Nature Writing, a favourite genre

A Bookish Observation of a Favourite Genre
Nature Writing, and the pleasure of slow-reading

Nature Writing is non-fiction or fiction prose, or poetry, about the natural environment. Wikipedia

When there is a limited amount of shelf space in your home, each book that takes up a book-space is more than likely a special book; special to you. Three favourite genres that make up a quarter of the book-space in our home are selections from the genres of: Nature Writing, Slow Travel, and Books-About-Books (Literary Criticism). In previous blogs I’ve sung the praises of several books selected from the Books-About-Books genre, in this blog post I’ll focus on the genre of Nature Writing.

To me, Nature Writing has the same soothing pace of Slow Travel. Recently I’ve been reading Robert Macfarlane’s books, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, and Landmarks. And today I was passing our nearby charity shop, and right at the top of the box out the front of the shop was Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, for one dollar. ONE DOLLAR! Of course I snapped it up. We have this book in our audiobook library, and I listened to half of this wonderful story about two years ago, but I didn’t return to it. I decided it needed to be read in the traditional manner, that is, via a printed book. I listen to audiobooks often, but I tend to fall asleep after about ten minutes unless it’s a plot driven mystery. Nature writing needs focus so the reader can immerse themselves into the beauty of the narrative. Now I’ve got my hands on a printed edition of H Is for Hawk, I’ll be able to absorb it, slowly. 

I’m also slow reading, via a print edition, Olivia Laing’s To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface. The author tells the story about her walk from the source of the River Ouse in Sussex to the coast.

An audiobook I’m listening to, is Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks. This morning the narrator was reading a chapter about the author’s visit to his friends in the UK’s Lake District. Robert is guided to an abandoned quarry where there is a tunnel, and the book’s text describes the experience to the reader in such an eloquent manner, you can imagine what he is experiencing so very clearly. The thing that impressed me, as I listened to the author’s words, was how he had the ability to absorb incredible detail of the natural environment around him, and how he was able to write his memories down in beautiful prose. For example: the sounds of dripping water on rock, the colours in reflections, the way he and his friend were able to sit in the wet and cold and be calm, listening to the sounds around them and enjoying their own stillness. I guess you would call this mindfulness. The sensitivity to absorb the beauty within nature, is the core of nature writing.

The reading of nature writing needs the reader’s focus to absorb what the author is sharing.  Slow-reading, sitting comfortably in your reading space, warm, safe, and comfortable, can result in you experiencing the minunate of drops of rain, their sound and sight, reflections on the water, the different lights flowing over the landscape, ripples on a pond in the moonlight, and so much more.

In addition to beautiful prose, there’s more treasure awaiting the reader within these books, in the form of the authors’ musing on their life’s journey,  literature, and history.

More books in the Nature Writing Genre
Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain by Roger Deakin