Books and the Net

Not a short story By Edgar Alan Poe, but some thoughts about some books I have read recently, or am currently reading, and how I acquired them.

…at a time when so many of us are concerned about our carbon footprint, they have no need to travel to the other side of the world to understand more about themselves and their relation to the world they inhabit. In this sense, many of the stories in this issue are studies in the local or the parochial: they are about the discovery of exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Jason Cowley in the Editor’s Letter from Granta 102 ‘The New Nature Writing’


Every so often I stumble across something which resonates, feeling like a call to arms or a manifesto for my blogging. Clearly, I wouldn’t make any grand claims to be a ‘new nature writer’, but: ‘exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary’ – whether I succeed or not, that’s what I’m after.

I don’t ordinarily read Granta, but at the moment I have two issues by my bedside. The other is 90 : ‘Country life: dispatches from what’s left of it’.

I decided that I needed to lay hands on a copy of 102, after reading about it over at Walking and Writing and then watching an interview with Robert Macfarlane on the Granta website. I then managed to swap ‘The Book of Evidence’ by John Banville for it, through Readitswapit. I only recently discovered this site and have subsequently swapped about a dozen books, including the other issue of Granta. If, like I did, you grew up watching Saturday Morning Swap Shop then you will immediately appreciate the concept. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been able to get hold of recent novels by writers that I like – ‘Beyond Black’ by Hilary Mantel for instance. But better yet, it can be a little like browsing in a second hand book shop and discovering a real gem that you have never previously encountered: I swapped have just finished reading  ‘Corduroy’ by Adrian Bell, an account of farming in Suffolk between the wars which is by turns interesting, comic and lyrical.

Before that I read ‘I Bought A Mountain’ by Thomas Firbank another account of farming, this time from just prior to WWII. It is very different from Corduroy, but equally enchanting. And for mountain lovers, it includes an account of a record breaking traverse of the Welsh Threes. I had heard of this book many years ago, but had forgotten, when I read about it at Walkabout in the UK (where there is an excellent article about Firbank’s life and other books – I shall have to look out for those). Shortly afterwards I found ‘I Bought A Mountain’ whilst browsing in a charity bookshop – as John says: ‘All very karmic’.

Then there are recommendations on Amazon. Whilst looking at recent paperbacks that I covet (Beechcombings by Richard Mabey, Wildwood by Roger Deakin and Great British Journeys by Nicholas Crane) I checked out one of the ‘customers who bought this book also bought’ links and have now added ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie to my wishlist. I’m hoping that Readitswapit will provide all four eventually.

I suppose the point is that my blog reading and surfing compliments and prompts my more traditional reading.

Finally a short quote from another Readitswapit acquisition, ‘The Book of Dave’ by Will Self:

The warm air was fruitylicious and butterfly rustled.

Wonderfully evocative. I’ve only read the opening chapter, but it’s so reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’ that I can only imagine that the very clever Mr Self is deliberately making an homage.

Books and the Net

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