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.

My Book of the Year

My Book of the Year

I recently completed my year in books. I read 37 books this year, hardly qualifying me to pontificate on any of the ‘books of the year’.

And, I liked how Maria Popova, over at Brain Pickings put it:

Long ago, when the present and the living appealed to me more, I endeavored to compile “best of” reading lists at the close of each year. Even then, those were inherently incomplete and subjective reflections of one person’s particular tastes, but at least my scope of contemporary reading was wide enough to narrow down such a selection.

In recent years, these subjective tastes have taken me further and further into the past, deeper and deeper into the common record of wisdom recorded decades, centuries, millennia ago, drawn from the most timeless recesses of the human heart and mind. Outside the year’s loveliest children’s books — a stratum of literature with which I still actively and ardently engage — I now nurse no illusion of having an even remotely adequate sieve for the “best” of what is published each passing year, given that I read so very little of it (and given, too, that this particular year I birthed the first book of my own — itself the product of a long immersion in the past). But of the books I did read in 2019, these are the ones that will stay with me for life.

Wise words. There’s a case against too much of this and I don’t pretend to speak with authority. Simply put, my book of the year was Overstory by Richard Powers, a story for our times. You can read others I liked, and lists from previous years here at my poetry pages here.

Coming soon, my books of the year

I aimed to read 40 books this year. According to the good folk at GoodReads I’ve read 35, with a couple on the go. I might not quite get there.

Nevertheless, I will be publishing my annual book of the year awards soon! I enjoy looking back on the year and what I enjoyed and, as so often happens in reading, one book leads to another.

You can see my previous winners listed HERE.