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Walking by Erling Kagge

4 out of 5 stars

Walking is travel at a speed that humans are comfortable with, you can take everything in as you pass by. The act of us walking on two feet, upright and able to observe what is around us is a movement that is millennia old. We as a species though are not walking as much as we used to, the modern transport options are so easy and we lose that sense of time.

The ability to walk, to put one foot in front of the other, invented us.

Erling Kagge has loved walking for as long as he can remember, when he was growing up in Norway his parents did not own a car so he had to walk. He walked to the North Pole in his mid-twenties and then walked to the South Pole, solo. Now in charge of a publishing house, he still walks when he can and wherever he happens to be. For him it is the best way to discover a place, find what makes it tick and to feel the pulse of it.

I learned that the spiritual was the opposite of the material, but in the woods these two are not opposites – they are equals. To walk reflects this.

Walking not only helps our physical health, but can benefit our mind too. Research has shown that time spent away from a screen, regardless if it is a walk along city streets or heading up over a moor works wonders for your mind too. This is a good companion volume to his other book on silence. Both are small acts of defiance against the fast paced, relentless and loud world. I really enjoyed this too. I really like his sparse writing style and philosophical outlook on life. Stunning cover too. Well worth reading.

August 2019 Review

Was dreading August as I had two daughters getting exam results… Turns out they did really well, and are moving onto their next things with A levels and an apprenticeship. Spent a week in Jersey, as we do every year, and had a really good time. Didn’t get as much read as I had hoped as we seemed to be busy there every single day and I had to socialise… I did manage to read two books in two days though which helps keep the totals for the Good Reads challenge up.

It was a reasonable month for books too, managed to read 16 books, but not as much variety as last month, however, I had three books that I awarded five stars to this month. More on that a little later.

First up is a memoir called The Chronology Of Water by the author of The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch. This is her memoir of a troubled early life and how she overcome abuse, drugs and alcohol to become the person she is now. It has an unusual writing style, with short punchy sentences and chapters. You have to be pretty broadminded when reading this too, it is quite some book.

Really liked Erling Kagge’s book on silence, so when I realise that the library has his new book, Walking: One Step At A Time, I reserved it straight away. I really like his writing style and philosophical outlook on life and thoroughly enjoyed this little book.

 

Two natural history books this month, first was The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Ruttabout his passion for the seabirds that inhabit our coasts and islands. Really nicely written. The second is an extracted book from The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis. Located just north of me in Cranborne it describes his time spent clearing an ash wood with his axe and billhook and his observations of the woodland life.

 

Two poetry books this month instead of one. The new Simon Armitage was reserved by someone else so ended up reading that one too. I liked both of them but connected to Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic more than Human Chain. This is the first Seamus Heaney book I have read and have others of his to read at some point.

This is not Hannah Critchlow’s first book, that was a little Ladybird science one I read a while back. The Science Of Fate is looking at how we are not free to shape our own ‘destiny’, rather our futures are determined by our genetic makeup and past family histories. Made for an interesting read.

   

I ended up reading a pile of travel books this month too. I have only read Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy in the past but had picked Between River and Sea up in the library as it is an Eland Book and I am trying to read (and collect) all their books. In this, she spends a lot of time with the people of Palestine trying to understand just how difficult their lives are as they try to move around their country. In Just Another Mountain, Sarah Jane Douglas tells her story in the context of climbing Monroes and other mountains around the world. It is tragic and heartwarming at the same time. For Love & Money is the fourth Jonathan Raban book that I have trad. It is not all travel writing, that is the final part of the book, but mostly concerns him earning a living from writing.

   

Peter Owen Jones’ real job is a vicar in the Sussex Weald, but he enjoys the outdoor life. This is a series of walks that he has compiled to allow someone to ascend the same vertical height as Everest in just 12 Days without having to leave the shores of this country nor risk life and limb climbing in the Himilayas. David Roberts is a man who has climbed countless mountains and after being diagnosed with cancer realised that he had to take it easier. Limits of the Known is about looking back over his own adventures, asking why others have had the same drive as him and meeting with other adventurers who tell their stories. On the Road to Babadag is about travels in a part of Europe that very few write about and even fewer read about. Andrzej Stasiuk where possible trys to avoid cities and likes to find places that very few seek out. Surreal at times and equally fascinating.

