2018 has been quite a year for reading really. I went to two literary prize events, the Wellcome Prize and the Wainwright Prize, was a member of the official panel for the Young Writer of the Year Award and got the briefest of mentions in the Sunday Times.
I reached the grand total of 200 books for the first time ever, and from those 200 I had twenty-one five star reads. I have featured eleven independent publishers on my blog too, each post describing the unique way that they approach publishing books and finding authors who need to have a voice in this modern, multicultural country of ours. On to the books then:
First up are my fiction books. The Gallows Pole and Beastings. They are both by Benjamin Myers and if you haven’t read them, then you need to read them as soon as possible.
I am an engineer in real life, and Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester is a considered look at how almost everything that you touch or use has been created by engineers.
With The End In Mind by Kathryn Mannix is a book about a morbid and, in modern society, an almost taboo subject. This book needs to be read by many more people as Mannix shows that our last days on this planet need not be traumatic nor painful for the people that we are leaving behind.
I have never read Ring of Bright Water (have now got a copy, so it will be read at some point next year). Douglas Botting’s biography of Gavin Maxwell tells the story of this man and pulls no punches with regards to his attitude, flaws and brilliance.
I discovered Patrick Leigh Fermor a few years ago by accident after reading his biography by Artemis Cooper. I have since acquired most of his books and read a fair number of them. The biography of his wife is worth reading too, but I was delighted to receive a copy of The Photographs of Joan Leigh Fermor which is a celebration of her talents as a photographer. Edited and curated by Olivia Stewart and Ian Collins, it should be an essential part of any Leigh Fermor fan’s library.
I read a lot of travel books and one essential place for the lover of travel writing to start is Eland. I have read several of their books this year (and have a big pile still to read!!), but two that were outstanding were Forgotten Kingdom: Nine Years in Yunnan by Peter Goullart and Old Glory by Jonathan Raban. Both are brilliant books by two outstanding authors about two very different places.
Stanza Stones by Simon Armitage is a book about where poetry meets art and landscape. Just a thing of wonder.
I read a lot of natural history books as this is a subject that interests me. The natural world is a place of refuge for a lot of people nowadays and we all need to take time to get outdoors and walk through woodlands and sit by a river watching the water flow by. The Nature Fix by Florence Williams is a very well-written book with lots of examples of how the natural world can help people with mental health issues.
Two essential reads this year about the state of our natural world are Our Place by Mark Cocker and Wilding by Isabella Tree. The first concerns the perilous state that our wildlife is in at the moment and even though it is a polemic it should be compulsory reading by anyone with an interest in politics. Wilding is a different spin on the same crisis, in which Isabella tells the story of the decision to stop farming their land intensively and let their land revert to nature once again. They chose low impact animals and let them roam and watched in amazement as species they had never seen there appeared. The changes over a decade are quite staggering.
The next two that I really enjoyed reading were collections of writings from a wide range of authors. Both Ground Work and Cornerstones offer a range of subjects and perspectives from a complete range of authors. Both are good to dip into.
Of all the books that I read over the past twelve months, three soared above the others. Two are from Little Toller, specifically from their Monograph series. I have been fortunate enough to be sent some of these, but have now acquired the remainder in hardback to complete the collection.
This series is full of contemporary authors and their passions. Eagle Country by Seán Lysaght and Landfill by Tim Dee are fine additions to this and both are brilliant books about very different birds. Seán’s lyrical book is his story of looking for the places that the Golden and Sea Eagles used to live before they were eradicated from the West Coast of Ireland as well as the tentative steps that have been taken to re-introduce them. Landfill is about those chip-stealing feathered hooligans that most people call seagulls. It seems to involve Tim spending a disproportionate amount of time at landfill sites spotting the rarities that appear with the more common gulls as well as discovering why gulls have gone from being a coastal bird to an urban bird. Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? by Lev Parikian is his story of taking up the hobby of birdwatching again and setting himself the challenge of spotting 200 different species of birds over 12 months. It is a charming and very funny book.
The blurring of landscape, natural history and memoir writing is very common nowadays and there have been lots published this year. Three that are outstanding are Under The Rock by Benjamin Myers, 21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox and The Light In The Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare. Myers’ writing is quite something and his descriptions of Scout Rock in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, around where he lives is something else. Tom Cox does unconventional in a very unconventional way and this is his book about all manner of subjects, so if you want to read about cats, scarecrows and hear about his VERY LOUD DAD, this is a good place to begin. Lots of people find the darker nights of autumn and winter very hard to cope with; Horatio Clare is one of those. The Light In The Dark is a diary of how the long nights one winter almost consumed him and how with love from family and friends and the appropriate medical care got him out the other side.
So far I have only mentioned 20 books, which leaves one more that is my Book of 2018.
The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence by Neil Ansell is about him returning to the same part of Scotland. Each visit is in a different season and you feel the changes that have happened since he was last there. It feels like a spiritual journey too, as he connects deeply to the landscape each time he visits, but it is tinged with the remorse that he has of no longer being able to hear the birdsong. It is a beautiful book to read, he has a knack of teasing out all that he sees around him into the most exquisite prose.
Paul Cheney
January 2018