I didn’t enjoy this as much as the other pithy Lewis-Stempel book I read this month, The Secret Life of the Owl. There’s a lot here about the role theI didn’t enjoy this as much as the other pithy Lewis-Stempel book I read this month, The Secret Life of the Owl. There’s a lot here about the role the oak has played in British history, such as in warships and cathedral roofs. Other topics are the oak’s appearance and function in different seasons, the use of acorns and oak leaves in cooking, and some of the myths and legends associated with the trees (the oak proverbs should have been placed in this chapter). I felt there was too much minimally relevant material added in to make up the page count, such as a list of some of Britain’s famous named oaks and long poems from the likes of John Clare and William Cowper. While Lewis-Stempel always has a piercing eye, I have to wonder if he shouldn’t be saving up his energies to write more substantial books.
Fun fact: “Britain has more ancient oaks than all other European countries combined.”
“A double proof of spring is when the male mistle thrush flies to the top of the oak and sings. A mistle thrush, in the bare choir stalls of an oak, always impresses with his physical bulk. He is Pavarotti in feathers.”
“The sodden leaves of oak break down with ease in autumn and form a rich leaf mould beneath the tree, which catches in the nose like churchy incense and supports such invertebrates as the stag beetle, and such fungi as the oakbug milkcap.”...more
Last year it was Mary Beard’s Women and Power; in 2018 this is the Christmas gift to slip into every feminist book-lover’s stocking. Adapted from WintLast year it was Mary Beard’s Women and Power; in 2018 this is the Christmas gift to slip into every feminist book-lover’s stocking. Adapted from Winterson’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture and supplemented by the text of Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 speech “Freedom or Death,” this is a slim, attractive volume that feels timely if insubstantial. Winterson gives a potted history of suffragism and argues that female brains are not wired differently; it’s just social programming that tells us so. Gender imbalances in university admissions and the job market continued into the 1970s, so it’s no surprise, she says, that women are still catching up 40 years later – and she supports measures that could be labeled as positive discrimination.
From the #MeToo movement she makes what seems like an odd swerve into discussing AI because computer science/Silicon Valley is very male-dominated and she wants to be sure women have a respected role in the future. My reaction to this was the same as to Beard’s book and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists: you can’t (and I don’t) dispute what the author has to say; for the most part the points are compelling and well made. Yet I don’t necessarily feel that I learned anything, or saw something familiar in a new way.
“When prejudice and bad science are no longer in the way, women always prove themselves as capable as men.”
“that’s how it is with patriarchy – we don’t notice the all-male panels, the movies where women are just the love interest, the number of male presenters on TV and radio […] and we do need parity, because women are one half of the population.”...more
Knepp may be a familiar name if you follow British environmental news: it’s synonymous with what’s known as rewilding. Tree’s husband, Sir Charlie BurKnepp may be a familiar name if you follow British environmental news: it’s synonymous with what’s known as rewilding. Tree’s husband, Sir Charlie Burrell, inherited the estate in 1987 and tried running it as an intensified dairy farm, but the enterprise was bleeding money and in 2000 they gave up and let the land return to nature. That wasn’t a totally hands-off process, though; it involved restoring the forest and river ecosystems and reintroducing traditional species like fallow deer, Exmoor ponies, ancient-breed cattle and Tamworth pigs.
Over the years the health of the landscape has improved dramatically. Rare birds including turtledoves have settled and bred on the site, and the soil is now remarkably fertile. The book is more of a blow-by-blow of rewilding than I was after, with lots of historical and geographical information as background. I was expecting more of a straightforward memoir. It was thus more of a book for my ecologist husband (though he already knew a lot about Knepp and has been there twice).
Here’s the project in a nutshell: “Knepp is a casualty of a global process of extraordinary rises in agricultural productivity and the resulting abandonment of marginal land. … It is an opportunity for nature unprecedented in modern history – if only we can overcome our deepest prejudices about what our land should look like.”...more
Lewis’s father was a World War I second lieutenant in the Mesopotamian campaign of 1916. Inspired by his diaries and photographs (that’s one on the coLewis’s father was a World War I second lieutenant in the Mesopotamian campaign of 1916. Inspired by his diaries and photographs (that’s one on the cover, and there’s also a section of them in the book), she wrote these poems reflecting on conflict in Iraq then and now. Often a poem arising from her father’s experience will face one based on an interview or newspaper report from the 2000s. The Middle Eastern myths of Eden and Gilgamesh are also a frequent source of metaphors or direct quotations. I was impressed by how Lewis brought all these different strands together; they make for a good mix of literary vs. lowbrow, cultivated vs. conversational. “The call-up,” in memory of Wilfred Owen, and “Y,” which is indeed shaped as a capital letter y on the page, are particularly beautiful.
Some favorite lines:
“life / here seems arbitrary and cheap. Each time you wake, / touch wood and pray you’ll be one of the lucky ones.” (from “June 1916”)
“Here we are stuck in the desert while their lives / keep on almost as usual there in dear old Wales / except it’s now a place where there are no young / men and people tell each other no news is good news.” (from “October 1916”)
“what wound into the canals was music, snaking / into the wounds of war, the desert’s music / of water, irrigating and cleansing … sounds of life trying / to go on as long as water continues to flow” (from “Epilogue”)...more
(4.5) Eighty percent of a facial surgeon’s work is the removal of face, mouth and neck tumors in surgeries lasting eight hours or more. McCaul also re(4.5) Eighty percent of a facial surgeon’s work is the removal of face, mouth and neck tumors in surgeries lasting eight hours or more. McCaul also restores patients’ appearance as much as possible after disfiguring accidents. Here he pulls back the curtain on the everyday details of his work life: everything from his footwear (white Crocs that soon become stained with blood and other fluids) to his musical choices (pop for the early phases; classical for the more challenging microsurgery stage). Like neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, he describes the awe of the first incision – “an almost overwhelming sense of entering into a sanctuary.” There’s a vicarious thrill to being let into this insider zone, and the book’s prose is perfectly clear and conversational, with unexpectedly apt metaphors such as “Sometimes the blood vessels can be of such poor quality that it is like trying to sew together two damp cornflakes.” This is a book that inspires wonder at all that modern medicine can achieve.
(My full review is in the October 19th issue of the Times Literary Supplement. There is a short excerpt available for free to non-subscribers here.)...more