   

I have three books of the month for August and they are Hunting Mister Heartbreak by Jonathan Raban, Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents and Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy. All brilliant for entirely different reasons, Raban because he writes about America so well, Goldsworthy because he is my favourite artist and Pratchett, well because he’s Pratchett.

September 2019 TBR

August flew by.  So it is TBR time once again. I ended up reading eleven books from the August TBR, things got shuffled around as some of the library books that I had got reserved by others and had to be read and returned. As usual, I have an equally ambitious list for September and they are below:

 

Blog Tour:

Only one for this month and it is this one from Unbound:

Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald

 

Library Books

The Landscape by Don McCullin

How To See Nature by Paul Evans

The Hen Harrier         by Donald Watson

Epitaph for the Ash: in search of recovery and renewal by Lisa Samson

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway: A Year Of Gardening And (Wild)Life by Kate Bradbury

The Edge Of The World: A Cultural History Of The North Sea And The Transformation Of Europe by Michael Pye

Most of the Royal Society Shortlist that I could get from the library

The Remarkable Life Of The Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface by Monty Lyman

Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World by John Gribbin

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

 

#20BooksOfSummer

Not going to finish by tomorrow… However, summer finishes around the 21st September so will carry on with these until then.

Still Water: Reflections on the Deep Life of the Pond by John Lewis-Stempel

White Mountain: Real And Imagined Journeys In The Himalayas by Robert Twigger

A Raindrop in the Ocean: The Extraordinary Life of a Global Adventurer by Michael Dobbs-Higginson

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce

 

Review Books

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie ( I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this)

Vickery’s Folk Flora: An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants by Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

Tempest: An Anthology Edited by Anna Vaught & Anna Johnson

The Many Lives of Carbon by Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River by Oliver Rackham

 

Wishful Thinking

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee by P. D. Murphy

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure by Alastair Humphreys

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days by Clare Fuller

 

 

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney

3 out of 5 stars

I have been recommended poetry by various people over the years and one name that keeps being mentioned is Seamus Heaney. Shamefully I had never read any of his at all. Thankfully my local library had a copy of Human Chain and unusually I had space on my card, so I grabbed a copy.

This the first of his collections that I have read and from what I can gather is the last collection that he was well enough to have full editorial control over. Just the title is quite chilling, as it made me think of the oppressed, but the context here is the people that helped carry him to get medical care after he had had a stroke. Heaney also concerns himself with the loss of friends and family as time grinds on. The prose is warm and nostalgic at times and then can feel disjointed and unsettling at other moments.

Everywhere plants

Flourish among the graves,

Sinking in their roots

In all the dynasties

Of the dead

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect with this collection and it was not the easiest read to be honest given that it is about those that are in the autumn of their lives. It is pretty melancholic reading, but there were the odd glittering lines in amongst the poems. I have also got a couple of his other collections to read, including Opened Ground.

 

Three Favourite Poems

Album

The Wool Road

Slack

Limits of the Known by David Roberts

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

There are people around that revel in climbing the tallest mountains, seeking out the wildest places and pushing their bodies to extremes. David Roberts was one of those people who was always seeking the next place, another mountain all because he could. He never considered himself a risk-taker though, more of a risk manager, as he knew the absolute limit of what he could achieve and never pushed himself over that line. His outlook on life all changed though with his diagnosis of throat cancer. Gone were the days of scaling the peaks and he had to take time out to be treated and to rest and recuperate.

The sudden expanse of spare time that he had meant that he could consider whys and wherefores as to why he undertook adventures and also made him think about other people who have sought the perils of extreme travels. These days we are not cut off from civilisation, our technology can pinpoint our exact spot in the globe and we are only a phone call away from help should things become sticky. That said becoming too dependent on it can be lethal. It feels that there are no more blank spaces on the maps anymore; even 100 years ago there were parts of the North American continent that had never had humans walk or climb over them.

