The Wood for the Trees, Richard Fortey
The Wood for the Trees is a ramble through the woods that Fortey owns and maintains (a small patch of woodland that once belonged to a large estate). With the curiosity of a lifetime’s work in science, he examines every little bit of the wood in all seasons of the year, lifting up rocks, turning over fallen branches, and digging around in the history of the woods.
I got it because he made geology really interesting in another book I read, though I find this book didn’t have quite the same touch — perhaps because it’s so wide-ranging, so unfocused. Instead of just looking at the geology or the biology, he digs into the archaeology as well, into literature and historical figures that touched upon the wood, into the way the wood used to be worked with.
His little cabinet of curiosity is interesting, and his enthusiasm for the wood admirable — but unlike his other books, this didn’t keep me picking the book up to pursue more of it.
This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is top ten new-to-me authors I read in 2014. Hmmm…
- Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette). If you haven’t noticed how I loved The Goblin Emperor, well, wow.
- Brandon Sanderson. Yep, I know, I’m way behind. But I think The Rithmatist was the first thing I’ve read by him.
- Rainbow Rowell. She can certainly write an absorbing story!
- Francis Pryor. Yes, an odd one out so far, but man, absorbing books about archaeology, how could I not love?
- Richard Fortey. Too bad I managed to read most of his books just in this one year.
- David Quammen. Purely on the basis of Spillover, without even having to think! I’m not sure about getting his book on ebola; I don’t know how much it overlaps.
- Steven Brust. Okay, technically I read a collab of his with Robin Hobb long, long ago, but this year saw my introduction to his solo work.
- Ilona Andrews. Really didn’t expect to like the Kate Daniels books so much, but I do.
- Ngaio Marsh. I need to get back to gorging on these, I think. At least there’s a lot!
- Kameron Hurley. I still haven’t read her non-fiction, but I loved her non-fiction collection.
What about you? Anything you think I’m missing from my life?
Life, Richard Fortey
This isn’t my favourite of Fortey’s books, possibly because I’ve read similar types of books by other writers before, so he isn’t bringing me a new subject I don’t expect to like in the same way as he was in his books about geology, or a key passion of his as in his book about trilobites (though trilobites have their place here, too, as you’d expect with Fortey). Still, I enjoy the way he writes and the way he draws together his themes, and this isn’t a bad book — it’s just that he and others have covered a lot of this ground before.
Actually, my favourite history-of-evolution type book is Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale. (When Dawkins sticks to science, he’s great. When he decides to comment on twitter, rarely so.) That’s just a quirk of the way he organises it, though, while Fortey’s method is a little less organised, lingering on things of special interest to him. Which is fine, but didn’t work so well for me in this case. That, and he doesn’t deal with DNA as much as I’d like, because that’s my special interest and not his.
Nonetheless, Fortey knows his stuff and how to make it enjoyable, though I think I can understand people who complain about his writing style not being easy — I tend to take it slow and savour it, myself.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Hidden Landscape (Richard Fortey), which is gorgeous even though it’s about geology, a subject I care very little about. I think he could actually make me interested in gardening, a subject which I often point out to Grandma I know less than nothing about except I guess I know plant biology.
What are you currently reading?
I’m in a bit of a slump, actually, which makes all my ARCs and review copies a little awkward. Still, I’ve got Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm) on the go as an audiobook, and Manon Lescaut (Abbé Prévost) has been loaded onto my ereader ready for a class. I think I’m 10% of the way through that? So yeah, not too bad, though I know the plot basically because of the reference in Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers).
Oh, there is also We Are Here (Michael Marshall), which I’m enjoying in a slowly-unravelling sort of way. I like Michael Marshall (Smith)’s writing in general, so. There’s also Black Unicorn and Book of Skulls, still, which I probably mentioned last week, and The Toll-Gate (Georgette Heyer). As you can see, I’m not taking the reading slump lying down…
What will you read next?
For one of my Coursera classes, I need to reread Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), so that’s most likely what I’ll do. I also have a biography of the Brontes out of the library, so maybe I’ll read that too.
The Hidden Landscape, Richard Fortey
Geology is not my thing, generally — in fact, aside from one other book, which was by Richard Fortey as well, I’ve generally found it quite boring. The attraction here is Fortey’s writing, which is clear and passionate. Beautiful, even. Most of that is the sheer enthusiasm and inventiveness with which he treats his subject: metaphors and vivid descriptions abound, even as he’s being very clear about the geological forces at work and what the features of the landscape mean.
Unlike Earth: An Intimate History, this book discusses solely the geology of the British Isles. It touches on most areas as it does so, going through Scotland and Wales, Cornwall, East Anglia, some of the small islands offshore… It’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but it goes from the oldest rocks of our islands to the newest, discussing their formation and weathering, and what that means for the landscape and the future. It might be surprising that even in a book originally published twenty years ago, there’s a lot of discussion of the potential of climate change to completely alter our landscape, but I think that’s because it takes a long view (necessarily so!). Whether climate change is man-made or not isn’t important: it happens, either way, and part of the story of geology is climate change.
