Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Richer Reading

This little item is one of the books I bought in Boston (at Commonwealth Books, $8, nice dust jacket), The Nature Writers: A Guide to Richer Reading by Herbert Faulkner West (Stephen Daye Press 1939), who we already know from his wonderful Modern Book Collecting for the Impecunious Amateur. Well, I'd never seen The Nature Writers before, and this copy has interesting pencil notes and check marks throughout its text - someone obviously took it seriously a few decades ago - so it came home with me. I just got around to looking at it yesterday, and I'm pleased to discover that what he thinks of as nature writing cuts a fairly broad swath through the genres of travel, adventure, history, and whatever else can qualify as furthering an awareness of the natural world and its workings. The book really is no more than a well-annotated reading list, but the short foreword by Henry Beston, whose The Outermost House appears on the list, and West's own introduction put some meat on its bones. The introduction mentions that West based this book on a literature class he taught at Dartmouth. The purpose of this class was "to bring before as many students as possible great books on the out-of-doors, which they may read and collect not only through their four years of college, but as long as they live.... Most of us cannot, in the nature of things, be great travellers and explorers, but with the use of our imagination, and with these books as a guide we can travel to all corners of the earth; we can learn, even though in a desultory fashion, some of the mysteries and marvels of nature." (pp.28-29) I wish I'd been able to sit in on his class! Come to think of it, though, I can - sort of - because of his book.

The book list ranges around through the best of John James Audubon, John Burroughs, Charles Darwin, W.H. Hudson, John Muir, Thoreau, and Gilbert White, but also includes more unusual suspects such as Gertrude Bell, Richard Burton, T.E. Lawrence (West includes his Seven Pillars of Wisdom "for its amazing and penetrating revelation of an amazing people and country.... Surely one of the greatest books of the twentieth century." p.93 - I completely agree, one of my favorite books, simply incredible, a classic, it's in my top 20 of all time!), Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and Freya Stark. I particularly like the previous owner's check marks all through the book, next to titles read. They cover nearly half the book - not bad for a lifetime's worth of reading suggestions. West lists around 250 titles. Though I'd heard of many of them, I came across only a handful I'd actually read. Well, 10 down, only 240 left to go!

It sounds like you're back in the land of the healthy.

By coincidence, I am reading some essays of John Burroughs. I'd never heard of him, but stumbled across a slim volume a couple days ago; I just finished his essay "The Exhilarations of the Road"- his song of the joys of walking. This will have to be put next to Hudson's Afoot In England.

I've been slowly working my way through Cherry-Garrard and will get to Seven Pillars god knows when.

On a closer-to-home note, I'm reading an essay a day by Robert Coffin, from his Yankee Coast. A little south of you in Maine, but not by much. Wonderful pieces.

Another winner from HFW!

Finally, I recently finished C.E. Montague's The Right Place, and can't recommend that highly enough. A lovely and joyful book.

Hey Dan - I have a very nice Burroughs set in the shop right now, the Riverside edition, 1913. Fifteen volumes. It almost came home with me, but really, I have no shelf space for single books, not to mention another set. The only large sets I've indulged in are Scribner's Robert Louis Stevenson and a minor edition of Horace Walpole's collected letters. Burroughs is good, though - Thoreauvian for sure.

I really love Coffin - his book "Mainstays of Maine" (reprinted as "Maine Cooking: Old Time Secrets") is terrfic - he's a passionate writer in the best sense and his prose tumbles all over itself with its joy. I have "Yankee Coast" too, but my very favorite book of his is called "Book of Uncles" (which I think I put on my best books list last fall) - one chapter about each of his uncles, both real and wished-for, each of whom was known for some happening or some perfect skill. Some of the essays are very funny, some quite dark. A truly unique book. I was pricing it for the shop, I started to read it, I couldn't put it down, I took it home. Where it remains. Story of my life!

Feeling better, thanks. Can't wait to get my hands on some Montague...
Glad to see you are back. I had something similar. It was so bad, I wished to die quickly. I discovered
honey/whiskey and mucinex. Did you
look at my owls. They have all left now. I miss them. I am reading a horrid, gory book by Tabitha King called Candles Burning.
Hi sparrow - your owls are tremendous... have you ever read Mary Oliver's poems about owls? She has many, in one she talks about their lamp-like eyes looking off behind you as if they were reading Blake, or the Book of Revelation.

Glad you're better now - I am a teetotaller but I resorted to Nyquil on two nights. Yuck.

I see Tabitha around town. I don't read horror or gore, I get nightmares (really). I can't even watch 24 or those ads for CSI, I get too anxious. God, I'm an old softy. When did this happen...
No Sarah, I have not read Mary Oliver's poems about owls. But I have quite an affinity for owls. They seem to appear to me all the time. And I have warbled back and forth with them
This particular male or female (who can tell) used to come to my yard at night and just sit and watch me at night walking in the back. So, it was
predictable when I put up an owl house he would bring his mate. It was the most amazing experience. Especially the night I saw both owls bathing in the birdbath together. Almost magical.
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