I have a copy of Robert Macfarlane's new book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot waiting here as a treat kept for a special occasion (delayed gratification again), and it's the cause of this degree of anticipation because the last book of his I read - The Wild Places - was just so good. That book happens to be today's Kindle bargain at a mere £0.99, and I'd suggest you snap it up if thoughtful, elegant, eloquent writing about the natural world is as much your cup of tea as it is mine.
Here are my impressions from back in early 2008:
"The books I've been reading recently have all been heavily populated. They have contained action and introspection, dialogue and drama, and the overall effect - felt once I take a step back - is of crowded reading. The Wild Places has been the perfect antidote to those densely peopled stories as it's almost empty of humankind. It is an open space of a book, and there's a freedom about the writing which is refreshing to encounter. Macfarlane journeyed around wilderness areas of Britain, following W.H. Murray's urging: "Find beauty; be still" and creating "a prose map" of landscapes described with a poet's store of language.
Exploring mountains and shores, woodland, rivers and islands, he walked usually alone, often at night, sleeping in the open, bathing in lochs, rivers, rockpools even, and the acute sense of place he discovered and describes makes this a very valuable and very beautiful account of fast disappearing country. His references to geology, history, physics and literature (he is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge) are never intrusive and always illuminating, and his empathic response to the land and the elements which shape it is eloquently set out.
At each location, Macfarlane collected a memento in the form of a stick, a feather or a stone - a "mineral postcard" - which would recall what he'd experienced and observed, but it's his hoard of gathered reflections and perceptions which are so powerfully but gently expressed here that will endure.
A line from John Muir quoted at the beginning of the book is telling: "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in". Whether out or in, Macfarlane is the best of guides and companions, and he deserves a wide readership."
There's a little bit more about The Wild Places (and some pictures of a beautiful place) in this post, and if you're in the mood for yet more Macfarlane, his earlier book Mountains of the Mind is also available today for under a pound.