Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: On Connection (Kae Tempest)

Insightful, Impactful, Helpful

★★★★★☆☆

Title: On Connection
Author: Kae Tempest
Genre: Non-Fiction / Mental Health /Reflection
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Faber & Faber in 2020

The increasingly hyper-individualistic, competitive and exploitative society that we live in has caused a global crisis at the turn of the new decade; in order to survive, numbness has pervaded us all. In this urgent and incisive pamphlet, Kae Tempest leads the reckoning against this system, placing our legacy in our own hands. Creativity holds the key: the ability to provide us with internal and external connection, to move us beyond consumption, to allow us to discover authenticity and closeness to all others, to deliver us an antidote for our numbness. This is beyond ‘art’. Creative connection is anything that brings us closer to ourselves and fellow human beings, and it has the potential to offer insights into mental health, politics and beyond.

***

Before I read this small non-fiction book I was aware of Kae Tempest. I have heard songs by them on the radio for years and knew they were a poet and that their lyrics often spoke harsh truths. However, the reason why I picked up this little book was not because of their celebrity, but because of the subject: connection. Creativity. Empathy. For yourself and for the world around you. It is a subject close to my heart.

Kae broaches the subjects of numbness and connection, and how creativity factors in. What even constitutes success, value, or connection, or numbness, and what exactly is being creative? Do you have to be an artist to be creative? There were passages I highlighted, because I found them very insightful and I think they would be helpful to re-read when I am feeling low or numb myself.

The only criticisms I have is that the narrative did not always feel very cohesive, and every now and then I felt I wanted a little more. Sometimes it felt like the author’s thoughts were drifting from one thing to another without actually pausing to take stock, which made it feel a little rushed in places. Maybe they were going for a stream-of-consciousness kind of feel, but here and there I would have liked it to pull back just a little, or expand a bit maybe.

I do think this is a small book that packs a punch and one that I will revisit. Objectively, I feel a little more could have been done with the subject, but I did find myself nodding along to what was being discussed.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Chronicles (Bob Dylan)

I have read too many memoirs lately that were better

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Chronicles, volume one
Author: Bob Dylan Narrator: Sean Penn
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2004
Edition: Audio book

Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities — smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.

🎸🎙🎵

Either I have memoir fatigue or this one is simply not as good as many other music biographies I have read over the last year or so. Either way, I enjoyed this one, but I doubt it will stick in my mind very long.

Bob Dylan is one of those characters in music that we all think we know, but actually know little about. That certainly was the case for me. I absolutely went in with a preconception of who this man was and I think during the reading (listening) of this book, a lot of those preconceptions went out of the window. I like that. I like it when you get something you did not expect, when you come out of a book with a better idea of who a person is. This did do that, kind of.

However, despite the fact that the author can write a bloody good sentence every now and then, overall I just did not love the style in which this was written. It felt disjointed and the flow did not suit me. It did not grab me in the way that other memoirs have done. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and I still learned something, but it just did not move me in any way and it did not connect with me.

I do still think this is a good memoir. If you like Bob Dylan or you are just interested in what he has to say, this is worth reading and you will probably enjoy it as I did, but if you’re not that interested in him as a person, I doubt this one will do a ton to thrill you.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Lab Girl (Hope Jahren)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Biology/Science
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Fleet in 2017

This is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

🌱🌴🌳🌵🌿

I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while. It sounded so interesting! And it was interesting, but it did not quite grab me the way I wanted it to.

Essentially the author is telling a story about relationships. Not only with people, such as her long time friend Bill, but also with herself, her career and with her research.

Over the years she develops a unique friendship with Bill and it was kind of beautiful to read about that. They go on plenty of adventures together. Some funny, some kind of tragic, some endearing. I loved the way she writes about him. However, this is also so much about the way she sees herself and the way she relates to her own life, her character and her accomplishments. Maybe it also tells us something about the way we all see ourselves and how we perceive ourselves. The author’s mental health problems are touched upon, but not really delved in to too much, as if she simply accepts that these are a part of her. I thought that was interesting. The main focus of this book is her friendship with Bill and the labs they build together over the years, but it is clear that she goes through quite a transformation herself as she finds her feet. Life shifts as you get older. At least, it does for most people.

