This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.
Although Nature Near London is maybe more accurately classified as suburban nature writing, the ‘near’ in the title giving it away, it would feel remiss to begin this series with any other book. After all, a genre doesn’t spring up fully formed over night and part of the aim of this series of blog posts is to explore the evolution of urban nature writing as a sub-species distinct from nature writing (and if, indeed, it is possible to define the genre at all). With Nature Near London the seed of an idea was being sown – the idea that it is not necessary to turn ones back on the city to find nature. I also include Jefferies’ book because the city, London, looms large; it is a presence that forms a counter-point to the places Jefferies explores. It also loomed large in Jefferies’ own mind, and magnetised him even as he sought to escape it. Continue readingNature Near London by Richard Jefferies
I’m fascinated by sense of home. I’m not sure why but I often find myself feeling overwhelming nostalgic for moments and places where I have felt that sense of being at home: the living room of my childhood home, the dryer is on and the windows are fogged up; it’s autumn in St Andrews and there are leaves in the sea; the smell of coal fires filling the air on cold Cornish nights; summer evenings at Wollaton Park. I even sometimes feel anticipatory nostalgia for Amsterdam. Seemingly small things, like fogged up windows, can take us back to a particular time and place, tying us to that moment. Continue readingA home out of this world
For some reason, my boyfriend and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to finally get started on the balcony. In fact, we’ve been meaning to do something about it for the past year and a half, since we moved into our apartment. It’s a great balcony. It’s really spacious and instead of looking out onto a road, it faces onto a courtyard. There’s just one problem: other residents had got there before us. Pigeons. Continue readingThe war on pigeons
I’ve just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant and expansive cultural history of walking, Wanderlust. In her book Solnit charts the history of walking from its contested evolutionary history, to the English country garden, and from John Muir to American suburbia. Continue readingOn Wanderlust and walking
I’m reading a collection of essays at the moment called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. The essays explore the various aspects of the reading and writing life, such as: how to marry someone else’s books, messages on flyleaves, You-Are-There reading, the pitfalls of being a compulsive proofreading and plagiarism. However, I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Never Do That To A Book’ about how people treat their books.
I woke up this morning at 6, looked out the window, saw a white sheet of cloud across the sky and contemplated going back to bed. I forced myself not too. For a long time I’ve been wanting to get up early and go walking in the city. I had a romantic idea of what it would be like: the morning sun pooling on the old canal houses and in the trees that line the water, steam rising from vents down winding alleyways, shopkeepers lifting shutters and setting out tables, the smell of bread baking in the air, people on balconies with hot mugs of coffee, and a profound sense of peace and calm before the rush of the day begins. Continue readingOf gibbons and unexpected things
Last weekend I went back to Manchester for a few days. Spending time back home is always a slightly disorientating experience. Both going to Manchester and coming back to Amsterdam, I’m confronted by just how different the two cities are. There are the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, and the architecture. And then there are the differences like never seeing homeless people in Amsterdam, but always seeing several on the streets of Manchester. It was also disorientating to wake up on Friday morning to see a map of the UK swathed in blue, when I had been hoping for a very different outcome. All weekend and for days afterwards I felt a sense of sadness and disbelief whenever I remembered that the Conservatives are still in power. Continue readingElections and directions (or lack thereof)
22 January 2018: I will keep updating the list with new urban nature related books I encounter. However, I have decided from now on to focus in on books that provide a creative and personal response to urban nature. That means I won’t be reading any more guidebooks or academic books as part of this series. No doubt I will get around to owning/reading them because there are many fascinating academic texts exploring a number of urban nature themes and I love the way guidebooks reflect changes in attitudes towards urban nature over time, but the list is getting ever longer and I’d like to finish this project at some point!
Some time ago (I don’t remember when or how – though I can guess that I was probably on a train, which is where I have all my best ideas) the idea popped into my head to read and review every work of urban nature writing ever published, from Richard Jefferies’s Nature Near London, right up to the present day when the genre seems to have exploded. Once lodged in my mind, the idea refused to budge and it has been there ever since. Continue readingA history of urban nature writing
A few years back I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘How To Do What You Love‘. I’ve read it periodically since then and every time I seem to take something new from it. On the most recent reading, the bits about prestige seemed to stand out to me. Graham writes:
What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know?Continue readingOn writing and prestige
The other day I went to my local library to sign up for a Dutch speaking programme. I filled out the forms and handed them over to the lady at the desk. She checked over my answers and when she saw my surname she asked, is that a Czech name? No, I replied, it’s Hungarian. I didn’t think anything of it because I’m so used to people asking me about my name. Usually I’m asked if it’s Polish. No one, except Hungarians, guesses that it’s Hungarian, so the answer has become rote for me. No, it’s Hungarian. My grandfather was Hungarian. Continue readingWhere’d you get a name like that?