Thursday 18 January 2024

A Year's Reading

Last year, for the first time ever, I kept a list of all my reading. It turns out that I read the nice round number of 52 books, which suggests that I read one a week, though I'm a much more irregular than that. In August I read 7, while in December I only managed one. 20 of the books were fictional, either novels or collections of short stories, while the rest were biography, memoirs and factual books. It's this latter group that I'm concentrating on here.


"The Man Who Climbs Trees" by James Aldred
If you ever find yourself needing to get an elderly man to the top of a very high tree then James Aldred is your man. If the gentleman happens to be Sir David Attenborough you'd better get him safely back down again too. Aldred makes a living by climbing trees, taking photos and working on wildlife films. This book will take you on adventures to Borneo, Congo, Peru, Australia, Gabon, Papua, Venezuela, Morocco and even little old England. It opens up the world of the forest canopy which is otherwise hidden from us, without us having to be stung by bees, chased by elephants or brave these vertiginous heights. If you want a slightly quieter read closer to home, I can also recommend his book "Goshawk Summer" where he attempts to film these enigmatic birds of prey during the Covid pandemic.

"Soundings - Journeying North In The Company Of Whales" by Doreen Cunningham
I nearly included this among the novels I read in 2023; it reads very like one, for she exhibits not only her breadth of knowledge but also depth of feeling. As a young single-mum living in a hostel she decides that she and her little boy, Max, with embark on a journey to see the Grey Whales which migrate along the west coast of N America. She does have some experience of whales and the peoples of the far north, but that's now all in the past as young dreams are overtaken by harsh realities. I can't recommend this book highly enough if you'd like to learn about whales, climate change, the changing lives of the indigenous peoples of the north while at the same time being gripped by this brave woman's quest.

"An Economic History Of The English Garden" by Roderick Floud
A rather dry sounding title for a fascinating book. Most of us, when wandering around England's great gardens will ask the same question "How many gardeners does it take to look after all this?" Floud goes on to ask many more: "How much did this all cost at modern day prices?", "How much money did Capability Brown actually make?" "Where did all the money for these gardens come from?", "What was the point of it all?" "Did this have any effect of the economy of the country?" "Just how much did it cost to produce a single pineapple when they first learned to grow them here?" - at modern day prices? £569 for one pineapple!

"Finding Hildasay" by Christian Lewis
Ex-paratrooper Chris Lewis finds himself slipping into the kind of depression and hopelessness which so often afflicts former servicemen once they leave the armed forces. On a whim he decides that he'll walk around the coastline of the UK - including all the islands. He sets off with little equipment, hardly any money and only the vaguest plan. He returns years later with a dog, a fiancĂ©e, and a child. Along the way he also raise £500,000 for an ex-servicemen's charity. 


"The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England" by Ian Mortimer
Ah, if only school history lessons had been like this! The "time traveller" bit is just a device to put you firmly in those distant days and describe what you might have encountered. It doesn't flinch from some of the more unsavoury sights and smells - a sort of "Horrible Histories" for grown-ups! It tells you about living conditions, food and drink, the laws of the land....everything in fact that those dreadful stories of kings and queens fail to mention

"A Wood Of One's Own" by Ruth Pavey
I always enjoy a quiet poke about in small woods, finding out what's there, figuring out the wood's history, and, often as not, finding unexpected peace and tranquility. Reading this unassuming little book is a similar experience. Ruth Pavey, a teacher in London, has a sudden desire to own some land in Somerset. Having found a suitable plot, she goes to the auction, gets outbid, and buys a piece of land that nobody else wants. How she goes about transforming this unpromising scrap of real estate into something useful to her forms the basis of this quiet little tale.

"Madhouse At The End Of The Earth" by Julian Sancton
Great achievements are sometimes said to be the result of standing on the shoulders of giants, however in some cases it would be truer to say that goals have been reached by standing on the shoulders of madmen, cranks and failures. Those who triumph are celebrated by history; those who fall short are forgotten. This is the story of Belgium's attempt at Antarctic exploration which foundered in frozen seas and the long, dark polar winter. Many of those involved left diaries of their disastrous misadventure and from these Julian Sancton has reconstructed their gripping tale. But among the madmen cranks and failures is a discredited dreamer who saw a possible way to succeed and also a highly-motivated young man who later drew on these ideas and became a household name.

"The Lost Rainforests Of Britain" Guy Shrubsole
They are not all in the tropics, you know. There are also temperate rainforests and Britain has some tiny fragments of them, scattered along our western shores. Guy Shrubsole sets out to visit as many as he can, which involves some difficult journeys, some negotiation and more than a little trespassing. Along the way he learns a great deal about these (almost) lost rainforests and conjectures just how much can be restored and how much is gone forever.

*******
Some of you will have noticed that I haven't posted for a while and some may remember a long hiatus back in the second half 2022. I think it's time I explained what's going on. 

Back in August 2022 I started to get pains in my back and hip; having spent most of my life doing very physical work I didn't pay it much attention. Eventually, at the beginning of October, I was admitted to hospital, had all kinds of blood tests, scans and courses of medication, though it didn't take long till they told me  that I had prostate cancer, not only that but it had spread to other parts of my body and was incurable.

