Little snatches26th February 2013
While I must admit a certain partiality to books of the dead tree variety and it’s the presentation that often makes them an alluring acquisition. Of course, that’s why they are made that way in the first place: books of pleasant appearance get taken into a customer’s hands in a bookshop, become read a little and leave with their new custodian following payment. If lapses into temptation happen faster than your rate of reading, then a collection of unread volumes may build. Not being a book antiquarian, I tend to think this not a good use of money even if the outcome befalls me from time to time. Taking my time over reading means that I never got along with two week loan periods from libraries because I always seemed to find other distractions for one reason or another.
The trick naturally is to make some time for reading. Doing it before settling down for the night is what many do and it ends up in so many television and movie dramas too. There was a time when I did that but it has been a habit that I lost. Now, I am more likely to use a book to shorten a long journey but that means bringing one with me in the first place and that has been a weakness in the past.
Computer technology has been the cause of elbowing its way into time that I may have had for watching television or reading books and magazines. Ironically, it also has solved the problem of not having a book with me when I fancied a spot of reading. The rise of tablet computers was something that I resisted until last summer saw me acquire a Nexus 7 from Google. Within the last few months, I have gotten to adding books to it from the Google Play and Amazon Kindle stores.
This started with Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma, perhaps a more serious polemical tome, and then moved to something more in keeping with the subject of this place. It was Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. This isn’t the first of this author’s books that has come in my possession since I also have a paperback edition of Mountains of the Mind on a shelf that got plucked from its roost to sit on the desk in front of me as I set to writing these words. While getting around to reading books the first time around has been an issue for me, it now feels as if I should re-read this one to see how it compares with what followed it. Currently, I am in the middle of the second member of the loose trilogy, The Wild Places and I first read through Macfarlane’s first book over a Christmas and New Year stretch in Ireland the most of a decade ago now. The passage of time shows up the power of a memory so it’d be good to see what it says again.
In essence, The Old Ways is a series of essays with the ghosts of Edward Thomas and Nan Shepherd featuring in an attempt to thread them together. The resultant sense of connection is not so strong and some have wondered at whether it was a necessary thing to try. The immersive tales of personal journeys draw you along though and make you feel that Macfarlane is good company for a long journey; you can escape your immediate surroundings and virtually join him on his various journeys over land, by sea and over sea. If he is trying to attach a sense of history to the various trails that he has followed, then he has succeeded. However, I am unconvinced as to whether it does so as an attempt to understand the mindset of Edward Thomas before penning a brief biography of the doomed poet. Maybe it’s best to have the sense that paths go in all sorts of directions and that it is difficult to reconciled them into a meaningful whole. That could be another lesson.
Not having read The Wild Places before The Old Ways might have produced the sense of approaching the former from an unintentional angle. The latter’s series of stories is borrowed by its successor and maybe more successfully too. Going through a series of landscapes like moor, forest and river valley creates a sequences that allows even disparate tales and experiences to sit together far better than it might suggest. The sense of history turns up too as do those who have in past times written of those places less influenced by human activity. Still, apparent wildness can result from inhumanity and the Scottish Clearances have become a byword for that (the Irish farming folk of the nineteenth made sure that the same fate wasn’t as easy to meet out to them, so much so that the British parliament acting to finance their buying of land and thus ensuring a more peopled countryside in much of the island). Plenty of immersive experiences draw me along and they work better in short sessions too, an attribute that works well for The Old Ways too. Maybe it might be good for ensuring a re-reading of Mountains of the Mind to replenish the memories of reading that the first time around.
After those, there’s Simon Armitage’s Walking Home too. This follows the Pennine Way and a suitably evocative passage recalling waking up in a YHA hostel got that onto my list too. Covers may begin the selling process of a book but it’s the writing that matters. With the advance of eBooks, it’s the presentation of paper books that is going to matter if we are to continue to have them; you almost are going to have be convinced of the need for a long term sale in some way. The electronic ones are great for portability but they are no so good for holding the hand and dipping in and out of random pages or of seeing how long chapters are, a sort of sneaky peek at your progress. Still, they’re getting me not to forget some reading so long as I manage to organise a WiFi connection for the gadget. A spot of curiosity has seen me locate Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain so who knows what could accompany me next? It would be even better if they came on a journey into hill country as well.
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