Findings and the new nature writing

Cover imageThis post was prompted by my finishing Kathleen Jamie’s Findings which seems to me to be a perfect example of what I’ve been calling in my head the ‘new nature writing’. Jamie is an acclaimed poet and it shows in her wonderfully pared back descriptions of tracking the elusive corncrake on the island of Coll, contemplating salmon jumping on a Highland river and the joy of a rare and strange sighting of a crane flying in the Scottish sky. Her writing is both beautiful and down to earth. Hard to resist a writer who starts her chapter: ‘I hacked off the gannet’s head with my penknife, which turned into one of those jobs you wish you’d never started’. It was already dead, by the way.

I’m not entirely sure that there is a new nature writing but in my years as a book reviews editor I noticed more of it being published by the likes of Granta, Sort of Books, Faber and Penguin and found myself drawn to it, starting with Roger Deakin’s beautifully evocative Wildwood which led me to Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Waterlog. Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country took me all over the UK in search of wild otters while naturalist Stephen Moss’s Wild Hares and Humming Birds brought me back home to Somerset. Moss moved his family from London to the village of Mark in the Levels and his book is made up of a year’s observations of the surrounding natural world. One of its most heartening aspects is the joy and enthusiasm with which his children embrace nature. There’s much more to explore here, I know – I’ve already added Jamie’s Sightlines to my list  – but one writer I have read and will not be revisiting is Robert Macfarlane, a bit too self-consciously literary for me. While Kathleen Jamie is a fine example of a poet writing about nature letting its qualities shine out, uncluttered by ornamentation, Macfarlane can never seem to resist over-egging the pudding. If you’ve come across any Jamie-like gems I’d love to hear about them.

10 thoughts on “Findings and the new nature writing

  1. jessiepoll

    I like Macfarlane but I agree he’s got a little wordy lately! Though a friend of mine did the typesetting and printing of the 1st ed. of his latest book, Holloway, so that had a place in my heart.

    I’m a HUGE fan of Jamie’s after you mentioned her to me a couple of yrs back – I’ve read everything of hers now! Love her nature writing but her Among Muslims is wonderful too.
    Will add Moss’ book to my wish-list, sounds great!

    For a committed urbanite I found that I loved Bell’s Corduroy and Stewart Collis’ Worm Forgives the Plough – the talk of farming must appeal to my allotmenteer-side. Yates’ Nightwalk is a gem too! Next on my list is Rackham’s Woodlands and Sebald’s Ring of Saturn…
    Jess xx

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  2. Susan Osborne Post author

    Actually, Jess, I’ve a feeling that it’s your copy of Findings that I’ve just finished! I wanted to read Holloway – living just off one it seemed appropriate – but sadly put off by the fussy writing. Adding your recommendations to my ever-lengthening list.

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  3. Susan Osborne Post author

    I remember Strands now you come to mention it, Claire, but not Crow Country – two more for the list!

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  4. kerry swash

    Ooh now this sounds good. On the list it goes. I loved all the others you mention – I can even tolerate Robert Mcfarlane (but then I’m a bit over-eggy myself). Haven’t read Otter Country either so I guess that goes on the list too.

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Well, I wouldn’t have had you down as an over-eggy type, Kerry. Still a bit tempted by Holloway as I’ve struggled up one myself for so many years. A couple of suggestions from Jess and Claire above, both of whose judgement I trust, if you want more on your list.

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  5. Alex

    This is not for me. I’m not a lover of nature writing. But, I have a friend with a birthday coming up who is crazy about all things Coll, so you’ve just solved the present issue for me. THANK YOU!

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  6. litlove

    May I recommend Neil Ansell? I’m a huge fan of his books, of which the latest, Deer Island, quite knocked my socks off. I would never had put myself down as a reader of nature non-fiction, but I loved Findings, and Neil’s books and would like to give Robert McFarlane a try one of these days.

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    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Deer Island sounds fascinating – now on my list. I like the way that Kathleen Jamie weaves experiences with friends and family into her natural history writing. There was also a wonderful essay on Edinburgh’s skyline.

      Reply

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