A Discursive Reading List, 2014


NB: Nicky Bird, SB: Susan Brind, JB: Jenny Brownrigg, JC: Justin Carter, AG: Alan Grieve , DH: Duncan Higgins, JH: Jim Harold, LP: Lesley Punton, SM: Shauna McMullan, MM: Michael Mersinis, AT: Amanda Thomson

Of Walking In Ice, Werner Herzog (1974). A diary account of a winter walk Herzog took from Munich to Paris, on hearing his friend was dying. He believed the adversity he would face on walking to her would keep her alive. (JB)

The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit (2013). The title comes from a phrase Georgia O’Keefe would sign off with on her personal correspondence, when she moved to the desert. This book traces the journey of the accumulation of memories versus memory loss, tracing journey’s Solnit makes during a period when. her mother slowly succumbs to Alzheimers. (JB).

A field guide to getting lost, (2006) and Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2014), Rebecca Solnit, are both beautifully written, thoughtful  and insightful. Another superb book is Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, where the first part of the book describes the origins of Yosemite National Park, and the National Parks system of the US, and the second part considers the nuclear testing that took place in the Nevada Test Site. Really interesting explorations of  ideas of (what constitutes) ‘emptiness’, ‘wilderness’ and the complex ideas about rights, assumptions, complexities about who owns the land, and the tensions that these differing assumptions/ assertions bring. (AT)

The Unofficial Countryside, Richard Mabey (1973) introduced by Ian Sinclair in a great new edition by Little Toller Books. It’s a book about a relationship between person and place(s). It’s a focus on the overlooked and comes from a hugely influential writer who wrote this classic in 1973, the year of my birth. (JC)

The Wild Places, Robert MacFarlane, Granta, (2007). This book is a fragmented journey through specific places in Britain’s landscape, weaving detailed observation of nature, geology, history and memory together in a poetic way.  (I can recommend reading Chapter 2, ‘Island’ at dusk.) SB

Mountains of the Mind, Robert MacFarlane (2003). This is the first book I read about mountains and mountain climbing that dealt with why we climb and crave the experience of mountain landscape rather than the “boys own” quality of some mountaineering books which are focussed on the summit/endurance. (LP)

Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture, Stephan Harrison, Steve Pile & Nigel Thrift (eds),  Reaktion Books, (2004). A great reader comprising short essays that cover subjects as diverse as caves, deserts, waves, battlefields, airports, pigs and God. Great to dip into. (SB recommended by Dr Nina Morris)

The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd, (1977). “This is a book about Nan Shepherds relationship with the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland, mountains that sit outside her front door and that she has known as long as she remembers.  It’s a travelogue of sorts where she moves around the mountains opening up aspects of them that allow the reader to understand the intimacy of the tiny spaces that make up the Cairngorms as well as their overall vastness. I love the deliberate focus on the local and the familiar in this book, and Nan’s celebration of the ordinary.  I read it earlier this year and went back to the beginning to read it again.” (SM) The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd.”Shepherd wrote the book in the 1940s, gave it to Neil Gunn to read, and sent it to one publisher who rejected it. It was finally published in the 1970s, and it feels so fresh, but has an intimacy borne from an incredible knowledge of (the nuances, the interiors, the fabric of) these mountains. She writes ‘I like the unpath best’, which to me speaks to not quite knowing, to the joy of discovering, and that can relate as much to creativity and how we make, as to walking and being in nature. (AT) (Also JB, LP)

Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney, (1983). This is Seamus Heaney’s translation of a medieval Irish poem called Buile Suibhne.  I read this first in 1994 and have returned to it 4 times since.  It tells the story of a king who following a curse made upon him has to live the rest of his days as a mad bird like creature, unable to rest in one place.  Its set in the north and south of Ireland and many of the places mentioned in it are close to where I was brought up – part of the reason I continue to return to the text. Sweeney portrays the landscape through the eyes of a mad, dispossessed, bird unable to stay still and always seeking rest…… it’s a peculiar and great way to view the land.(SM)

Hollow Land, Eyal Weizman, (2012). A book that looks at the multiple ways that architecture has been used to hollow out the land of Palestine, by the ongoing Israeli occupation and how built features function as weapons and ammunition. “The landscape and built environment have been transformed into tools of domination and control”. It talks about the way in which the subterranean spaces as well as the airspace above Palestine have been colonised leaving a thin layer of land in-between on which the Palestinians can exist.   (SM)

Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky, (2010). This gorgeous book depicts 50 remote islands from across the world from Iwo Jima to Tristan da Cunha and from Easter Island to Disappointment Island and was the winner of the German Arts Foundation prize for the most beautiful book of the year.  On one page are Schalansky’s hand drawn maps and on the other page cryptic stories from the islands.  “Rare animals and strange people abound: marooned slaves and lonely scientists, lost explorers and confused lighthouse keepers, mutinous sailors and forgotten castaways.  Armchair explorers who undertake these journeys will find themselves in places that exist in reality, but only come to life in the imagination”.  (SM)

Landscape and Memory, Simon Sharma (2004). A history book unlike any other. In a series of journeys through space and time, it examines our relationship with the landscape around us – rivers, mountains, forests – the impact each of them has had on our culture and imaginations, and the way in which we, in turn, have shaped them to answer our needs.(DH)

Satantango – a novel (1985) by László Krasznahorkai and Satantango– a film adaptation (1994) by Bela Tarr. The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm near the end of the communist era. Several people on the farm are eager to leave with the cash they will receive for closing down the community, it stands as a metaphor for our wider shared histories of displaced migration from the land. The novel and film explore the tense relationship held between the landscape and human lives and modernities endless war with nature, industrialisation and its forces. (DH)

Kilo, Mika Vainio (2013). Music released by Blast First Petite. An audio CD shaping ten tracks of a vivid and viscerally affective aesthetic whose themes of mass, dynamic and tone are succinctly, explicitly reflected in context of his shipping-themed track titles, and surely implied by its frighteningly physical presence. The relationship between landscape, sound and human failure.(DH)

I may be some time – Ice and the English Imagination, Francis Spufford (2003). A hugely readable, erudite and scholarly exploration of our obsessions with experiencing extremes, and limits in landscape, with an extended passage on the failures of RF Scott.(LP)

Wilderness Dreams – The call of Scotland’s last wild places, Mike Cawthorne (2007). A thoughtful look at Scotland based on personal experiences of the Scottish landscape. (A series of self-contained essays) (LP)

Mount Analogue : A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, Rene Dumal (1952). (The title kind of says it) (LP)

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer, (1997). A narrative account of the tragedy on Everest when 8 people died, and looks at the problems of  expedition tourism on everest . Very, very readable (a bit of an “on holiday” book). (LP)

Findings – Kathleen Jamie (2005). Eleven perfect nature essays. (JB, LP)

Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory, Lucy R.Lippard, (1983). An insightful book on art practice, landscape and timelines (NB)

Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979, Nicholas Alfrey, Joy Sleeman and Ben Tufnell (2013). Exhibition catalogue. While there are gender questions to be raised, this is a pertinent reminder of UK based artists’ interventions in to the land (NB)

Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity, Liz Wells (2011). Specific focus on the medium of photography and land including social, historical, gender perspectives (NB)

‘Histories’, Herodotus. Written around 450 BC and considered as the founding work of history in western literature, is a book I find returning time and time again. Moving beyond the description and utility of geography, it combines personal histories hearsay and myth in every description of land that for the moist part was never visited first-hand. Each individual section (named after the muses) places a series of layers and forms on the land itself into a landscape that exists in two levels – that of the real and the imaginary. (MM)

Refuge – an unnatural history of family and place, Terry Tempest Williams (1992). Williams is a writer and an activist, and this memoir is about Utah and the Great Salt Lake – where she interweaves a history of her family with her activism and the fight against nuclear testing, and the affects that nuclear testing has had on both the wildlife and the landscape of place, and her family, and the cancers that have affected her family (AT)

The Poems of Norman MacCaig, Editor Ewen MacCaig (2009). Nobody writes about Sutherland and Assynt like MacCaig. (AT)

The Peat Fire Flame, Folk Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, The Moray Press, (1937). A book on Scottish Folklore (AG)

The Man Who Walks, Alan Warner (2003). “Cutting through the romanticism of landscape, this tale paints it black and injects weirdness” (AG)

The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin (1936). This was suggested by Jim Harold after Alan Grieve’s talk on contemporary storytelling and landscape. The essay outlines Benjamin’s belief that the oral tradition of storytelling was dying out.