Reading list

6 books to help you take a step back from the world

Nearly 200 years ago, author Henry David Thoreau escaped his hectic world by going to live in the woods. If you’re contemplating doing the same, these 6 books are here to help you escape...

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Walden

Henry David Thoreau

In 1845 Thoreau, a Harvard-educated 28-year-old, went to live by himself in the woods in Massachusetts. He stayed for over two years, living self-sufficiently in a small cabin built with his own hands. Walden is his personal account of the experience, in which he documents the beauty and fulfilment to be found in the wilderness, and his philosophical and political motivations for rejecting the materialism which continues to define our modern world. Thoreau was born 200 years ago and the influence of his writing is as strong as ever.

Calm

Tim Parks

How do we find calm in our frantic modern world? Tim Parks – lifelong sceptic of all things spiritual – finds himself on a Buddhist meditation retreat trying to answer this very question. With brutal honesty and dry wit, he recounts his journey from disbelief to something approaching inner peace and tackles one of the great mysteries of our time – how to survive in this modern age.

 

The Running Sky

Tim Dee

The Running Sky records a lifetime of looking at birds. Begining in summer with clouds of breeding seabirds in Shetland and ending with crepuscular nightjars like giant moths in the heart of England, Tim Dee maps his own observations and encounters over four decades of tracking birds across the globe. He tells of near-global birds like sparrows, starlings and ravens, and exotic species, like electrically coloured hummingbirds in California and bee-eaters and broadbills in Africa. In doing so he brilliantly restores us to the primacy of looking, the thrill of watching, and takes us outside, again and again, to stand – with or without binoculars – under the storm of life over our heads, and to marvel once more at what is flying about us.

 

Six Facets of Light

Ann Wroe

Six Facets of Light is a series of meditations on this most elusive and alluring feature of human life. Set mostly on the Downs and coastline of East Sussex, the most luminous part of England, it interweaves a walker’s experiences of light in Nature with the observations, jottings and thoughts of a dozen writers and painters – and some scientists – who have wrestled to define and understand light. From Hopkins to Turner, Coleridge to Whitman, Fra Angelico to Newton, Ravilious to Dante, the mystery of light is teased out and pondered on. Some of the results are surprising.

By using mostly notebooks and sketchbooks, this book becomes a portrait of the transitoriness, randomness, swiftness, frustrations and quicksilver beauty that are the essence of light. It is a book to be enjoyed, pondered over, engaged with, provoked by; to be packed in the rucksack of every walker heading for the sea or the hills, or to be opened to bring that outside radiance within four dark town walls.

 

Angel Hill

Michael Longley

A remote townland in County Mayo, Carrigskeewaun has been for nearly fifty years Michael Longley’s home-from-home, his soul-landscape. Its lakes and mountains, wild animals and flowers, its moody seas and skies have for decades lit up his poetry. Now they overflow into Angel Hill, his exuberant new collection. In addition, Longley has been exploring Lochalsh in the Western Highlands where his daughter the painter Sarah Longley now lives with her family. She has opened up for him her own soul-landscape with its peculiar shapes and intense colours. In Angel Hill the imaginations of poet and painter intermingle and two exacting wildernesses productively overlap.

 

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer

Sarah Bakewell

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live? This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. Into these essays he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog's ears twitched when it was dreaming, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to him in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment – and in search of themselves. This first full biography of Montaigne in English for nearly fifty years relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored.

 

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