February 2022 in Books

I had no specific theme and no plan for February. I felt a bit fed up and just wanted a month to rest in simple and delightful stories. I had a marvellous reading month with many four-star books as you will see. The days are getting longer and the pandemic seems to be leaving us slowly and reluctantly. But there are always plenty of other worries.

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane****

I came across The Lost Spells in my library app by accident. I saw ‘poetry’, ‘artwork’, ‘Robert Macfarlane’, ‘nature’, ‘sound design’ and ‘children’, and borrowed it immediately. It’s a collection of poems about wild animals, trees and flowers. If you’ve been reading my blogs and watching my videos you’d know that I’ve always struggled with poetry. But I thoroughly loved this collection, not sure if it’s because it’s written for children or if it’s because it’s contemporary.

The physical book comes with beautiful artwork – it took a lot of discipline to resist buying a copy. I listened to the audiobook which I think is equally beautiful and possibly more unique than the physical book. The poems are read beautifully and the sound of nature wrapping around the words is just out of this world. The audiobook is not long, only 41 minutes. But I listened to it at least four times from the beginning to the end. I just found some downloadable resources on its website. How delightful!

Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne****

I have now gladly caught up with this piece of British childhood. Obviously I’ve known the characters of Winnie the Pooh for years and years. But this was the first time I actually read the original stories themselves. Again I listened to the audiobooks. They were read by Bernard Cribbins and they were just the most magical and adorable stories.

A few things I discovered along the way. Pooh Bear might have very little brain, but he’s certainly an excellent poet. I was also very surprised to learn that the most educated animal in the forest is not owl at all. Kanga and Roo appear in the stories very early on and Tigger actually was a late addition.

There was a scene in the film ‘Christopher Robin’, when Christopher Robin came back from the Second World War and told his father that, when the English soldiers were out in the cold, hungry and wet, fearing for tomorrow, they would tell each other the stories of Winnie the Pooh for comfort. I now know what sort of stories they were telling each other and that makes the scene even more poignant. What a contrast it would have been. I wonder if they thought the war was the reality and the Pooh Bear and the forest a distant dream? Or did they try convincing themselves and each other that they would go back home to that green and peaceful homeland and the battlefield was a nightmare they would wake up from?

English Pastoral*** & The Shepherd’s Life***** by James Rebanks

The Shepherd’s Life is my all-time favourite and I have read it a couple of times. English Pastoral is the second book written by the same author and it was published in 2020. It’s still about farming in the Lake District and the writing is as good as the first book. But there’s a big difference and because of this difference, I don’t love it as much as the first book.

The Shepherd’s Life is personal. It’s about his childhood, his relationship with his father and grandfather, his experience with school and university, his daily tasks around the farm, all told with the Lake District landscape and farming as the ever-present backdrop. English Pastoral is a lot less personal. It talks about farming from a broader view and on a higher level – food production, environment, old verses new farming systems, consumers and supermarkets, agriculture politics. It’s very informative and educational. Since a large proportion of the book is on these bigger issues – I’d say more than 50% – at times it felt like lectures.

If that’s what you set out to read, it’s a brilliant book. Because I expected the book to be more like The Shepherd’s Life, I wasn’t as keen. But it does help me to understand Lake District farms a bit better and it nudges me to make better choices or at least think more about the choices when I shop. I admire how he responds to all the millions of challenges big and small on the farm, how he is open to seeing new things and different things, how he accepts and makes changes that are necessary and unavoidable, and carves out his own path according to this present time as well as his own convictions.

Because I wasn’t as keen, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t have liked The Shepherd’s Life as much as before. So I hurriedly listened to the audiobook read by Bryan Dick. I still love it.

Grasmere Journal by Dorothy Wordsworth***

Dorothy was William Wordsworth’s sister. They lived in Grasmere together and this is her diary from 1800 to 1803. It’s an ordinary diary recording a range of mundane goings-on, what time they get up and go to bed, what kind of housework and gardening they do, who visits them and sends them letters, where they go for walks etc. When I read it, I had mixed feelings of ‘I wish I could live a simple life like theirs next to Grasmere’ and ‘their life sounds a bit dull’. And I can’t make up my mind whether I want their life or not.

A few things that stand out, William, Dorothy and Coleridge seem to be constantly ill one way or another; Willliam has a very irregular sleeping pattern; and the fact that William Wordsworth might be worshipped as a poetry genius, Dorothy’s diary records clearly and honestly the amount of painful work it requires to be one.

The more I read, the more I felt, something about this diary puzzles me. Dorothy painstakingly records details of their daily activities but gives no explanation of any reasons behind them. She’ll say something like, ‘Coleridge’s letter darkens our evening’, and doesn’t say what the letter contains, or she’ll say that they whitewash the walls of their cottage, but doesn’t explain the significance of it. One day they suddenly all go on a tour to London, Dover and Calais, and the next sentence reads “On Monday 4th October 1802, my brother William was married to Mary Hutchinson” with no warning at all. Though to be fair, she wasn’t keeping the diary for us.

I was very glad of the notes in my Oxford World’s Classic edition. Without them, most of the diary wouldn’t have made sense at all.

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Ferber***

This is my attempt at understanding the Romantic movement. I’d say this is one of the more accessible ones in this series. I was interested because works from the Romantic period are on my Reading Oxford year 2 curriculum and I wanted an overview of some sort.

It gives a loose definition of the term ‘Romanticism’ and introduces many important poets at the time but also the characteristics of ‘the poet’ figure. It talks about ‘sensibility’ (think Sense and Sensibility), and the relationship between Romanticism and the French Revolution, Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution. Most of the book is informative and interesting – just above my level of understanding, and with me standing on tiptoes I could see a bigger view of this subject.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr****

A lovely children’s book about a Jewish family’s life around the time when Hitler rose to power. It’s an autobiographical novel. The author and her family had to flee Germany and move from country to country in order to live when she was a child. It was a dark and scary time. But the children were slightly insulated from the danger and fear, and as the story is written from the child’s point of view, it comes across mostly tender and full of life.

Two things I love and think the author does exceptionally well. She does a magical job showing what’s inside a ten-year-old girl’s head, and the ordinary relationship between two siblings.

A Note on Jane Austen from Selected Literary Essays by C. S. Lewis****

Lewis categorises Jane Austen’s six novels into two groups and has some very interesting insights into the characters. I summarised it all in a previous post so I won’t repeat myself here.

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers****

I did a reading vlog all about this murder mystery and I’m very excited to say, I might be visiting the crime scene very soon! You can watch me attempting (and failing) to solve the puzzle here:

Truth on Fire by Adam Ramsey***

A Christian non-fiction book published in 2021. The goal of the book is to help Christians to love God with both their mind and their heart, both their brain and their emotions. It’s a good book with many helpful chapters. But I have to say the introduction sets the expectation very high, and I’m not sure if the book rises to that challenge and achieves the goal.

White Ravens by Owen Sheers***

A Welsh novel that borrows a story from the Welsh folklore Mabinogion and puts it in a modern setting. It blends ancient myth, the Second World War and the contemporary seamlessly and it’s beautifully written. I’ll post a dedicated blog all about it soon.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling****

What can I say – this is the ultimate ‘I don’t care I just want a comforting book’ situation. And even it’s such a familiar story, I thoroughly enjoyed it once again.

Happy reading!

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