Posts tagged ‘The Lost Words’

May 4, 2019

Underland – A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Hamish Hamilton, £20, out nowRobert Macfarlane UNDERLAND

Underland is an exploration of the subterranean world, and Macfarlane interprets this widely.  He ranges from a glacier in the middle of a warm mountain range to the tunnels under Paris, from mines under Yorkshire to London Bridge (which is hollow and can be climbed through by those in the know).  He does not shy away from difficult subjects, dealing with war crimes and human rights violations in European caves and crevasses, as well as the Anthropocene and climate change.

It is always a pleasure to read a new Robert Macfarlane book.  Here at the Riverside Bookshop we loved The Lost Words (see https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/the-lost-words-by-robert-macfarlane-and-jackie-morris/).  He writes beautifully and manages to include very diverse fields of knowledge without alienating the reader or appearing like a dilettante.  His account of visiting an underground lab exploring dark matter gave me the first explanation of this phenomenon I felt even vaguely able to understand (p. 56).  He can make mysterious landscapes vivid, as when walking in the Julian Alps: “Holes in the trunks of the beeches hold micro-gardens of moss and ferns.  Dwarf pines spread between the boulders of the streambank.  Harebells, gentians and edelweiss star the understorey.  Little trout flick as quick shadows in the bigger stream-pools.  Towering above us are scree-slopes and bone-white summits jagging several hundred feet up from the ridge line” (p. 231).

Happily for me, Underland also includes much ice and snow.  There are reflections on physical culture and the impact of global warming: “There is something obscene both to the ice and its meltings – to its vastness and vulnerability.  The ice seems a ‘thing’ that is beyond our comprehension to know but within our capacity to destroy” (p. 363).  This reminded me of some of the things I liked about the Library of Ice by Nancy Campbell (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/the-library-of-ice-by-nancy-campbell/).

The book is as much about challenging our experiences of time and space as anything else. How do we find language that will be understood for certain thousands of years from now, in order to warn those in the far future of our sealed tombs of nuclear waste?  Do we carve warnings into rock in English?  Macfarlane notes that only about 1,000 people read Cuneiform on Earth now, where once it communicated powerful proclamations across vast spaces – how do we know English will still be understood?  Should there be ceramic tiles with pictograms?  Showing what?  He asks us to expand our thinking: “…a deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us” (p. 15).

Fans of Macfarlane’s writing on mountains, lost ways and obscure words have a treat in store with Underland.  A bonus for the curious and engaged.

Review by Bethan

October 3, 2017

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Hamish Hamilton, £20, out nowMacfarlane and Morris LOST WORDS

This is the most exquisite book I have seen this year.  The Lost Words features beautiful illustrations of British wildlife by the amazing Jackie Morris, who did the classic children’s picture book The Snow Leopard (due out soon in a new edition).  Words are by Robert Macfarlane, one of our outstanding nature writers, known for The Old Ways and Mountains of the Mind.  In his book Landmarks, Macfarlane had focussed on nature words being lost from everyday usage, particularly those from local dialects (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/08/landmarks-review-robert-macfarlane).

These two working together make for an enchanting combination.  There is a great interview with Jackie and Robert explaining how they made the book, and Jackie explains: “So, it was Robert’s idea to make this a ‘spell-book’ – to have three spreads per word, the first marking a loss, a slipping away, the second being a summoning spell, and the third being the word spelled back into language, hearts, minds and landscape.”  (See https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/on-writing/cover-story/2017/jul/designing-the-lost-words/)

This book, for all ages, defines key English nature words.  And so, for otter: “Otter enters river without falter – what a/supple slider out of holt and into water!”

This is a big book – 37 by 28cm, giving full space to the luminous illustrations.  It would make an gorgeous present for anyone with a love of the natural world.  If that wasn’t enough, each purchase supports Action for Conservation, funding the next generation of conservationists and with a particular focus on disadvantaged and socially excluded children.  The goldfinches on the cover are reason enough to buy it, and as Riverside visitors will know we have our own tame charm of goldfinches upstairs in the shop (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/a-charm-of-goldfinches-grace-our-bookshop/).

Review by Bethan