I was raised to be a nature lover. I grew up in the rural state of Maine in a house next to a horse pasture and my father’s extensive garden. Years before I read about Thoreau’s time on Mount Katahdin, I hiked to the top of it during a thunderstorm. I spent many weekends in my youth camping and canoeing on lakes. I may not have always enjoyed the mosquitoes, bitter cold of a Klondike derby or back-aching hours spent weeding the garden or chopping wood. But now that I live in a city every now and then I get a romantic feeling for staying in a cabin in the woods or at least spending an afternoon walking in a park. For some reason this year I’ve felt a particular yearning to read about the natural world and environment.
So it seems fortuitous that I happened upon The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize for Nature Writing whose shortlist was announced at the beginning of this month. It includes seven books on a range of subjects including personal journeys and politically-charged messages about climate change. The prize believes that the stories in these books are so important and urgent that they’ve sent a full set of the shortlist to the UK’s Environmental Secretary, Michael Gove, hoping that it will inform and inspire the government to take more deliberate steps towards taking climate action. Many people find it difficult to take action to improve and safeguard the environment until it becomes personal so I’m looking forward to exploring how these authors were inspired to interact with and learn from the natural world.
Looking through the books, the ones I’m most drawn to reading first are “Underland” by Robert Macfarlane and “Thinking On My Feet” by Kate Humble. I saw popular author Macfarlane in discussion about his new book a few months ago at the Southbank Centre where he described his impressive journeys to some deep places in the earth to experience layers of time and connect to literature about journeys into the Underworld. In recent years, I’ve developed a desire to go on walks much more so I’m intrigued to read about Humble’s account of her walking year. She explores the manifold physical and psychological benefits of going on long walks through nature as well as describing people she encounters who have found different sorts of inspiration or solace from in their rambling.
I’m also quite keen to try reading “The Easternmost House” by Juliet Blaxland who spent a year living in a house on the Suffolk coast, an area that’s experiencing rapid erosion. She witnessed first-hand the cliffside coming closer and closer to the house in a relatively short span of time. I’m also intrigued to read “Wilding” by Isabella Tree as I remember seeing her being interviewed on a news show about how she and her husband allowed their intensely farmed land to go wild and the surprisingly quick renewal of the ecosystem. If I get time I’ll also try to read Julia Blackburn’s “Time Song” about her search for truths about sunken land that once connected Britain to the European mainland and Mark Cocker’s “Our Place” which exposes the devastating affects we have had on the wild world. I began reading Luke Turner’s memoir “Out of the Woods” earlier this year, but there was something about his style of writing I didn’t get on with so I put it aside – despite its exceedingly beautiful cover.
Most of the book prizes I follow are focused on fiction so I’m glad this prize has given me a springboard to discover and read a variety of non-fiction books about the natural world. It’ll be interesting to see which book is declared the winner on the 15th of August. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and your thoughts about them. Or let me know if you have any favourite nature writers!