Books I read in January

I’ve set myself the goal of 52 books this year, but I don’t know if I am going to read as many as that. Not that it matters, because this is about the joy of reading, not the quantity. And I’m very happy to have started the year with The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, as it’s a really beautiful book.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane

I bought this book before leaving England and hadn’t read it till now because I was afraid that it would trigger immense hiraeth and saudade. It did, of course.

It is a beautiful evocation of landscape: not landscape as in a framed picture, but as the earth, plants, geology, flora, fauna, wind and weather (as the author points out).

It’s also about people and their relationships with landscape. Landscapes shouldn’t be seen as pristine wilderness devoid of people, but as places that people have interacted with over the centuries. The book teases out the connections between walking and thinking, landscape and experience, and traces paths through the landscape, lines of memory and song and story. I also really appreciated the chapter on walking in Palestine. The story of the poet Edward Thomas is threaded through the book, culminating in the penultimate chapter. Landscapes are seen as a palimpsest of experiences and impressions (both in the sense of footprints and things taken in through the eyes), and as creating and deepening moods and thoughts.

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