Skip to main content

Review: Common Ground by Rob Cowen

Genre: Natural history, memoir
Themes: Seasons, births and death, man and nature, animals, history.

Books about intimate natural history appeal to me almost as much as travelogues do. These books usually deal with one person's view of a single place, natural phenomenon or animal and can offer one both a very narrow and a wide view of the subject, often delving deep into history, anthropology, zoology, botany and geology. Others skim along the surface and present us with a glittering snapshot of a place frozen at a point in time. My favourites of this sub-genre of both the memoir and of popular science are The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.

This book is not quite at the level of excellence as those three, but it is enjoyable and makes for a nice, slow read.

Cowen began gathering material for his intimate study of the natural history of a bit of edgeland in his home-town of Bilton, a suburb of Harrogate, Yorkshire, just after he moved back there after living in London for many years. He was feeling uprooted and confused and wandered out into this edgeland in the darkness of a winter‘s evening (it was New Years Eve, as a matter of fact).

The place seemed to call to him and he kept returning there and eventually began a naturalistic and historical study of the area and of man‘s place in it, observing it from that day and on into the following winter. Chapters are devoted to different animals and to the landscape, and he imagines the place from the viewpoint of several different animals and people, some through their own eyes, imagined or quoted, and some in the third person. We also get to follow him and his wife as they navigate impending parenthood and experience the birth of their first child.

The whole book is charming, but Cowen is at his best in the fictional chapters, for example where he gives us the first-person narrative of a tramp he meets on the edge of the river that delineates one side of the roughly triangular edgeland or puts himself in the place of a roebuck running for his life from hunters and their hounds. 

Recommended.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Reading report for January 2014

Here it is, finally: the reading report for January. (February‘s report is in the works: I have it entered into Excel and I just need to transfer it into Word, edit the layout and write the preface. It will either take a couple of days or a couple of months).

I finished 26 books in January, although admittedly a number of them were novellas. As I mentioned in my previous post, I delved into a new(ish) type of genre: gay (or M/M) romance. I found everything from genuinely sweet romance to hardcore BDSM, in sub-genres like fantasy, suspense and mystery and even a quartet of entertaining (and unlikely) rock star romances. Other books I read in January include the highly enjoyable memoir of cooking doyenne Julia Child, two straight romances, and Jennifer Worth‘s trilogy of memoirs about her experiences as a midwife in a London slum in the 1950s. I also watched the first season of the TV series based on these books and may (I say 'may') write something about this when I have finis…

Stiff – The curious lives of human cadavers

Originally published in November and December 2004, in 4 parts. Book 42 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Mary Roach
Year published: 2003
Pages: 303
Genre: Popular science, biology
Where got: amazon.co.uk

Mom, Dad, what happens after we die?

This is a classic question most parents dread having to answer. While this book doesn’t answer the philosophical/theological part of the question – what happens to the soul? - it does claim to contain answers to the biological part, namely: what happens to the body?



Reading progress for Stiff:
Stiff is proving to be an interesting read. Roach writes in a matter-of-fact journalistic style that makes the subject seem less grim than it really is, but she does on occasion become a bit too flippant about it, I guess in an attempt to distance herself. Although she uses humour to ease the grimness, the jokes – which, by the way, are never about the dead, only the living, especially Roach herself – often fall flat. Perhaps it’s just me, but this is a serio…

How to make a simple origami bookmark

Here are some instructions on how to make a simple origami (paper folding) bookmark:

Take a square of paper. It can be patterned origami paper, gift paper or even office paper, just as long as it’s easy to fold. The square should not be much bigger than 10 cm/4 inches across, unless you intend to use the mark for a big book. The images show what the paper should look like after you follow each step of the instructions. The two sides of the paper are shown in different colours to make things easier, and the edges and fold lines are shown as black lines.


Fold the paper in half diagonally (corner to corner), and then unfold. Repeat with the other two corners. This is to find the middle and to make the rest of the folding easier. If the paper is thick or stiff it can help to reverse the folds.



Fold three of the corners in so that they meet in the middle. You now have a piece of paper resembling an open envelope. For the next two steps, ignore the flap.



Fold the square diagonally in two. You…