Restricted because of his health, the journeys in this book are literal and historical. Not only does he reminisce on the highlights and the close calls that he had in his own adventures all of the globe, but he writes about adventures that he admires, such as Henry Worsley’s epic walk across Antarctica, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen who managed to get closer to the North Pole than anyone else before him and British explorer Eric Shipton who was the first to see some of Alaska before it appeared on a map. There are modern adventures in here too, people who have turned away from the much-photographed and mapped surface and headed underground, deep deep underground to discover about those who push their limits right to the limit when cave diving.

Roberts asks some interesting questions, about the need for humanity to seek the places that have never glimpsed directly by our eyes and what drives these people to do these things. He goes some way to answer them too, by considering his take on adventures and his attitude to risk even after losing climbing partners to falls. This is the first of his books that I have read. I really liked his writing style, detailed and yet concise and will definitely be reading some more of his books.

For Love & Money by Jonathan Raban

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Lots of people dream of making a living from writing. Sadly in the modern world, it is only the authors that sell millions of copies that are able to do this, or who have been fortunate enough to land significant advances. Raban started off as a lecturer at The University College of Wales before heading to the University of East Anglia. It was there that he was given the chance to write book reviews. He resigned the steady job and took the opportunity and waded into the London literary scene.

In those days you could earn a reasonable living from being a literary reviewer,  those the days that they paid for people to write reviews and there were a lot more column inches to fill too. He was sent piles of books to read, and it could be quite lucrative too as he could sell them on afterwards. He had a particular way of doing things, which suited some editors, but I am sure that he loved the accolade of a ‘troublesome reviewer’ from one of his editors. Book reviews then were much more expansive then, often considering the author’s wider works and all sorts of other things that took their interest. He includes some of his best reviews in this part.

Raban then tried to get into writing plays, partly as it was work that was much less solitary than sitting alone in a flat in London and the money could be really good. He soon found out that it was a very different discipline than writing a book review and to be perfectly frank, it wasn’t very successful…

Then we are onto the part where he writes about writing for magazines like the New Review, where editorial demands are both high and relaxed, being mostly dedicated to good writing without having a set agenda or a particular axe to grind. There look for pieces from contributors that could be taken from any subject that they wanted to write about. Raban provides some examples of work that he had published. Next is my favourite part of the book, the section on travel writing.

He has discovered that the best way to travel is to cast himself adrift in the world and ensure that he has no appointments to make and how a letter of introduction can take you places that you’d rather not go. The same working conditions for a writer that drives him to drink can also drive him to travel as they would do anything to get away from the typewriter. The procrastination with make you think of sunnier climes and of those whose footsteps you wish to follow. He revels in the chaos of travel and has a thing for seeing different places from boats. He then goes onto review some of his fellow travel writers books and journeys, some of which I have read and some of which I haven’t.

This was another enjoyable book by Raban. His writing style is more crisp and efficient when compared to his books as these were pieces for periodicals and not originally intended for a book. In this, his infectious enthusiasm for the written word is evident and not just the words he has wrestled onto the page, but the admiration for authors who have done the same.

 

Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy

5 out of 5 stars

The first place that I lived in Guildford was called Sheepfold Road. Never thought much of it until I opened up the most recent of Andy Goldsworthy’s book that I got from the library and realised that this collection of art was based around sheepfolds. These simple structures were used for corralling, washing and sheltering sheep from the harshest things that the Cumbrian weather can throw at them.

Goldsworthy approached Cumbria County Council with the idea of renovating them to enclose some of his artworks or to actually be the artwork in some cases. To complete this task would require more than one man and he set about it with a team of stonewallers and big machines. By the time he had gone to 2006 a total of 35 folds had been created and it is those that are documented and photographed in this book.

And as with all of his other books that I have read, it is just beautiful. Not only does he take a pretty good photo of his creations, but it is those creations that make this book so special. A lot of his art is normally more transitory, made from leaves, ice and sticks, but these are very much more permanent installations. There are sheepfolds with huge boulders in, some with cairns and others with substantial parts of a tree built in. Some of the folds are lovingly restored and others he has pushed what he can do with the structures incorporating elements in the walls that surprise and delight. If you have ever come across his work before this is another book that you should read.