Honestly, I take away as little understanding of schists, gneisses and nappes as I started with; it’s the kind of information that won’t stick in my head. But I enjoy the way Fortey presents it, and so thoroughly enjoyed it even knowing I’m not going to retain the information.
I’m trying not to buy too many books, still, despite my book ban being over. That did not stop me from going to the library and picking up a new book/one with a voucher… Time for Stacking the Shelves a la Tynga’s Reviews!
I didn’t intend to pounce on Lock In when it came out, but I spotted it in the shop today, so I thought I might as well pick it up. As for Dreamwalker, it involves dragons, so, hey! Plus, free voucher because I filled my stamp card, so.
Various things for various challenges, here, plus some I’ve been meaning to read for a while — I like Michael Marshall’s SF, and I love Gene Wolfe in general. Simon Armitage’s work is generally awesome, too. All in all, pleased with this library haul.
While Dawkins has more business commenting about biology and genetics than he does about babies with Down’s syndrome or religion, it’s interesting to see someone challenge some of his ideas. I already reviewed that one here. And of course, I just really enjoy the way Fortey writes.
I’ve been hoping for Unspeakable for a while, so thanks to Little, Brown for that! Poisoned Pearls came via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, which is always awesome. Thank you to them and to Book View Cafe! I think I’ve read something else by Leah Cutter and quite enjoyed it…
What’s anyone else been getting their hands on?
The Earth: An Intimate History, Richard Fortey
As with Fortey’s other books, I really enjoyed this — and that seems more important with this one since it’s about geology, which is not something that’s ever been a particular interest of mine. Fortey has a discursive, conversational style, while still getting in a lot of information and technical language. And in all of his books, it’s a sort of travelogue, too, which is quite interesting.
It’s hardly a completely exhaustive history of Earth, but it takes exemplars from various geographies and shows how they apply to the whole of the planet. It works quite well, though it is still a pretty dense book.
Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, Richard Fortey
A lot of reviews comment on how dry they found this book, but I rather enjoyed it. I like Richard Fortey’s style of writing, despite his tendency to ramble and get distracted. It’s more of a biography or history of the Natural History Museum than a chronicle of the science that goes on there, but there’s some of that, too.
I liked the sense of exploring a wonderland — Fortey plainly finds everything in the Natural History Museum a delight and a revelation, and I shared in that. He got in some apt comparisons, too, like comparing the museum’s storage to Gormenghast.
I was vaguely aware of most of the broader details here about trends in collecting and displaying, but most of the details about the actual scientists and curators were completely new to me. This book has a distinctly gossip-like feeling, which I didn’t mind at all.
What did you recently finish reading?
Well, I’ve been reading like fury today, so the answer is a lot of things. The last thing I finished was Brenda Chamberlain’s The Water-castle; before that, it was Laini Taylor’s Night of Cake and Puppets. Reviews for both of those are coming up on the blog over the next couple of days. Suffice it to say that I’ve been having a glut of books today. People normally have chocolate cravings? I have book cravings.
What are you currently reading?
As usual, the key word would be “actively”, and I’ll stick to that. I’m reading The Earth: An Intimate History, by Richard Fortey, which I’m enjoying: I’ve now read a couple of Fortey’s books and I enjoy his somewhat rambling style that conveys his sense of wonder. I also started reading the biography of Beatrix Potter I’ve got from the library, by Linda Lear. I knew even less than I thought about Beatrix Potter, and am rather enjoying the sketch of family life I’m getting here.
Fiction-wise, I’m still reading Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Wizard’s Promise, though I haven’t picked it up in a couple of days. I really should, because I know I’m going to enjoy it.
What do you think you’ll read next?
The plan is to make a concerted attack on my ARC list before the end of Clean Out Your Ereader, so I think that will entail finally finishing up Seven Forges (James A. Moore) and The Holders (Julianna Scott), for a start. After that, I’m not sure. Probably The Darwin Elevator (Jason M. Hough), because I’ve been partway through that for too long, and Sandman Slim (Richard Kadrey), since that’s been hanging around my to read list for so long and I did start it a couple of weeks ago, only to get distracted.
Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behind,
I enjoyed this enough that I’ve reserved the other books by Richard Fortey that my local library has. He has a somewhat rambling style, though, which might not be to your taste. I enjoyed the ride, in general; in terms of the science, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, concept-wise, but some of the animals and habitats Fortey described were new to me.
It was quite personal to him, in a way, covering stuff he’s particularly interested in and documenting his travels to find these creatures (to the extent of talking about sipping gin and tonic from a plastic cup while sat on the balcony of the inn at Yellowstone). That might be less than interesting to some, but I did quite like knowing about the wider habitats surrounding these creatures, and the human context that they’re so often really close to, maybe even endangered by.
The inserts with colour photos are nice: words generally work better for me than pictures, so I wasn’t that interested, but it does give you a glance at some of the stranger, more anciently derived creatures of our planet.