I had hormone treatment and, alongside regular medication, was put on a new drug that was being trialed. After a few days I felt good as new and Les and I were able to recommence taking regular walks. My brother has been a tower of strength throughout, taking me to my endless appointments and keeping a grumpy old man positive.

Just before Christmas my blood tests revealed that my cancer had found a way around the medications and was starting to have a party in my bones. Pain started soon after. There are still further courses of action - radiotherapy, chemotherapy and another new drug. I wait to see how this all goes.

If I find things to blog about I'll be back here pronto!


Take care.


46 comments:

  1. So sorry to hear this. They are really finding lots of drugs to help now so I hope the one you have will mean a positive outcome.
    Stay strong

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  2. I just finished two crimes novels and one fantasy one called sword catcher. These are so addictive

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  3. Thank you for these reviews, many of which have found their way to my wish list.
    However, and more importantly, I am very sorry to hear of the reason for your absence from the blogosphere. I hope (fervently) that the new treatment/medication helps. A lot.

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  4. What wretched news, I do hope the new treatments will work for you.
    Guy Shrubsole, what an apt name, must have had a difficult time finding rainforests in Britain, though the famous one on Dartmoor , Wistman's Wood is about the only one I know. Take care.
    Thelma

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  5. Hi John - oh gosh how challenging ... thank goodness for Les with his support etc. I'm pleased there's been medical help, but also understand there are limits. You seem to be coping and keeping up a positive attitude ... I'm sure the blog helps.

    Thank you for your four book recommendations - and I hope there'll be more of your 52 to send us searching, and learning. You've given us so much knowledge over the years - always fascinating takes on our natural world - particularly in your Cambridge/East Anglia area ...

    With thoughts to you and Les - take care, and take those positive aspects of life along with you - all the very best - Hilary

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  6. This is truly dreadful news, John, the kind of news I have been hearing far too much of lately. Advancing age carries with it this burden, both the news of others, and the spectre of one’s own susceptibility to serious illness. Please know that my thoughts are with you and I am vicariously grateful that Les has been a pillar of strength. It is probably facile to say, since we are on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but if there is any help that I could provide you have only to ask. On a more prosaic note, thank you for the book recommendations. I shall be checking out a couple of them. With my very best wishes - David

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  7. Well dear John it seems we are on a similar journey - my cancer is climbing up my body it seems - colorectal and now signs in liver and lungs. Am on palliative end of life care (I am 91). My decision is to enjoy every day when I feel reasonable and just to put it out of my mind as much as I can. Do be strong whenever you feel well enough even the shortest walk will produce a photograph or two and that will keep me going. I will think of you often for what it is worth. But do know that the beauty of your nature photography has given me immense pleasure and comfort for years now - and long may you continue. Very best wishes. pat x

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  8. I think you have it in you to keep going as best you can for whatever time you have. You seem like that kind of person to not let this diagnosis get you down. Plus you have all of us to support you in your final journey. We will be here at our computers for every step of the way. Blessings to you!

    As to books read this year I managed 94 which is almost 2 per week. I surprised myself. And that didn't include the books I started and gave up on! You named some good sounding non-fiction. I'll have to jot down some of those names.

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  9. Sorry to hear the news of your cancer, John. Glad you have a supportive brother at your side and medical options to help you. Wishing you the best!

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  10. I'm sorry to hear that cancer has come calling on you. I hope that some type of therapy will help. My brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August. He's taken radiation.

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  11. Sending a big hug from here . Pirate's prostate cancer has at last been beaten into submission but it looks like the bowel cancer is made of sterner stuff..he is on palliative care but they are re-scanning him just in case there is something else they can do.
    I am so envious of your book reading..I used to read a lot..but that seems to get squeezed out when you're caring for another

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  12. Oh, John. I started to get concerned. So many people dealing with such difficult, difficult situations. My thoughts are with you. I echo what Pat has said. You have provided a gentle, peaceful space in blogland. I hope to follow along with you for many years.

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  13. I am sorry that you are taking this journey, John. I had been wondering where you've been and why there were no new posts here. I so wish you an easy time ahead and that all the new treatments help in every way. Thinking of you and Les and sending the very best wishes from my heart to yours. Take care there, dear blogging friend. (NewRobin13)

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  14. Thanks for the book reviews. I'm always looking for a good read and I'll add some of these to my list. I, too love to read nonfiction.
    Sorry to hear about your cancer coming back. Fingers double crossed for you that the docs can get it back under control.

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  15. So good to hear from you - although very sorry to know you have yet another battle with cancer. Having dealt with cancer myself over the years, I completely understand how difficult it can be. My heart goes out to you. Best wishes for your success in this next round. From the base of the mini-mountain in Maine.

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  16. Such nasty news, John. There have been so many advances made which I hope will be able to help you. I'm glad that you have Les as a support. Look forward to some more posts from you soon. Hugs.

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  17. He sido una gran lectora, pero ahora me falta tiempo para la lectura.
    Un abrazo.

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  18. So sorry to read your news. I hope all goes well with the new treatments, I have missed your wonderful posts in the last few weeks. Take care.

