Monthly Muse – January 2018

I am doing my Muse a little bit differently this month, just to see if it works. I managed to read 16 books in total in January, as ever, not as many as I had hoped to or needed to. The Shortlists for the Stanford Dolman Travel writing awards were announced on the 10th. January. This along with the Wainwright prize are my favourite book prizes. They have six separate shortlists and I try to read the Stanford Dolman and the Adventure travel shortlists for Nudge. There were 13 books on both shortlists and thankfully I had read five of them. Still left seven though! I had two more to read to complete a challenge in a Book Group that I run on Good Reads, and I am still working my way through my 2017 review copies…

So onto the books that I read:

This was a children book that I picked up because it was linked to the midwinter festival and was part of a Twitter read along #TheDarkisReading. It is about a boy, Will, who is actually one of the Old Ones. The tale tells of his adventures as darkness stalks the land once again. Liked lots of it, but thought the ending was a little weak. 

I am a big fan of bookshops and was really pleased when I this turned up on the library reservations. (Use them or lose them!!) It is written by Shaun Bythell and is his account of life in a secondhand bookshop in Wigtown over the course of a year. Amusing and full of his acerbic wit.

I really liked the Secret Life of Trees when I read it last year, so was looking forward to Peter Wohlleben’s thoughts on animals. In this, he looks at the anecdotal and scientific evidence for the traits behind their behaviour. It is an enjoyable read, but not quite as good as his first. 
Calcutta is a swirling mass of humanity, and it is the home city to Kushanava Choudhuri. He has lived in America, gain degrees are prestigious universities, but the draw of this place was too much. This is the story of his life there after he returned.
Believe it or not, there are over 6000 islands around the UK. Not all are inhabited, but Patrick Barkham has chosen 11 of them to visit and spend some time on them to understand what they do to our national psyche. makes for fascinating reading.

Having had a troubled upbringing, but the time he moved to New York Malcomx X was going to end up as a small-time hoodlum. He did, got caught and ended up in jail, and it was there that he ended up discovering Islam and converting. To say that this changed his life would be an understatement, as he went on to be an outspoken advocate for black rights in America. It was to cost him his life though.

This was one from the adventure travel shortlist. I had read Leon’s first book as he pedalled his way across America, so was really looking forward to this as he walked from Israel through Jordan to Mount Sinai. Really good and just what a travel book should be.

The lovely Natalie at Granta sent me a copy of this re-release. Seabrook looks at the towns of the North Kent coast through the prism of the murderers, fascists and artists that once lived there. It is one of the strangest books that I have read in quite a while. 

This is Philip Hoare’s third book of musings on all things oceanic. The mix of subjects and genres with black and white photos make this a striking book. There is a lot to like in here too with some truly dazzling prose, but I thought it didn’t quite have the focus of his other books and felt like it drifted a little too far from the shore. Still worth reading though. 

The Living Mountain was a book that almost never happened. Nan Shepherd wrote it in the 1940’s and had no luck finding a publisher. Placing it in a drawer, it wasn’t until 1977 that it finally saw the light of day and was published. It has since been acclaimed a classic and has found a new audience. This is the first book about the very private author.
The Greenland shark is rarely seen as it inhabits the deep ocean near the Arctic. It has luminous eyes and its flesh is full of chemicals that have a hallucinogenic effect if you eat it. They are about 20 feet long and weigh about a tonne. Why you’d want to catch one especially from a small rib is anyone’s idea, but that is what Morten Stroksnes and his friend set about doing in this book. Great fun and a little bit mad.
An opportunity to have a gap year presents Leif Bersweden with the ideal opportunity to travel the UK searching for his favourite plant, the orchid. This is his story of trying to track all 52 speciaes down and photograph them.

Northwest of Bangladesh is part of India that reaches up into the Himalayas and borders China. It is not on the tourist trail so most there have not seen a Westerner, let alone a woman on a motorbike. Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent is that woman discovering the people and the landscapes of the remote and beautiful part of the world. Another really good travel book that was a delight to read.

At this time there were a couple of books including Thomas Bewick’s ‘History of British Birds’ that caused the British public to fall in love with nature. This book by Jenny Uglow tells the story of his life and it is richly filled with the wonderful woodcuts that he produced. 

Levison Wood has become famous for his walks along the Nile, through the thickest jungles of South America and across the rooftop of the world in the Himalayas. At the age of 22, he set off with a friend to hitchhike across Russia and then to join the path of the Silk Road from Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and into India. Written from his notes this is one of his best books yet. 
The last book that I read in January was  Neil Ansell’s second book, Deer Island. In this, he tells us of his time spent with the homeless of London and the time spent on the beautiful island of Jura where he used the time of isolation to reset his mind. He is an excellent writer indeed, and I have just started his new book that will be out on the 8th February.

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  1. Unknown

    I'll have you know that this post is responsible for growing my already-teetering TBR pile. 😛

  2. Paul Cheney

    Oops! Sorry

  3. Nancy Burns

    So many good books….it is hard to choose.
    Promsed to start Border today…and I really enjoyed shortlised "Towards Mellbreak' (M.E. Bragg) I do have read the Edward Stanford winners and nominees. First impression: I'd try the books by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, L. Mccarron, P. Barkham and Shaun Bythell.

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