Kevin’s recommended books

Waterlog by Roger DeakinWaterlog Roger Deakin £8.99 0099282550

Iinspired by John Cheever’s memorable classic short story The Swimmer, Roger Deakin decided, whilst swimming in his garden moat, that he would undertake his own adventure and swim across Britain.

Waterlog, is Deakin’s lyrical and evocative account of this journey as seeks out tarns high in the hills of north Wales, swims with salmon in Somerset and eels in the Fens. The British Isles are blessed with a whole variety of waterways often encompassed within beautiful valleys, rolling hills, green fields and rugged coast lines.

He describes the nature he sees around him from his unusual perspective inches above water level. This is a sight of Britain that only a frog will have experienced. His love of swimming away from the confines of a swimming pool comes through strongly in his writing. Wild swimming is an unusual hobby in modern society as we are constantly told how our rivers and lakes have become polluted by large industries disposing of waste via waterways and chemical fertilisers washing off farmers fields into out rivers. Well if the diversity of wildlife is any indication, I would say that the days of river pollution are behind us. What more powerful way of connecting to the natural countryside around you could there be, as you slip into the earth’s ecstatic skin and immerse yourself in the gentle current? The softness of the water on your skin will take your breath away. Either that or the temperature will.   A wonderful read. If this doesn’t get you swimming in the lake at Woodbrooke, alongside the Moorhens, nothing will! Buy at Woodbrooke

Soil and Soul Alastair McIntoshSoil and SoulAlastair McIntosh £8.99 1854109421

A must read, that I believe is as important for our generation as Silent Spring was to our parents.  Alastair McIntosh reckons that this book is his masterpiece and it is hard to disagree with him.  On the surface, it tells such stories as growing up in Lewis, land reform on Eigg and the spirited campaign that stopped the Harris superquarry.

But the real message of the book, and the reason why it has sold into five figures, is much deeper and wider. He uses factual campaign stories as a carrier to express the deeper stories of our times – the struggle of the human spirit to shine, the imperative of making community, the recovery of a credible spirituality. It’s an entirely factual book and yet much of its poetic impact derives from real-life magical realism. Alastair touches some of the deepest hopes and possibilities within us all.

I absolutely love this book. It took me out of myself and really challenged me to dig deep into finding my own ministry as a twenty-first century environmentally-challenged Quaker. Buy at Woodbrooke

Pandaemonium by Humphrey JenningsPandemonium – The Coming of the Machine Age as Seen by Contemporary Observers

Humphrey Jennings 0333638379

This may seem a rather unusual choice in a Quaker website bibliography but it is one that I turn to time and time again to help me put the rapid development of current technologies into historical perspective.  It is an extraordinarily moving anthology of how the human imagination experienced the full might of the Industrial Revolution.  The texts, dating from 1660 – 1886, are drawn from letters, diaries, old journals, reports, newspaper cuttings and novels to create a seamless narrative as the age of the machine unfolds.  Jennings (also a brilliant film-maker) had an exceptional combination of intellectual curiosity and a deep humanity that helped him draw inspiration from the most unlikely of sources.  Here is his text for the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851 – ‘But if the other parts of the Great Exhibition are curious and instructive, the machinery, which has been from the first the grand focus of attraction, is on the ‘shilling days’ the most peculiar sight of the whole. As you pass along you meet a member of the National Guard in his conical hat and red worsted epaulattes and then you come along a long, thin, bilious-looking Quaker with his tidy clean-looking Quakeress by his side’. Reminds me of the elders bench in Dublin when I was a very young child. Buy at Woodbrooke

Dirt - The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth
William Bryant Logan £14.95 1573225460

A beautiful and lyrical collection of short essays and meditations on Dirt, which as Logan writes in the book  ‘ Dirt is a good word. It goes straight back to the Anglo-Saxon and the Norse. Like “love,” “house,” “hearth,”, “earth,” “sky,” “wrath,” and “word ”   it is short and strong .  Therefore even before you know what it means you want to get a hold of it and chew it.’

He gets hold of dirt, with both hands, and dives deep into the humus and layers of geological strata to astonish our creative imaginations about this extraordinary substance.  The chapters headings alone sound like lines from a rooty fruity poem: Stardust, Sweet and Sour Soils, The Foundations of Cathedrals, Perception in Earthworms, The Theory and Practice of Manuring, The Dung Beetle, The Compost Man, Fire and Ice, Moonquakes,  The Theory of Silt,  Old Quarries and the Pharmacy of Molds.

This is a book to treasure and will make you realise that your garden soil is as alive and as riveting as a Victorian novel. Buy at Woodbrooke

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