dog Cliff and of course The Rock. The book arcs back through time but also brings it right up to date with the serious flooding the area suffered in the mid-decade.

It’s hard to put into words that do this book justice but it remains one of my favourite books. To be able to write about a place in such a way that it comes to life for the reader is a gift and the author’s gift to the reader is in turn and incredible book. I recommend this book to anyone, and if you haven’t read it already go track down a copy (or scroll down to see how you can get your hands on the one that I have to giveaway).

About The Author (From the publisher)

BENJAMIN MYERS was born in Durham in 1976. He is a prize-winning author, journalist and poet. His recent novels are each set in a different county of northern England, and are heavily inspired by rural landscapes, mythology, marginalised characters, morality, class, nature, dialect and post-industrialisation. They include The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and recipient of the Roger Deakin Award; Turning Blue, 2016; Beastings, 2014 (Portico Prize For Literature & Northern Writers’ Award winner), Pig Iron, 2012 (Gordon Burn Prize winner & Guardian Not The Booker Prize runner-up); and Richard, a Sunday Times Book of the Year 2010. Bloomsbury will published his new novel, The Offing, in August 2019.

As a journalist, he has written widely about music, arts and nature. He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, the inspiration for Under the Rock.

Giveaway

The publishers have kindly given me a paperback copy of Under The Rock to giveaway to readers of this blog. If you’d like to be in with a chance to win this, simply leave a comment below (the email address you use to comment with will be the one I contact you on if you win, but won’t be published). I’ll draw one winner from random from all of the comments that are present after 12th May 2019 and contact the winner by email for their postal address. If the winner doesn’t respond within 7 days, I’ll redraw. My decisions are final.

(Please note if this is your first time commenting here, I will need to approve your comment. If it doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry.)

The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw (Book Review)

The Pull of the River – A journey into the wild and watery heart of Britain by Matt Gaw 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hardback & ebook: Available now

Paperback: Publ. 21st February 2019

Matt and his friend James set off in a homemade (by James) canoe to explore the rivers and waterways of Britain. The canoe named the “Pipe”, and a smaller craft “Pipette” that Matt later buys “at mates rates” to do some solo exploring, take the pair on some entertaining adventures.

The two initially naive canoeists learn fast from their experiences and mistakes to become more experienced waterman and along the way explore both the slower and faster pace of the watercourses they encounter, as well as the conflicts between users and the natural environment that they at times literally occupy. It doesn’t pull any punches with some of their experiences either. It isn’t just a gentle exploration of the natural environment. There is plenty of evidence as to how we as the human race have adapted, altered and spoilt this essential element of the natural world.

The book has a well researched backstory drawing on the likes of Stevenson, Roger Deakin and others to tell some of the history, myths and facts of the rivers that they set out to explore. It has at times almost poetic prose in describing the natural world; the Barn Owls, Kingfishers, Otters, Beavers and even the infamous “Nessie” (spoiler: there’s no sighting).

This is the authors first book, and I would have loved it to continue on some of the rivers that I am more familiar with. If you are a lover of books about nature, or waterways then you’ll enjoy it too. Similarly if you have an interest in canoes, although not if you are expecting a lot of technical details or long explanations of the building of the Pipe.

[Disclaimer: I was sent an advanced copy of the paperback version of The Pull of the River by the publishers in return for a review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

Best Reads of 2018

GoodReads prompted me this morning with an email about my year in books. You can see the update on my GoodReads page here. I’m not sure that I’ll get through anymore books before the end of the year, but I’ve managed to read 52 this year (although a few of these where actually quite short, so I’m not sure it’s quite the same as reading 52 tomes!)

There have been a few highlights for me out of the 52 though. In the order they were read, they include:

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions by David Attenborough – Although this is essentially a reprint of some earlier editions of this book, it was wonderful to step back in time with the author to when an expedition wasn’t accompanied by loads of technology, and the wildlife was less vulnerable and exploited than it is today. As someone who is credited with being one of the great natural historians of modern times, this was originally written long before he was as well known as he is today. I enjoyed it immensely and am really pleased that I have the next volume in the series on my bookshelf to read, probably early next year or over the festive period.

Under The Rock: The Poetry of a Place by Benjamin Myers – Very much a book of the landscape, nature and the human interface I read most of this in just over a day. It was over too soon, and I know it’s a book that I am likely to revisit again and again. It’s also shaped how I look at the world now, giving me a different lense through which I see things.

The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare – I’ve read several of this authors books this year, all have been excellent but this is the pick of the crop for me.  It’s the authors story of a winter through mental difficulties but one which is as inspiring as it is troubling. It’s a wonderfully written, candid account and another book that I know I will read time and again.

I’m leaving my list here, because although I’ve read many fine books these are the standout three for me, I can only hope that I read as many splendid ones in 2019.

