These are some of the books I read and loved this year. The third post. You can pursue the other selections here and here.

THE OLD WAYS by Robert Macfarlane.  My dear friend, Nathan Turoff, turned me on to Macfarlane. Thank you, Nathan!

I could devote an entire blog to Macfarlane’s work. I am haunted by it. I am inspired by it. I am in love with it and stricken with writer’s envy. What can I say: READ THIS BOOK. READ ALL HIS WORK. It will, I promise, change you.

“From the acclaimed author of “The Wild Places,” an exploration of walking and thinking
In this exquisitely written book, Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge, England, home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads, and sea paths that crisscross both the British landscape and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, and of pilgrimage and ritual.
Told in Macfarlane’s distinctive voice, “The Old Ways” folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His walks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he crosses paths with walkers of many kinds–wanderers, pilgrims, guides, and artists. Above all this is a book about walking as a journey inward and the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Macfarlane discovers that paths offer not just a means of traversing space, but of feeling, knowing, and thinking.”

THE LIVING MOUNTAIN: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.

I came to this one thanks to Robert Macfarland. See what reading does?  An astounding work of poetic landscape writing. An exploration of the senses and of the relationship between landscape and soul. This edition has a wonderful forward by Robert Macfarlane and an equally wonderful afterward by Jeanette Winterson. This is a book I’ll be reading over and over again, and one I’ll put in my pack when rambling. What excellent company it is.

The Living Mountain is a lyrical testament in praise of the Cairngorms. It is a work deeply rooted in Nan Shepherd’s knowledge of the natural world, and a poetic and philosophical meditation on our longing for high and holy places.

Drawing on different perspectives of the mountain environment, Shepherd makes the familiar strange and the strange awe-inspiring. Her sensitivity and powers of observation put her into the front rank of nature writing.”

THE KEPT by James Scott

Terrific book — quite Southern Gothic, although set in the northern landscape of ice and wind and snow. It’s bleak. It’s realistic. Shadows of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor cannot be ignored. I swept through the book, barely able to put it down from its violent, grab-you-by-the-throat opening. A fine review in The Rumpus says this:

“Although the material is bracingly grotesque, The Kept has a current of artistry running beneath. Scott’s technique is to interlace the macabre with lyrical images, an approach that has two effects. The first is that we are simultaneously horrified and captivated by the events. The second is that we never become fully inured to their savagery. Instead, each eruption of violence retains its poignancy, the unique vividness of a lived experience. Consider the following example: Before leaving on their hunt, Caleb decides to burn his dead relatives in a funeral pyre, only to accidentally ignite the family home when the wind changes course, redirecting the flames along a tributary of spilled kerosene. As the house becomes an inferno, a pair of owls burst forth from the attic, one of them unlucky enough to have its feathers set alight by the blaze. It flaps furiously through the night sky until the flames consume it, at which point it plunges to the snow-covered earth with a hiss. The book is filled with such moments. Half beautiful, half disturbing, they decorate The Kept like frescoes in a crumbling cathedral.”

I know some readers have found the ending a bit baffling. I didn’t, although I won’t give it away. I thought it was the perfect ending, although perhaps not the one Hollywood will choose if ever they make a film out of it (pray a European filmmaker does instead!)

If you’re like me and find value in such themes as the nature of evil, us vs them, what it means to belong, to confront our deepest fears and what the meaning of redemption is… well, this book is for you.

Read the entire Rumpus review here.

UNDERLAND: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

Yup. Another Macfarlane. Here is the renowned naturalist’s highly anticipated sequel to the international bestseller The Old Ways: a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future.

“Hailed as “the great nature writer of this generation” (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of prize-winning books about the intersection between the human and the natural world. In Underland, he delivers his masterwork: an epic exploration of Earth’s vast subterranean landscape in myth, literature, and his own travels.

Delving into what is known as “deep time,” the dizzying expanse of geologic time that stretches away from the present, Macfarlane takes us on an exhilarating journey to Arctic sea caves, Bronze Age burial chambers, the catacombs of Paris, the underground networks by which trees communicate, a Dark Matter research lab searching for the origins of the universe, and a Deep Geological Repository designed to store nuclear waste for half a million years to come.

Underland reveals our shifting relationship with the world beneath us: the viruses and lethal gases we’ve unearthed, the toxic dangers we’ve buried, the millions of miles of holes we’ve dug in our fevered search for oil and gas.”

I’ll say it again. READ THIS BOOK.

THE YOUTH OF GOD by Hassan Ghedi Santur

I was almost afraid to read this book, as I count Hassan among my friends and what the hell do you say if the book isn’t wonderful? Ugh. However, HOWEVER, my heaven, it’s fantastic. FANTASTIC! Am I shouting? I should be. From the rooftops. And don’t take my word for it, read the reviews, all over the flippin’ world. And I just heard it’s up for Canada Reads this year. Well deserved and oh, so timely.

“The Youth of God tells the story of Nuur, a sensitive and academically gifted seventeen-year-old boy growing up in Toronto’s Somali neighborhood, as he negotiates perilously between the calling of his faith and his intellectual ambitions. Trying to influence him are a radical Muslim imam and a book-loving, dedicated teacher who shares his background. In its telling, this novel reveals the alienated lives of Somali youth in an environment riddled with crime and unemployment, while still in the grip of bitter memories of a home left behind. This intensely moving novel is also a powerful allegory of the struggle for the soul of Islam in modern times.”

That’s my five for this blog. I’ll put the next one up in a couple of days and that will round out the year.

Hope you find something to please you. All these books deserve to be widely read.

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