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  19. So very, very sorry John. Every best wish for a positive outcome with these new treatments.
    "Finding Hildasay", has gone to the top of my reading list.

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  20. I was so afraid the cancer had got worse when you didn't post for so long...was about to call Les this weekend. You know all your cousins over here are praying for you and sending their best to you. I hope the treatments will be effective and keep you going for many more years, dear Cousin. Much love from over the pond.

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  21. You have brought me much enjoyment in my pre bedtime ritual of blog reading, my thanks for that. Always have looked forward to yours....beautiful photographs and interesting narratives from a place far away. So here's to more to come from you if it can be so!

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  22. Oh dear, so sorry to hear your news. Hope the treatment will deal with it and is in itself bearable. They can do marvellous things these days. Stay positive.

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  23. Another blog friend here John who is really sorry to hear this news. Les is a great brother and friend, and having him around must be a great comfort to you. I sense that you are a very positive person, and hopefully the continuing treatment, and the new drug will have good results. Best wishes and take care John.

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  24. Oh John I'm very sorry to hear this news. I wish you all the best for a positive outcome. I like the sound of The Man Who Climbs Trees and I enjoyed Finding Hildasay. Take care.

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  25. So sorry to hear about your news. Hoping for the best with the new treatments and for ongoing posts. I enjoyed your book reviews and ordered The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. So thank you.

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  26. So very sorry to hear your news, John. Keep your positive attitude and know that many prayers are being said for you as you continue treatment.Sending lots of love to you and Les.

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  27. Keeping you in our prayers Cousin. Sending many positive healing thoughts your way!

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  28. These books sound intriguing. I shall have to look over here to see if I can find them. I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis, we will be keeping you in our prayers for relief and healing. Sending you lots of love and hugs.

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  29. John, not sure why but when a blogger goes missing for a while it seems they return with a not-so-good update and I was truly sorry to read yours. I have enjoyed the jaunts you have taken solo and with Les for the past few years as I only "found" your blog in recent years. That said, I spent some time reading through your early posts that started in 2011, so we have both been blogging for well over 10 years. And, as so often happens those first years drew few comments but then grew over time and now you have amassed a host of blog friends, like myself, who have enjoyed your photo skills and commentaries, thank you. While you may not be going out on walks, I hope you will not disappear from the blog community as I am sure you can share more, for example, about your reading journey.

    Thanks for sharing the titles and synopsis of the books you read and enjoyed during 2023. I read nearly 60 books in printed or e-book form and listened to over 70 audio ones, coincidentally many were cozy British mysteries of no more than 3 hours.

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  30. Thinking of you John and wishing you all the best for a good recovery with the new treatments.

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  31. I was missing your wonderful photos, and now I know why you were not appearing on my screen. I'm sending some warm healing hugs from cold Canada, hope they work, it's the latest technology y'know. I'm going to check your book recommendations with my local library. F

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  32. Sending you aloha and best wishes from Honolulu. God bless you

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  33. I’m sending love and positive energy to you John. Your books have been added to my the list. Especially the one about the woman who bought the parcel of land no one wanted. It strikes a chord in me.
    Fresh air is always good for the soul so I am glad you take the time to have a walk when you can.
    I love your blog. I don’t often comment and usually do so anonymously but I love to read what you write. It’s soothing and the love you feel for your area always comes quietly through.

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  34. Thinking of you, and so hoping the treatments will help you. Your blog is such a light in the world. I pray you will be well and can continue with your walks.

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  35. So sorry about the news. I've just started to miss your stories and wonderful photos. Your blog is a beautiful little place. Sending you hugs and positive energy.

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  36. I wish you the very, very best in your treatment.
    I purchased "A Wood of One's Own." I loved what you said about it.
    Take Care,
    Kay
    Utah,USA

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  37. How awful for you and well done for continuing through 2023 to walk and post your lovely photos of the English countryside. I sincerely hope that medical science can help you again and let you enjoy walking again.

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  38. How's it going friend? Thinking of you.

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    1. Struggling on! Still in pain but managed to get out for a pub lunch with Les yesterday which made a nice break. Still hoping to get out for walks some day. Many thanks to all my blogging friends who've sent best wishes.

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  39. Thanks for the update, John, I too have been thinking about you and checking the blog and comments regularly. Sorry to read that you are in pain, but good that you were able to meet up with Les for a pub lunch and maybe future walks. Sending my best wishes as well that you will be feeling up to more days of enjoyment as you are missed, my blog friend.

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  40. I was glad to see this comment John. You don't need to publish it. I just wanted to let you know that I thought of you this day.

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  41. I'm sorry that you're dealing with this. Stay strong.

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  42. You have been thought of this day. I send my best thoughts.

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  43. Just stopping by to say that I've been thinking of you and sending good wishes from California. Take care there. (NewRobin13)

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  44. Hi John, just dropping by again o say hello and wish you well. As you can see by the previous comments and this one, you are missed in blog land. Hope you will be able to post an update soon on how you're doing.

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  45. So sorry to hear this! Have enjoyed arm chair walks with you!

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