Little tidbits of plant science are dotted throughout the narrative and I kind of liked that. I kind of wanted a little bit more of that, but this is essentially a memoir and not really about all the sciency stuff!

Overall I really enjoyed this book, but it is not one I am likely to pick up again.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Wilding (Isabella Tree)

Tree, Isabella - Wilding

★★★★★★★

Title: Wilding
Author: Isabella Tree
Genre: Non-Fiction/Natural World Pages: 384
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio Book (& Hardback)

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp in West Sussex was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

*

I had a feeling I was going to love this book. I love books that are about someone going on some sort of journey and learning about a subject with them. This kind of felt like that and it felt like a revelation.

As I followed this couple with a farming background return their estate in Sussex to a natural state (or as close as possible with modern rules and regulations in place) I learned what nature actually means. I discovered how manufactured what I think of as nature actually is. But what I learned most is how Mother Nature in all her glory knows exactly what is best for her. One creature’s actions can cause a chain reaction with far reaching consequences for all the creatures and plants around it. This goes for us humans, but also for a Tamworth pig or a beaver.

Of course I loved hearing about nightingales and butterflies, deer and Exmoor ponies, but surprisingly I found the passages on farming incredibly interesting. Both in how farming and government incentives have helped destroy our natural diversity and health and how changing farming practices can be our saving grace.  This book deals with a lot of environmental arguments and it made me much more aware about the world around me and how we can still turn things around. I found it both profoundly sad, but also gave me hope for a brighter future. 

I am not doing justice to this gem of a book, but if you are at all interested in nature and the environment, this is a must-read book.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Educated (Tara Westover)

Westover, Tara - Educated

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover  Narrator: Julia Whelan
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Memoir
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio book

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

*

After listening to the last words of this audio book, I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. Tara’s life story is completely alien to me, but I felt her struggle as she fought to emotionally free herself from her family and upbringing.

At the same time I feel like this is not a book I would read again. Not because I did not like it, but because it did not leave a lasting impression on me. I love a good memoir, but I like to come away from them feeling like I have somehow gained something new and valuable from it and I am not sure this one did that for me.  I do not think the hype helped this memoir. It may have made me expect a bit too much.

Having said all that, I do like reading about a different life experience and listening to this on audio was the right decision, even if I did not always enjoy the accents the narrator used for the male characters. I have no complaints otherwise about the way this memoir was told.

If you are interested in listening to or reading Tara’s story, it is definitely worth your time. It just may not blow your mind.

5 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Epic Solitude (Katherine Keith)

Keith, Katherine - Epic Solitude

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Epic Solitude
Author: Katherine Keith
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir /
First published: to be published 4 February by Blackstone Publishing
Edition: e-ARC, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

‘A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North’

All her life, Katherine Keith has hungered for remote, wild places that fill her soul with freedom and peace. Her travels take her across America, but it is in the vast and rugged landscape of Alaska that she finds her true home.

This book was a quite a ride, I can tell you that. It broke my heart several times over.

The first half of this memoir I was not convinced. Though I felt for the author, I could not quite connect to the writing style and I struggled with the way Katherine expressed herself. When you are reading a memoir, you want to feel connected to the person telling his or her story and this what was not happening for me in the beginning. However, I think this changed the moment she arrived in Alaska.

The second half of the book had me hooked. I cried with Katherine as she experienced her losses and rooted for her as she bravely fought to be the best she could be, both for herself and the people that needed her.

I once spent five days on a dogsled in the Arctic and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, so reading about that part of her life brought back amazing memories and made me smile.

I feel like I have been through the wars at the end of this book, so I can only imagine how Katherine Keith must feel. I am so grateful that she shared her experiences with us, the readers. I am full of admiration for this woman.

If you are interested in stories of survival and hardship, read this book. It is worth your time!

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Botswana Time (Will Randall)

TBR - Randall, Will - Botswana Time

★★★★★★☆

Title: Botswana Time
Author: Will Randall
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Travel
First published: 2005
Edition: Paperback, published by Abacus in 2005

Through a series of serendipitious encounters, Will Randall found himself in Botswana, resuming the career as a teacher that had already taken him from an inner-London comprehensive to Poona in India.

This book was a joy from start to finish. It documents the author’s time teaching at a small school in Kasane, Botswana, and the characters he encountered there.