 

Just Another Mountain by Sarah Jane Douglas

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

In the late 1990s, Sarah Jane Douglas lost her mother to the horrid disease that is breast cancer. Sarah was only 24 at the time and she felt very alone in the world. Even though she felt live giving up, she had promised her mother that she wouldn’t give up and would keep going. The shock of having to deal with the grief pushed her towards drink and drugs, but thankfully it didn’t consume her.

Her mother had been a single parent, the man she was going to marry, Gerry had died when on an expedition in the Himalayas shortly before they were supposed to be married. Sarah became a single parent too, having a son to one guy and then a second son to another partner, but neither relationship worked out and she relied on the support of her grandparents to fill in the gaps in her family life.

What carried her the most though was the love for the hills and mountains of her native Scotland. She sought solace in these hills, and they repaid her many times over. With various friends and family members, she conquered Monroe’s, headed to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro and embarked on a trip to Nepal with her new partner to take some of her mothers ashes to be with the man that she never married. Each of these small and large challenges gave her the strength to face her own diagnosis two decades later.

Douglas is not the most lyrical of writers, she writes in a matter of fact way with an honesty about the trials and tribulations that she has overcome by herself and with the support of family and partners. She takes inspiration from being outside and this has helped her cope with her tough and sometimes painful life because of decisions that she has made and things that have happened to her, this still manages to be an uplifting book.

Everest England by Peter Owen Jones

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Since 1953 when the tallest mountain was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay the number of people reaching the summit has grown exponentially year on year, with well over 5000 people having made the ascent. Climbing to that height is not without risk, and with those numbers of people climbing there have of course been fatalities for a whole series of reasons, as well as the amount of junk left on the mountain has also grown too. Plus there is the cost of doing it, from somewhere you with have to find around £25k; most people will not ever reach this roof of our planet.

Conquering is a dreadful business, a blighted gene. I want nothing to do with it

Peter Owen Jones had another idea though, why not ascend the same vertical distance of 29,016 feet over a similar period of time that an ascent of Everest would take, but do it on some of the most beautiful hills that the UK has to offer. This has several advantages, you can get there quite quickly, you do not need to find large sums of money to do the challenge, you do not need oxygen and it you are still within reach of pubs and tea rooms for the required refreshment and recuperation.

Climbing up, walking to the summit, is a calling a summoning, for what can only be known, seen and heard on the edge of the land and the sky in the space between them.

In this book, Jones has collected together eighteen routes and climbs to achieve the total height that he wanted. These climbs begin in Cornwall and he heads up the west side of the country before reaching the summit on Scafell Pike in Cumbria. But there is much more to this book than just a series of walks. Jones is completing this partly as a personal pilgrimage but also as a way of taking a step away from the relentless stream of information from the internet, becoming an observer of people and things around his and taking time to reconnect with the natural world.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

5 out of 5 stars

Every town on Discworld has a story about rat infestation and a piper who can blow a magical tune to lead the rats away. Maurice, a streetwise tomcat saw this as a business opportunity and had cobbled together a bunch of rats who had been affected by the same magic as him. They had persuaded a young lad called Keith to be the piper and ‘lead’ the rats away.

The group are on their way to a small town called Bad Blintz and the rats persuade Maurice that this should be the last town that they pull this stunt on. But on arrival, they realise that there is something strange about the town, there are no other rats around. The residents of the town think they already have an infestation and have been paying two rat catchers to clear them. Their food still keeps disappearing and yet the rat-catchers hang up large numbers of tails from rats they have caught. Except these tails look suspiciously like shoelaces.

Malicia, the mayor’s daughter has concluded that the rat-catchers are up to something, but quite what she has no idea. As they investigate more, they realise that the rat-catchers have created a King Rat called Spider. This entity is pure evil and its presence is starting to affect the rats and Maurice realises that he knows what he has to do.

I thought that this was a really enjoyable book and the first set on the Discworld that is specifically aimed at a younger audience with simpler plot lines. However, it is still suitable for those of an older generation though (i.e. me), as the later part of the book really is quite dark. If there was one tiny flaw, things work out too well at the end for my liking. Great stuff and can highly recommend.

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