A birthday book from last year today, and a book I’d heard about and seen but hadn’t got round to picking up: I’m glad I was compelled to read it by being given it as I did get a lot out of it. It’s always particularly lovely to read about your home town and Fowler appears to live so close to me that I’m pretty sure I must know somebody who knows her, One Degree Of South Birmingham being what it is!

Alys Fowler – “Hidden Nature”

(21 January 2018 – from Jen)

Narrative of a summer where Fowler explores the canals of Birmingham in a very small inflatable boat (why have I never seen her?) and also comes to a surprising and marriage-ending realisation about herself.

I get frustrated with nature books that shoehorn personal life into them to cover more bases, but here the two are tightly interwoven and the beautiful writing draws irresistible parallels between the two. It’s also a lovely celebration of friendship and of other people’s relationships – Dave and Louise who live on a boat, strong and happy Sarah and Ming, each bringing her strengths and happily bickering about how to row their own boat.

I really loved, of course, when she described “our” bit of the canal (see my running posts on a Sunday for endless canal pics), including the lovely toll cottage which devastatingly burned down WHILE I WAS READING THIS BOOK and the Brandwood tunnel – now I know the picture of the man on one end is Shakespeare, which is nice! I also loved how they collected sightings of themed things like coconuts on their travels, something I often do with my running buddies. She also writes brilliantly about how we make maps full of our own experiences – again, something that running has given me (here’s the place where I sat down and had a cry, here’s where we ‘chased’ that nun up the Bristol Road) so that was something lovely to identify with. I can’t help wishing there’d been a real map in the book, however.

There is naturally some dead and icky stuff seen on Fowler’s travels: I was OK with it and I’m pretty feeble, as long-term readers know; it wasn’t gratuitous at all. The descriptions of nature and its interface with industry and residential areas was fascinating and the book as a whole was an interesting meander through the natural environment, with a moving story of a woman finding herself woven within it.

No acquisitions recently, although I did find a cheap edition of a scarce Virago for Ali! I’ve moved on to reading my book about the Brixton Academy bought last month, and am writing a review of Malala’s dad’s book for Shiny which I will link to here when it’s published. I really hope I get to read more books next month!