Travel and Nature Writing

MEANDER - JEREMY SEAL 

The course of the Meander is so famously indirect that the river's name has come to signify digression - an invitation Jeremy Seal is duty-bound to accept while travelling the length of it in a one-man canoe. At every twist and turn of his journey, from the Meander's source in the uplands of Central Turkey to its mouth on the Aegean Sea, Seal illuminates his account with a wealth of cultural, historical and personal asides. It is a journey that takes him from Turkey's steppe interior - the stamping ground of such illustrious adventurers as Xerxes, Alexander the Great and the Crusader Kings - to the great port city of Miletus, home of the earliest Western philosophers. Along the way Seal unpicks the history of this remarkable region, but he also encounters a rich assortment of contemporary characters who reveal a rural Turkey on the cusp of change. Above all, this is the story of a river that first brought the cultures of East and West into contact - and conflict - with one another, At once epic, intimate and insightful, Meander is a brilliant evocation of a land between two worlds. (Vintage, PB, 402pp, 9780099531791, £9.99)

 

THIN PATHS - JULIA BLACKBURN  We have a great selection of walking-based books, including Julia Blackburn's journey in and around an Italian mountain village.  This is a book about people as much as landscape; the local mezzadri who until recently were trapped in an archaic feudal system and owned by a local padrone who demanded his share of all they had - even a pretty wife or daughter. This is also about walnuts and wild pigs; partisans and fascists; catkins, wine and fireflies. Lovely production, with pale cream pages and black and white photographs. (Jonathan Cape, HB, 251pp, isbn 978022409068, £17.99)

OTTER COUNTRY - MIRIAM DARLINGTON   Skylark has a bit of a penchant for that fluid style of non-fiction that combines a journey through the natural world with more personal reflections; there has certainly been a renaissance in the genre in the last decade, led by the likes of Roger Deakin (Waterlog, Wildwood), and Robert MacFarlane (The Wild Places, The Old Ways). Each has it's theme; clouds, a particular river, or the Corvid family for instance. People whose lives connect deeply with the subject will also feature. If not every example is successful (I can think of one or two recent titles in which metaphor-heavy rhapsodic passages appear rather too frequently and in a way that didn't feel to me entirely earned or convincing), there are still plenty of engaging not to say educational titles out there.  One such is Otter Country, by Lewes-born Miriam Darlington, and I had the priviledge of meeting the author at the book's launch at the new Linklater Pavilion on the Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Reserve.  In passages read by Miriam, it was clear that she writes as well about the wilder landscape sof these islands as about the enigmatic star of her book, and an appealing, self-deprecating humour was also in evidence.  Tellingly, we sold all 36 copies at the event, and we have a pile again here in the shop, with 10% off the rrp, as per the launch. (Granta, HB, £20)

ATLAS OF REMOTE ISLANDS: 50 ISLANDS I HAVE NEVER VISITED AND NEVER WILL - JUDITH SCHALANSKY  On one page are perfect maps, on the other unfold bizarre stories from the history of the islands themselves. Rare animals and strange people abound: from marooned slaves to lonely scientists, lost explorers to confused lighthouse keepers. Recently awarded the prize of Germany's most beautiful book, the Atlas of Remote Islands is an intricately designed masterpiece. Judith Schalansky lures us via our imaginations across the oceans of the world to fifty remote islands - from St Kilda to Easter Island. (Particular Books, 2010, HB, Sewn, part-cloth, 144pp, isbn 9781846143489, £25)

ON THE MAP - SIMON GARFIELD  The author of Just My Type has enjoyed excellent reviews for his latest title.  Looking at the history of mapmaking from Herodotus to Google, he argues that map-making has always been a crucial marker of being human.  He traces the often heroic efforts to chart the known world, and notes the way in which what is and isn't included on a map speaks of our varying priorities across time and cultures.   (Profile Books, HB, 464pp, isbn 9781846685095, £16.99)

GHOSTS OF SPAIN: TRAVELS THROUGH A COUNTRY'S HIDDEN PAST - GILES TREMLETT  REVISED EDITION BRINGING THE STORY RIGHT UP TO THE EURO CRISIS. The Spanish are reputed to be amongst Europe's most voluble people. So why have they kept silent about the terrors of the Spanish Civil War and the rule of dictator Generalisimo Francisco Franco? The appearance - sixty years after that war ended - of mass graves containing victims of Franco's death squads has finally broken what Spaniards call 'the pact of forgetting'. At this charged moment, Giles Tremlett embarked on a journey around Spain - and through Spanish history. Tremlett's journey was also an attempt to make sense of his personal experience of the Spanish. Why do they dislike authority figures, but are cowed by a doctor's white coat? How had women embraced feminism without men noticing? What binds gypsies, jails and flamenco? Why do the Spanish go to plastic surgeons, donate their organs, visit brothels or take cocaine more than other Europeans? (Faber, 2012, PB, 468pp, isbn 9780571279395, £9.99)

BICYCLE DIARIES - DAVID BYRNE  Related to the idea of a national treasure, I would vote for Byrne as a world treasure.  Come on, who doesn't adore the intro to "Once in a Lifetime"?  Or the film "Stop Making Sense"?  Or admire Byrne's later efforts to bring lesser known Brazilian and other music to a wider audience?  Since the early 1980s, David Byrne has been riding a bicycle as his principal means of transportation in New York City. A few years later he discovered folding bikes, and starting taking them with him on music tour overseas, and experienced a sense of liberation as he pedalled around many of the world's principal cities. The point of view from his bike seat has given Byrne a panoramic window on urban life over the last thirty years as he has cycled round cities such as London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila, New York, and San Francisco. From music and the visual arts, to globalisation, politics, the nature of creative work, fashion and art, this book gives the reader an incredible insight into what Byrne is seeing and thinking as he pedals around these cities. Filled with intimate photographs, incredible musical stories and a powerful ecological message, this is a enchanting celebration of bike riding - of the rewards of seeing the world at bike level. (Faber, 2010, PB, 320pp, isbn 9780571241033, £9.99)

 

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WALK IN THE WORLD: A PEDESTRIAN IN PARIS  In this enchanting memoir, Paris resident John Baxter tells the history of Paris through a brilliant cast of characters and their favourite haunts: the cafés of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce; Picasso s underground Montmartre dives; the bustling boulevards of the late-19th century flâneurs; the secluded Little Luxembourg gardens beloved by Gertrude Stein; and finally Baxter's own favourite walk near his home in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. (Short Books, 2012, PB, 234pp, isbn 9781780720432, £8.99)

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