Friday, 18 December 2020

Books For The Curious

If there is anything good about having to stay home more than I would choose, it's that it has made more time for reading books. Here are just a few that have interested, intrigued and entertained me over the past few months...

"Dark, Salt, Clear" by Lamorna Ash

If you grow up with an unusual name like "Lamorna", you soon become aware that it's the name of a Cornish fishing village. Not only that but one of Cornwall's favourite songs is "Way Down To Lamorna". So it was for Lamorna Ash, even though she grew up in London and went to university in Oxford. The book tells how she moved down to Cornwall to discover her roots and learn about the fishing community in the town of Newlyn. Most of us would be content with a brief visit and a search on the internet, but, luckily for us, Lamorna is made of sterner stuff and joins in with the drinking in the pubs and accompanying the rough 'n' ready lads out on the fishing trawlers, learning how to gut fish. It's a privileged glimpse into a fast disappearing world.

"An Audience With An Elephant" - Byron Rogers

Those of you who enjoy the eccentric tales and curious places that I sometimes turn up for this blog will warm to this collection of writings by Mr Rogers. Besides meeting the last elephant to appear in a British circus, we also makes the acquaintance of the last tramp to walk the roads of Wales, a very old man who competes in triathlons, the Duchess of Argyll, a rather jolly hangman, the poet R S Thomas and the man who wrote speeches for Prince Charles, among others. You'll also visit an ancient church, see a big hole in the ground caused by an explosion and get to ride on a train to nowhere. How can any sane person resist?

"At The Loch Of The Green Corrie" by Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig is a fine Scottish writer of all kinds of books. Once upon a time he wanted to be the poet, Norman MacCaig (and once upon another time he wanted to be a member of the Incredible String Band - but that's another tale, and one that gave rise to a different book). He later became friends with MacCaig and on the last evening they spent together before the poet's death, MacCaig said to him:
"I should like you to fish for me at the Loch of the Green Corrie, only it's not called that. But if you go to Lochinver and ask for a man called Norman MacAskill, if he likes you he may tell you where it is. If you catch trout I shall be delighted. And if you fail, looking down from a place I don't believe in, I shall be most amused."
A few years later Greig set out on his mission; the loch was elusive and the trout even more so. But along the way he learns about MacCaig, about life and about himself. It's a profound meditation set in the beautiful and sometimes bleak landscape of the Highlands.

"Mudlarking" by Lara Maiklem

"Mudlarks", if like me you've heard the word but don't really know what it means, were people who descended on the mud revealed by low tide on the River Thames in order to scavenge whatever had been washed up. These poor people made an unhealthy and precarious living by finding bits of coal, lost coins, old bottles and other "treasures". More surprisingly still, there are people who still engage in this grubby activity, though not from necessity, but more as an eccentric hobby. Lara Maiklem is one of these people and she takes us along with her as she scours the mud for anything that catches her eye, making her way slowly downstream past the best "mudlarking" sites. What she finds reveals the history of London, though you never know what's coming next - rather like being a "mudlark". And like the hobby itself, she gradually entraps you in the charm of this unlikely pursuit.

"The Baroness" by Hannah Rothschild

Cast your mind back a month or two and you may remember me writing about the banker and entomologist, Charles Rothschild and his interesting and very different children. The most surprising of all perhaps was Pannonica (Nica) who went off to New York and became immersed in the world of bebop jazz, being a kind of patron to the likes of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Here her niece, Hannah Rothschild, uncovers the story of the aunt whom the family avoided mentioning to her. She travels to New York and meets her and pieces together the extraordinary tale of the woman that the jazz musicians knew as the Duchess.

Thelonious Monk was also a strange and enigmatic character; many said he couldn't really play piano, while a knowledgeable few thought he was a genius (an opinion to which Mr Monk himself subscribed). Luckily for posterity Nica was among those few and supported him while he pursued his unique musical vision, waiting for the rest of the hepcats to catch up.

That's Count Basie sitting beside the piano - I think he understood, not sure about the man doing the introduction though!

Take care.


  1. Many of these sound interesting, and I'll be looking forward to spending some time with them. Thanks!

  2. I have read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Mudlarking.
    All of the other books you have featured tempt my weak willed self too.
    Thank you - and drat you.

  3. Such an interesting collection of books. The mudlarking sounds quite interesting. Enjoy your time reading. It's good for your soul. Hugs, Edna B.

  4. Great minds think alike, as they say. I started writing a similar post, then left it off. I might resume it. I really like the sound of the Byron Rogers and, being a fan of Norman MacCaig, quite fancy the Andrew Grieg, too.

  5. I like the sound of the elephant book John.

  6. Can't find many of these in my local library but Lemorna Ash's book is available so I might give it a try.

  7. I am not a lover of jazz but I found this Mr. Monk rather interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I wonder how you come across such books? Some of these sound really intriguing.

    I think you should read The Elephant Whisperer. I don't recall how I came across it, but I do think you might find it interesting. It is one of my favorite books and now there is one The Elephant in My Kitchen, written by the guys wife...I don't own it yet, but I will.

  9. I shall prove my sanity by succumbing to the Byron Rogers, I suspect!

  10. The first four books sound very much like something I'd enjoy reading very much. Thanks!

  11. Nice books!If only one had time to read !I have tons of books hih hih

    I like the jazz clip.Also very found of old retro music and films(Film Noir)

    Those were the days my friend!

    Take care and be happy!

  12. Hi John – thanks for these … Lamorna looks just like her mother and grandmother – they are family friends … particularly my brother and SIL. I heard her story on the Radio 4 book of the week … also Newlyn was where my mother lived for 40 years … she’s marked out for an excellent career …

    Byron Rogers’ book looks interesting … wonderful subjects to learn about. Hannah Rothschild – I’ve just read her book ‘House of Trelawney’ – very well written … and I ‘d thought about getting this one … so thanks for the thumbs up – I’m sure I’ll read it soon enough.

    Excellent post for us curious folk … have a peaceful Christmas and all the best - Hilary

  13. Thanks for the suggestions, John.

  14. I am stuck by the book about Cornwall and Mudlarking. I will have to see if Amazon carries them over here in the US. Merry Christmas.

  15. People seem to have either been reading more or reading less this year. I find it hard to concentrate on a book for long these days, though I don't know why.

  16. I already have "Dark, Salt, Clear" on my Wish List and will purchase soon.
    These I'll add - Byron Rogers book which sounds eccentric - "Mudlarking" intriguing - "The Baroness" too as I enjoy reading about Brits/Europeans who emigrated here as I did. . . . . and what they got up to once away from their strict parents! No I'm not writing a book about my experiences, haha!

    Enjoy the holiday season John - stay safe.

  17. I follow the mud larker on Facebook and Instagram and am intrigued by her finds and the history that comes with them. I confess to keeping bits and pieces of found pottery, shards, and old bottles. And I’m always searching for a treasure.

  18. Thank you for the reading recommendations. I enjoyed *The Baroness* and have submitted requests to our library that they purchase several of the others.

    Here're several I've recently spent time with: Rachel Joyce's *The Music Shop* and *The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry;* *Angels By the River* by James Gustave Speth and *The Enormous Room* by E.E. Cummings and *The Vertical Labyrinth* by Aldo Carotenuto.


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