I love the lighthearted tone of the book, though it does touch on serious subjects such as the AIDS epidemic in Africa and racism. One thing I definitely appreciated was that the author did not shy away from calling out the racism he observed during his time in Botswana, whilst also admitting that he was not always sure how to deal with it. As we get to know the author, he shows us his incredible surroundings and the wildlife, but also the progress Botswana has made as a country since independence.

The highlight of this memoir are the Kasane Kudus, the football-mad children that he teaches, and the other characters that inhibit the town. As a reader you come to despise Dirk, the clear villain of this narrative.

This is the kind of non-fiction book that is fun to read and reads away really easily. I enjoyed it a lot and it made me want to go and visit Botswana! I will also be looking out for other books by the author.

6 out o 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Bee Bible (Sally Coulthard)

Coulthard, Sally - The Bee Bible

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Bee Bible
Author: Sally Coulthard
Genre: Non-Fiction/Natural World/Instruction   Pages: 132
First published: 2019
Edition: Hardcover, published by Anima in 2019

“50 Ways to Keep Bees Buzzing”

I was given this charming hardcover book for Christmas and I could not resist diving into it straight away.

It is full of helpful information about bees and how to help them, laid out in easy to read chapters and complimented by lovely little illustration. I will definitely try and implement some of the advice given in the future management of my garden and property to benefit and encourage bees in my patch of the world.

Although this book is based on the UK situation, equivalents will be able to be found all over the world and many of the advice applies to wherever in the world you are.

All in all, I will treasure this little book and I will definitely refer to it when I change things up in my garden come springtime.

Highly recommended. It also helps that this is simply a charming looking little book.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Polar Affair (Lloyd Spencer Davis)

Spencer Davis, Lloyd - A Polar Affair

★★★★★★☆

Title: A Polar Affair; Antarctica’s Forgotten Hero and the Secret Love Lives of Penguins
Author: Lloyd Spencer Davis
Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography/Adventure/Natural World   Pages: 400
First published: 2019 by Pegasus Books
Edition: e-Book, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

George Murray Levick was the physician on Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition of 1910. Marooned for an Antarctic winter, Levick passed the time by becoming the first man to study penguins up close. His findings were so shocking to Victorian morals that they were quickly suppressed and seemingly lost to history.

At the end of this book I feel like I have gained all sorts of knowledge in the best possible way. This book is not only about penguin sex (though it tells you a whole lot about that!), it is about the race for the South Pole and polar exploration and the hardships those explorers experienced. I learned that it takes a special kind of person to push those limits.

The author goes from his own research and experience in penguin biology and surviving in Antarctica to that of the first penguin biologist, Murray Levick, and the South Pole race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Admundsen.

This is an endlessly fascinating account about those first Antarctic explores and the animals they encountered based on their notes and diaries, but written in a clear and engaging way. Their hardships break your heart. It also looks at their lives (if they lived) after polar exploration. And of course, the author shows us glimpses into the often vulgar lives of the Adelie penguins.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in adventure or natural history.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Secret Life of Cows (Rosamund Young)

Young, Rosamund - The Secret Life of Cows

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Secret Life of Cows
Author: Rosamund Young
Genre: Non-Fiction /Zoology   Pages: 139
First published: 2003
Edition: Paperback, published by Faber and Faber in 2018

Cows can love, play games, bond and form strong, life-long friendships. They can sulk, hold grudges, and they have preferences and can be vain. All these characteristics and more have been observed, documented, interpreted and retold by Rosamund Young based on her experiences looking after the family farm’s herd on Kite’s Nest Farm in Worcestershire, England.

I was given this wonderful book by my mother-in-law. At only 139 pages it is a pretty short book that tells about the personalities of a variety of cows on Kite’s Nest Farm.

I really enjoyed meeting the cows and learning about their families and the way they interact with each other. Rosamund Young writes vibrantly and clearly has a lot of love for her subjects here.

The narrative is a bit higgledy piggledy and feels a bit all over the place and somehow I feel it would have been a more satisfactory read if it had been a bit tidier in its structure. Having said that, this little book is a delight and makes me look at our bovine neighbours in a completely different light.

I am sure this is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

5 out of 7 stars