To be read April 2017I had felt bad because I’d bought loads of books from second-hand bookshops and charity shops in Penzance and none in the lovely independent bookshop, so I popped in to the Edge of the World Bookshop  for a second time to see what appealed, and this one jumped out at me, even though I’ve fought shy of the great slew of nature books that have appeared over the past five years or so.

Robert Penn – “The Man Who Made Things Out of Wood”

(03 October 2016, Edge of the World Bookshop, Penzance)

The title is a bit misleading, as Penn doesn’t make things out of trees himself; he causes things to be made by other people – sometimes, admittedly, having a go himself – from one particular tree that he has selected and had felled.

He decides to cut down an ash tree, as the most useful tree in the forest and the UK’s third most common tree, and to find as many uses from it as he can, using traditional craftspeople (most of them men, it has to be said) to achieve this, making both traditional (bowls, arrows) and more modern (bicyles, baseball bats) for him and his family to use. He also leaves a certain amount of wood where it falls in the forest – as well as donating sawdust for various uses – giving the slight lie to the impression given on the cover that he kind of lined up a load of spoon and axe-handle shapes and carved them all out of one trunk. But really, that was my own invention, I fear!

I was a bit bothered about him cutting down a perfectly good tree, especially as diseases and pests are attacking ash trees in the US and UK, but he is, too, and makes that clear, and while he “honours” the tree in its felling, etc., he does also say that he plants replacements, goes back to the stump and finds new growth there and does highlight in a very positive way the wonderful work of the craftspeople maintaining their traditions.

There’s lots of information in this book, presented in a pretty natural way, as it comes up, and I’m pleased to now know how knots are formed, for example. Being a modern nature book, thre’s the obligatory mention of the author’s personal life, apart from the nice details of his family’s reaction to his project, although the part on nature’s aid in depression is not over-done.

I liked this book and particularly the list of items that had been made from the tree in the back. Well-written and a pleasant read, though I’d have liked more pictures of the items that were made, perhaps.

Do you read these nature books that are all the rage? What’s the best one you’ve read?