Meet Our Readers
Gardener, broadcaster and writer
Growing up, I considered two things of the utmost importance in life: looking very closely at nature and reading.
We have added Alys’s recent bestselling memoir Hidden Nature to the shelf, too.
To find out more about why Alys chose these books, click on any of the covers.
The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry
Berry is a poet, philosopher and farmer based in America. His essays, novels and poetry tackle the complex issues around land, farming and the environment. It’s searing stuff that makes you want to challenge the idea that we have to exploit our land to survive.
All Mabey is good, but this is something else: a compendium of all our plants, native or not, and what they mean to us. From folklore to common names, this book reminds us that our plant life surrounds us, and is rooted deeply within the British psyche.
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees
This is a wonderful story of searching for truly wild woods around the world, and of how they came to be there. Deakin’s writing is so compelling: he is a wanderer, an outsider, a lover of wild creatures and the improbable settings where he meets them. This book is wrapped in flavour and smell – the description of eating a breakfast of walnuts, honey and yoghurt in a Kyrgyzstan walnut forest is just delicious.
Wild: An Elemental Journey
What is wild? Where does is exist? Outside? Or within us? I howled on a beach in Ireland when I finished this book: it seemed the most appropriate way to acknowledge how profoundly changed I felt. Pure poetry, written by a brilliant feminist.
Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1958; The Prime of Life, 1960; Force of Circumstance and Hard Times, 1963); and All Said and Done: An Autobiography, 1962-1972 (1972).
Ok, so this choice is a cheat because it’s four books, not one…
I am feminist. I believe wholly that intersectional feminism has to be at the forefront of any environmental movement. I read de Beauvoir’s diaries as teenager and then devoured everything else she wrote. She is one of the many women who made me the feminist I am today.
Do the diaries, then tackle The Second Sex.
Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years
Mead remains one of the most popular American anthropologists. That she was a woman was key to her work. She was famous for interviewing women and children, often travelling to remote communities to make sense of gender, the environment and society. During her academic career, she not only came up with new methodologies, but also talked and wrote in a new way about how we make sense of ourselves.
Blackberry Winter is a memoir of her childhood and early years as an academic and mother. I read this whilst living in New York in my twenties, and her work informed my early studies hugely. For Mead, it’s not nature or culture; it’s not about the environment or people. What matters is how these things work together.
The Summer Book
This is a lovely book from the author of The Moomins about the beginning and ending of life. It’s a tale about the adventures of a grandmother and her granddaughter on a tiny island in Sweden, and learning to tread carefully on tender things such as moss, and love.
The Living Mountain
This is the only work Shepherd published in her lifetime, and it is one of the most moving descriptions of a place and its meaning that I have ever read. The book is unique, perhaps because (unlike other nature writing) it doesn’t attempt to conquer or to fully understand a place; instead, it is a sort of love letter to the Cairngorm Mountains. Shepherd captures perfectly something that many of us know: that it is very possible to love a place, and to have a relationship with it that is as deep and fulfilling as any we might have with another human.
New and Selected Poems: Volume 1
Mary knows nature. She knows how to be attentive, and how to absorb details. To me, she is one of our finest living poets. Memorising her poetry is like being given a gift for when you need to say, ‘This is why our beautiful, wild world matters so much.’ It is as though she takes the very best of the other books I have chosen and distils it all into poems that you carry with you.
“Leaving her garden to the mercy of the slugs, the Guardian’s award-winning writer Alys Fowler set out in an inflatable kayak to explore Birmingham’s canal network, full of little-used waterways where huge pike skulk and kingfishers dart. Her book is about noticing the wild everywhere and what it means to see beauty where you least expect it. What happens when someone who has learned to observe her external world in such detail decides to examine her internal world with the same care? Beautifully written, honest and very moving, Hidden Nature is also the story of Alys Fowler’s emotional journey and her coming out as a gay woman: above all, this book is about losing and finding, exploring familiar places and discovering unknown horizons.”