‘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)
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:
Horizon by Barry Lopez (NF)
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.
I’ve followed Austin Kleon’s blog for a while now, and have a copy of his book Steal like an Artist, which even made my 2012 Book of the Year Final Lists, on my stack of references for core texts about remaining creative.
This week, he released his exhaustive (and exhausting!) list of things that sustained him through the wild, pandemic year of 2020′ 100 Things that Made My Year. It includes things like making collages, re-mixing Peanuts comics, making music with his family and the black-out poetry that first grabbed my attention about his work.
It inspired me to think freshly about the things I enjoyed and sustained me through a challenging year. I often do summary kinds of lists of the year (the year in numbers) and, of course, my favourite books and music of the year, but Kleon’s eccentric, introspective list made me think again about those almost invisible things that makes life livable.
One of the ones in my 100, if I can manage that many, is living by the sea. There’s something about being able to walk to the edge of something, to find that thing that borders and shapes and defines and restores.
I was lucky enough to visit Walden Pond on a trip to the USA over ten years ago now, in a time when travelling overseas seemed a normal thing that one might aspire to. It was a pilgrimage of place, to the place that inspired Thoreau in his life and writing.
You can read a bit more about that trip on my earlier post HERE
I was reminded of all this by this short film I came across, just called Walden, a Ewers Brothers Production with input from Ken Burns and narrated by Robert Redford. I enjoyed it on a rainy late winter morning. You might too.
Locked down, and perhaps about to be locked down even more securely, it seems more important than ever to focus on what’s right in front of you. As Victoria struggles to bring down the number of Coronavirus cases I’m grateful that I can still walk by the seaside and, through my mask, take in the shape of the world.
I’ve always been interested in the look of water from above; looking down into it from Avon, impenetrable mostly. I saw an exhibition of Roni Horn’s photography and bought a copy of Another Water,photographs looking down into the Thames.
My little vignettes were taken on an afternoon walk near Mornington Pier this week after work. It was a beautiful winter day with so much to look at, but on this walk it was the textures on the water that attracted my interest: the differences between the two sides of the pier, the little swirls and swells of energy pulsing across the shallow sand, the sense of depth and cold with even the sun swirling on the water. I suggest watching them full-scree, on repeat! Shut out today’s news.