by Jacqueline Hitt
They say that a person’s bookshelves speak volumes about them. So, what I wonder can you tell from mine? As you look at them (or rifle through the piles of books by the side of my bed), it won’t take you long to work out what I’m passionate about. How easy will it be for you to uncover why?
My pale oak shelves are laden with books. Their main colours lean towards the blues, greens and teals of the colour spectrum. This is your first clue. The second is the titles on their spines and what’s depicted on their exquisite illustrated covers. Each announces, in a variety of artistic and photographic styles, typefaces and fonts, that the book’s owner loves – adores – nature and wild places.
As your gaze wanders along each shelf, you see a blend of soft and hardback editions. A small number are old. Antiquarian is how a bookseller would describe them. Most are newer, their spines barely broken. Their writers span over 200 years of time, and territories hundreds even thousands of miles part. The majority fall into what publishers like to label ‘new nature writing’ but not all.
There are authors you know, but many you don’t. Classics by Gavin Maxwell, John Muir and Aldo Leopold. More recent titles by Mark Cocker, Miriam Darlington, Kathleen Jamie and Stephen Moss. There are a mix of male and female writers but the balance tilts towards the men. A reflection on their owner’s taste? A lack of diversity in their authors? It’s impossible to tell.
Why would someone want to read so many of one genre of book?
You look at the subject-matter of each. Big, challenging topics lie at the heart of some (the majesty of mountains, the mystery of the oceans, the miracles that are trees) while others are devoted to a single species or family.
There is a group exploring the ecology and habits of different mammals (the badger, hare and otter), another on insects (dragonflies, butterflies and bumblebees), and several that delve into a damp reptilian world of newts, frogs and toads. Cetaceans feature, as do fish and plants. A collection of nature poetry is sandwiched between several books on birds.