Books · Reading Challenge

Read the Year: May

“Closer to Nature”

In May I read Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. I greatly enjoyed his Landmarks (a wonderful marriage of words and nature) last year, and the Tiny Tyrant and I love to read The Lost Words, so he seemed like the obvious author to turn to for this prompt. Plus I already had a copy of The Old Ways on the TBR shelf.

I found this book harder to get stuck into, and my attention and interest wasn’t consistent. While I’ve lived near water for most of my life, I’m not a fan of boats (I can barely keep my balance on dry land), so the various ‘sea paths’ held little appeal. On the other hand, the chapter on walking in Palestine, and then the stretch of the Camino de Santiago (a walk that’s been a lifelong ambition of mine), were gripping. Which does suggest that this book probably holds a chapter for everyone. What I did notice about reading it, was that The Old Ways made me more aware of my surroundings on the ‘everyday’ commutes of my neighbourhood; especially those in-between spaces that have been colonised by wildflowers/weeds and wildlife.

Related Reading

A quick glance at Goodreads reveals that none of my other reads in May were related to nature, which is a shame as I’d planned to finally read Nan Shepard’s The Living Mountain. What is interesting, given how The Old Ways highlights the eerieness inherent in walking paths which have been marked for centuries, is that I read a number of Shirley Jackson’s short stories alongside this book. I’m saving one or more of her novels for October’s prompt, but, despite her reputation among horror authors of note, I found the short stories to be more eerie and uncanny than anything else.

Other Reading

Fiction

I did read some fiction, beyond short stories, in May, as a wave of nostalgia sent me back to David Edding’s wonderful Elenium series. Eddings’ fantasy always seems, to me, rather formulaic in the ‘band of heroes goes to fetch macguffin and save world’ plot that he managed to repeat over 4 different series, but he writes memorable characters, and there’s a rich vein of humour to his writing, that makes these novels so readable. It felt like catching up with old friends, and I’m slowly working my way through the Tamuli as well at those times when I need an easy read. Off the back of the Netflix series (which I never actually finished watching), I also read The Alienist and it’s sequel. Crime isn’t usually my genre, but the detailed historical setting and wonderful fin-de-siècle feminist Miss Sara Howard made this a compelling read.

Non-fiction

My history obssession continued both in written and audible form. Stand-outs were Sarah Gristwood’s Game of Queens, which I’ve been meaning to read since Alison Weir name-checked it at her Edinburgh Book Festival talk last year, and the audio version of John Julius Norwich’s history of the papacy (I was so sorry to hear that he passed away last week; I greatly admired the scope of his interests). The former introduced me to a few 16th C women who had hitherto only been names to me, and I look forward to getting to know them a little better. The latter was a whistlestop tour, which has given me some context for how the papacy made it to its current state. It’s only a shame that it stopped at Benedict XVI, having been written before his abdication.

Running Total

Books Read: 50

Currently Reading: 4

Next Month

June’s theme is the experience of fatherhood, which I’m using as an excuse to read Silas Marner. I expect that other anticipated reads, Alison Weir’s Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, and The Secret Garden, will throw up other perspectives on fatherhood.

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