A Christmas Book List

I’ve read a lot of books this year, and I thought with Christmas approaching I’d pull together a list of those that I’ve enjoyed the most in case you’re stuck for a present to buy someone or just looking for something to read over the festive period yourself. Some have been published this year, but others have been around for a while. Links are to the books page on GoodReads, rather than a particular online or other bookseller. I’m sure you can work that bit out, but I’d recommend your local bookstore as a first port of call.

If you have any suggestions yourself, then do please leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

Yellowstone: A Journey through America’s Wild Heart by David Quammen [LINK] There are some amazing images in this book coupled with the writing of David Quammen it’s a great overview of one of America’s best know national parks. It’s a great coffee table type book, but also a great read generally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scorched Noir by Garnett Elliot [LINK] This is a great collection of eight (I think) short crime stories set down in the American SouthWest. You can feel the climate and surroundings on each page, and the heroes and villains are well written and in your face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry by Wendell Berry [LINK] If you’re not familiar with Wendell Berry this is probably a good place to start as this book is a collection of his writing from across his entire life. He explores many issues in the natural world and the world in general, and this book will certainly make you stop and think not only about the world around you, but also your place in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR by Philip Hoare [LINK] This is very much a set of personal reflections but also how water, the sea and the animals and plants around it have interacted with the author and authors and poets before him. The book looks backwards in time, but also forward to what may come to pass. I found myself totally drawn into the telling of tales, many of which I knew very little about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moods of Future Joys by Alastair Humphreys [LINK] modern day adventurer Alastair Humphreys set off to ride by bicycle from his home in the UK to Australia. Along the way his journey changed as a result of world events, and his route took him through the middle-east and Africa (and perhaps on a journey that wouldn’t be possible now. This is the first volume in his adventures, and I am thoroughly looking forward to reading the next one, but I’d recommend this if you want to read about some solo adventuring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floating: A Life Regained by Joe Minihane [LINK] If you like wild swimming or have read Roger Deakins “Waterlog”, then this is probably the book for you. Minihane re-swims the lakes and rivers and watercourses that Roger Deakin first wrote about. At the same time Minihane has his own journey of self-discovery. If you haven’t read “Waterlog” then this is still worth a read, but if you have then you’ll be interested to see how things have changed since Roger Deakin swam his book, and how perhaps he took some licence with what he wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mawson’s Will by Lennard Bickel [LINK] Possibly, like me, you have never heard of Douglas Mawson, but his adventure and tale of survival ranks up there with the likes of Scott, and Shackleton. How Mawson survived and overcame the conditions in Antarctica that threaten his life on a daily basis is quite incredible.

A Stab In The Dark Podcast

I’ve been listening to “A Stab In The Dark” podcast over the last few days. Featuring all things associated with crime books, and tv, here’s a link to the webpage, although you can download via iTunes or whichever podcast player you use.

So far it’s had some good interviews with authors such as Val McDermid, Lee Child, Anne Cleeves & Michael Connelly; it’s also given me a few good pointers to some new books that I might check out in the future.

Worth a listen if you’re interested in either crime fiction or television.

Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster

I’ve just finished reading “Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain” by Jason Webster. It’s a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and here are my thoughts.

Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish MountainSacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain by Jason Webster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Jason Webster’s story of his first year in the mountainside “mas” which he and his wife Salud move to, and begin to renovate both the cottage and the land.

As he works with the elements he narrates a wonderful story of the characters he meets and the friendships made, as well as his expansion of almond, olive and truffle farming.

Each chapter, told in monthly parts, is started with a traditional folk tale from the area, which adds something extra to what is already a great and well written story.

This book was one that was recommended to me by Amazon on the basis of previous purchases and for once was spot on as something I really enjoyed and was sorry to finish. I’ll be checking out his other books, as he is also a crime fiction writer, although I’d certainly read more tales from his mountainside too, where he ever to write more.

There’s also a video on YouTube, where the author explains a little more about the book.

Book Review: Common Ground by Rob Cowen

Common GroundCommon Ground by Rob Cowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has taken me a while to read Rob Cowen’s Common Ground, because I’ve wanted to savour it. It reminds me of classic natural history books such as J A Baker’s “The Peregrine” and Richard Mabey’s “Nature Cure”, both of which I’ve reread this year, and so are fresh in my mind.

Common Ground takes the reader through a journey of the area of land on the edge of town. Rob Cowen takes the reader there through a series of chapters on different aspects and through different points of view. It is both incredibly well written, but also captivating in it’s description of the nature and of mankind and our attitude to an increasingly pressured natural system.

I’ve taken my time with the book, dipping in now and again to read a chapter or two. To savour it, as I didn’t want it to end, and I will miss it now that it’s over.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys natural history books.

View all my reviews