Warmer weather is here so why not read about the great outdoors? These carefully selected books were all inspired by the natural world
A homage to the English countrysideWalking Through Spring by Graham Hoyland (£9.99, William Collins)
Graham Hoyland was the 15th Briton to climb Everest. In 2015, the bestselling author and adventurer set himself a challenge closer to home – he decided to walk through the whole of England, just as spring began to unfold, avoiding roads and creating a new national trail. He started on the south coast in March, reached the border with Scotland on 21 June (the longest day), and marked each mile by planting an acorn. The resulting book is a beautiful homage to the English countryside. It also answers many questions, such as which plants bloom first in spring and which birds survive winter. This could inspire many readers to dust off their walking boots.
A poetic memoir about nature and lossH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (£9.99, Vintage)
As a child, Helen Macdonald shared her father’s interest in birds, falcons in particular. When he died suddenly in 2007, Helen, then a thirtysomething writer, bought a notoriously fierce hawk called a northern goshawk (for £800) and set about trying to train and tame it. This poetic memoir about loss and recovery is an unflinchingly honest and ultimately uplifting account of what happened as Helen trained her hawk – named Mabel -– while struggling to come to terms with the loss of her father. The story conveys both her passion for birds and falconry, and her journey through grief, and it has picked up three prestigious awards.
Soothing and charming storiesThe Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (£9.99, Faber & Faber)
We defy you ever to look at a cow in quite the same way once you’ve read this collection of delightful stories. Author Rosamund Young was born into a family of farmers and has spent her entire life with cows, currently living and farming in an organic farm on the edge of the Cotswolds. She believes that cows are as varied as people. They can be gentle, vain, proud and shy, and are generally far more intelligent than most of us realise. Young’s anecdotes about the many cows she’s reared – all of which she names – have a soothing and charmingly childlike quality. Rosamund clearly loves her cows (at times she seems rather obsessed) and writes about them in a thoughtful and affectionate manner.
A love affair with natureFingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir by Chris Packham (£8.99, Ebury)
This poignant coming-of-age memoir brings to life the rather lonely childhood of TV naturalist and award-winning conservationist Chris Packham. An introverted young boy growing up in Southampton in the 1960s and 70s, Packham’s love affair with nature began early – in a bedroom filled with birds' eggs and insects in jam jars – and quickly became a way of surviving alienation. Packham’s description of how he found peace and solace with a young kestrel, which he stole from its nest, is reminiscent of A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines (which was the basis for Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film, Kes). This is a deeply emotional story in which Packham also revealed for the first time that he has Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism).
Stories of a sunny outdoor childhoodMy Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (£8.99, Penguin)
Gerald Durrell’s childhood could not be more dissimilar to Chris Packham’s, as this classic autobiography, first published in 1956, can testify. The story of the budding naturalist’s life as a boy in Corfu in the 1930s is recounted with immense charm. This happy, sunny account of how his eccentric family escapes the gloomy British climate and arrives in Corfu is both light and funny, and recently won a new generation of fans when it became the hit ITV series, The Durrells. The other two books in Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy – Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods – are equally entertaining.
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A fascinating study of natureThe Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams (£12.99, WW Norton & Company)
Prize-winning author Florence Williams explores the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain, explaining why nature is so good for us. She discovers that our mood, health and creativity can all benefit from being at one with nature. In fact, nature, she reveals, can produce the same effects as mind-altering drugs. Williams travelled extensively to research this book,
and found many thought-provoking discoveries along the way.
A Reader’s memoir
KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
That’s was one of the chief tasks of Beryl Daly’s first job when she went out to work at the age of 14.
When I was a young teenager, before I left school, my father would occasionally say to me, ‘Well, child, not much longer now before you will be working at the ginnygate.’ This was a section in the cotton mill where nearly everyone worked in our part of the world.
My mum would just smile – I knew she would never let that happen. She sent me to a secretarial college, an expense that she could ill afford, so I could become a shorthand typist and hopefully go on to be a secretary. She had also made sure that my three brothers were trained in a trade, too.
I started my first job at the age of 14 in an estate agent/accountants office, first of all, brewing tea and generally making myself useful. There were two partners in the business – they were very old-fashioned but really nice to me. The office was in an antiquated building, very Dickensian with sloping desktops attached to the wall, and we had to climb onto high stools to reach the desks.
Eventually, I was promoted and moved upstairs to a tiny office, which held three typewriters and three typists. There was just about room for us if we all took turns to breathe in. I enjoyed this work very much. It was a change from what I’d been doing and a relief not to be climbing two flights of rickety stairs with mugs of tea for the staff, or setting and making coal fires in the
office and having to go down into a cellar to get coals to keep the fire going in the winter.
I can say that I really enjoyed my job. I was there for about seven years and left after getting married and becoming pregnant. When I look back on it, the comparison between then and now is so hard to imagine. It feels to me like another age and another life entirely.
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