Book of the Year – Bewilderment

A few days into 2022, but here finally is my book of the year. I enjoyed Overstory when I read it a while ago, but this was a different thing again; at once simpler, more narrative-driven, but also somehow larger, more open-ended. I’ve heard criticisms, especially from the parents of autistic children, but I feel it transcends that problem. It is at once, extremely light, and extremely profound.

Bewilderment

Other books that impressed me in 2020 were:

2. Heather Clark. Red Comet. The short life of Sylvia Plath. (2021)
3. Randolph Stow. To the Islands (1958)
4. Rachel Carlson. Under the sea wind (1952)
5. Tove Jansson. The Summer Book (1975)
6. Gerald Murnane. Last Letter to a Reader. (2021)
7. Luke Stegemann. Amnesia Road (2021)
8. Philip Marsden. The Summer Isles
9. Peter Temple. The Broken Shore (2007)

I’ve given up the idea of categorising my books of the year into ‘Fiction’, ‘Non-Fiction’ etc. Those kinds of divisions seem more and more meaningless. All of the books listed above will reward your reading attention.

Stone Circles

I’ve always been intrigued by neolithic stone circles, hill forts and the archaeology of ancient Europe and have been lucky enough to have seen some of these in location in England, France and Ireland and have written occasionally about those encounters like in this early post on Standing with Stones I’m not sure what it is, but I’m not the only one drawn to the simple beauty and mystery of these ancient sites.

So, I was pleased that one of these poems ‘Stone Circles’ was published in a recent issue of Allegro Poetry Magazine UK. It was inspired by the question I asked myself when I first saw this circle: why here?

It was inspired by a visit to Castlerigg Stone Circle , near Keswick in England, in 2014. Here’s the poem, and a photo I took at the time.

stone circles

The landscape came first,
something captured in shared imaginations
solidified in stone

Why build here?
Someone found it beautiful
and proclaimed it holy.

The rest follow as naturally as light
falls across the soon-to-be-sacred stone
on mid-winter morning

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Photo: Warrick

Skytrails

Skytrails

I listen to a a lot of music. When I’m walking, working or even when I’m writing, though I’ve got to be a bit careful about music that draws too much of my attention when I’m really trying to focus.

Lately, I’ve found, and have been enjoying, David Crosby’s most recent work, two of three late albums in a career that dates back to his work with The Byrds in the 1960s.The new albums include Lighthouse (2016), Skytrails (2017), Here if You Listen (2018) a new album Free , coming out this month.

It’s a wonderful late blooming with some beautiful songs, and it’s both reassuring and consoling, as someone now contemplating retirement from the workforce, to see not only the continuation of a great voice, but a mature voice with new nuance and meaning too.

It’s nice to think that art can go on and creativity need not be stifled by age and experience. It made me think about the late books of poets over the years too. I think there’s probably a seperate blog post in all that; about poets who wrote as strongly in their last work as their first. The first book that came to mind was Vincent Buckley’s Last Poems, a posthumous collection published in 1991. But there’s lots of others that I might include too.

I got to thinking about Skytrails this week when the cold winter air made the skytrails over the morning sky so prominent. Here’s a few images I grabbed from the back yard.

The Oak Papers

I finished The Oak Papers this morning

On my GoodReads page I reviewed it like this:

‘A thoughtful, sometimes melancholy book as the author finds solace from the stress of life in visiting and re-visiting some ancient oak trees. It is always alert and sensitive, and links to both science and mythology about these trees as well as some extended conversations with experts of various kinds, but there’s a little too much strain in the ‘awe’, ‘wonder’ and ‘glee’ for me as the writer climbs deeper and deeper into his woody meditations.’

I should have added that it DID have the effect I like, even when I sometimes haven’t loved the book, that it drew me out into the world and to re-visit some local oaks in The Briars near my house. So, it was worth reading after all.

Above: one of the oaks near my house. (Photo: Warrick)

My 2020 Books of the Year

2020

In a year when I thought I might have read more than ever, I read only 30 books, much below my GoodReads challenge of 40. You can see the full list HERE

So, you should rightfully temper any judgements I make here with that caveat firmly in mind! Nevertheless, here’s my list:

  1. Horizon by Barry Lopez (NF)
Horizon, by Barry Lopez

I was surprised to feel as sad as I did when I heard the news that Barry Lopez had died on Christmas Day. I’ve valued his work over a long time but that news, coming so soon after I finished Horizon, shook me a little. Horizons is a fitting end-piece to a career of genre-defining writing about space and place. The NY Times Obituary likened him to Thoreau; what a compliment: 

‘In a half-century of travel to 80 countries that generated nearly a score of nonfiction and fiction works, including volumes of essays and short stories, Mr. Lopez embraced landscapes and literature with humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Thoreau and John Muir.’

2. Wallace Stegner Crossing to Safety (F)

I hadn’t read Stegner before, and also read *Angle of Repose’ this year, but this novel seems stronger, masterly in its construction. As with all great novels I wonder at how it could be constructed by one mind. Beyond the great art of its making, it spoke to me too about friendship and a life in and around writing and reading.

3. Richard Ford – Sorry For Your Trouble (Stories)

Richard Ford has won my Book of the Year Awards three times, and almost won it again with this collection. A writer who keeps delivering, with a body of work behind him as substantial as any contemporary American novelist.

4. Haruki Murakami – Dance Dance Dance (F)

Weird, but wonderful. I’m always about halfway through a Murakami book and wonder, is this going anywhere? Maybe not, but the strange journey is enjoyable, and provoking.

5. Jonathan Bate – Radical Wordsworth (NF)

A not so radical biography of Wordsworth that focuses on the early years and the revolutionary Wordsworth who would return from revolutionary France and put all that away.