The Art of Walking with Henry David Thoreau

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow and in the night in which the corn grows.

There have been many times I’ve stood before the vastness of nature – taking in the valley views from a mountain top, watching the ocean throw its waves against the shore – and felt myself small, even insignificant. It’s a feeling I cherish, knowing that, in the grand scheme of things, my worries and quotidian affairs are unimportant.

It is the perspective that I seek when I go walking and one that Henry David Thoreau captures so eloquently in his essay Walking (free e-book | public library). It is the essay that contains one of my favourite quotes:

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk, I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is – I am out of my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?

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Book Review: The Horseman by Tim Pears

On the Devon-Somerset border in 1911, twelve-year-old Leo Sercombe watches the world with dark eyes, a silent tongue and the desire to see and understand things for himself. As the year unfolds, keeping only to the timetable set by the seasons and the requirements of the land, Leo follows in the footsteps of his father, a carter on Manor Farm, one of the farms belonging to the estate of Lord Prideaux.

There were six farms on the estate. No two fields among them were of like size or configuration. No tracks ran straight but dipped and wove around the tumps and hummocks of land. Some hedges were laid, others left tall and wild. Conifers grew in neat yet oddly shaped plantations. Oak and ash and beech trees seeded themselves in hidden combes. Streams meandered in no discernible direction, cutting deep narrow gullies here, trickling over gravel beds there. Erratic walkways criss-crossed the estate. The boy’s father Albert told him that when God created this corner of the world He’d just helped himself to a well-earned tipple. His mother Ruth derided that blasphemy and said that much of their peninsula was so contoured, her husband had seen little of it.

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Book Review: The Boston Girl

‘Ava, sweetheart, if you ask me to talk about how I got to be the woman I am today, what do you think I’m going to say? I’m flattered you want to interview me. And when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild?’

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (Simon and Schuster, 2014) is the life story of Addie Baum, as recounted by the 85-year-old woman to her youngest granddaughter. A descendent of Russian Jews who immigrated to America before the turn of the century, Addie was born in Boston in 1900 and her story touches some of the major events of the 20th century – World War I, the flu epidemic, Prohibition and the Great Depression – as well as the more quotidian experiences of women at that time. Told in first person narration, Addie tells Ava about her early struggles as a girl growing up in a Boston tenement, her introduction to love, her pursuit of meaningful work and self-sufficiency and the relationships that defined her. Continue reading

Book Review: Streets of Darkness by A.A. Dhand

In an episode of the BBC Books and Author’s podcast that aired in July 2017, Abir Mukherjee sent in a report from the Bradford Literature Festival. In one segment, he interviewed A.A. Dhand about his crime series starring Harry Virdee, a Detective Inspector working the streets of Bradford while trying to keep the dark secrets of his past and his family from encroaching on his day job.

As a son of Bradford, Dhand spoke about how the city is always evolving, comprised of many facets: monoculture meets multi-culture, East meets West; there is beauty as well as darkness. For Dhand, it’s the perfect setting for a crime series. I was intrigued, and with our move to West Yorkshire imminent, I wanted to dive into the modern literature of the north. Continue reading

Book Review: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

“In the Whitshank family, two stories had travelled down through the generations. These stories were viewed as quintessential – as defining, in some way – and every family member, including Stem’s three-year-old, had heard them told and retold and embroidered and conjectured upon any number of times.”

It is, in a way, this mythmaking that all of us take part in that A Spool of Blue Thread is all about. Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel is also – simply – about family. But that is a subject at once so ordinary in its familiarity and at the same time extraordinary in its unique complications and dramas, that it takes the deft hands of an author like Tyler to raise it above the commonplace or maudlin. Continue reading

Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

When cold weather draws in and the lights are extinguished from mid-afternoon on, I long to hibernate. To be warm and cosy at home, baking or reading or catching up on recorded episodes of Strictly. But there are times I can be coaxed into a detour on my way out of the office, and the chance to discuss Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress (Bloomsbury) with the lovely crew over at the Society of Young Publishers was one such recent occasion.

The opening line

‘The freezing rain sifts down, handfuls of shining rice thrown by some unseen celebrant.’ Continue reading