20 Books of Summer, 4–5: Roy Dennis & Sophie Pavelle

The next two entries in my flora-themed summer reading are books I read for paid reviews, so I only give extracts from my thoughts below. These are both UK-based environmentalist travel memoirs and counted because of their titles, but do also feature plants in the text. I have various relevant books of my own and from the library on the go toward this challenge. Despite the complications of a rail strike and two cancelled trains, we have persisted in finding workarounds and making new bookings, so our trip to the Outer Hebrides is going ahead – whew! I’ll schedule a few posts for while I’m away and hope to share all that was seen and done (and read) when I’m back in early July.

 

Mistletoe Winter: Essays of a Naturalist throughout the Year by Roy Dennis (2021)

Dennis is among the UK’s wildlife conservation pioneers, particularly active in reintroducing birds of prey such as ospreys and white-tailed eagles (see also my response to his Restoring the Wild). In this essay collection, his excitement about everyday encounters with the natural world matches his zeal for momentous rewilding projects. The book entices with the wonders that can be experienced through close attention, like the dozen species’ worth of tracks identified on a snowy morning’s walk. Dennis is sober about wildlife declines witnessed in his lifetime. Practical and plain-speaking, he does not shy away from bold proposals. However, some of the pieces feel slight or dated, and it’s unclear how relevant the specific case studies will prove elsewhere. (Full review forthcoming for Foreword Reviews.)

 

Forget Me Not: Finding the forgotten species of climate-change Britain by Sophie Pavelle (2022)

A late-twenties science communicator for Beaver Trust, Pavelle is enthusiastic and self-deprecating. Her nature quest takes in insects like the marsh fritillary and bilberry bumblebee and marine species such as seagrass and the Atlantic salmon. Travelling between lockdowns in 2020–1, she takes low-carbon transport wherever possible and bolsters her trip accounts with context, much of it gleaned from Zoom calls and e-mail correspondence with experts from museums and universities. Refreshingly, half the interviewees are women, and her animal subjects are never obvious choices. The snappy writing – full of extended sartorial or food-related metaphors, puns and cheeky humour (the dung beetle chapter is a scatological highlight) – is a delight. (Full review forthcoming for the Times Literary Supplement.)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Wildlife for the free copy for review.

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17 responses

  1. Forget Me Not sounds superb!

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    1. I had a lot of fun with it. For the TLS I’m doing a dual review comparing it with a rather, ahem, male book that undertakes a similar quest. I wonder if you can guess which one!

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      1. Ooh! It’s not the orchid one, is it?

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      2. Nope, a good guess, though! Maybe the one I’ve reviewed is lower profile than I thought. It’s gotten some attention on Nature Twitter.

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  2. The Pavelle sounds well worth looking out for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite the sombre subject (species threatened by anthropogenic climate change!), it’s jolly good fun. Might your library system acquire it?

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      1. I’ll go and have a chat about it.

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  3. Both of these look promising to this naturalist from the US.

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    1. Glad to hear it! I know Mistletoe Winter is getting a U.S. release since I’m reviewing it for an American magazine. Not sure about the other one…

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  4. I really liked Mistletoe Winter when I read it last year. Not sure what the other book you are referring to in an earlier comment is though!

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    1. There were a good number of essays I liked, but then some felt extraneous, like the Fair Isle bird list or the trip to Iceland in the 1980s.

      A quite recent release. Hmm, I see you have it marked as to-read. I wonder if it’s on your shelf.

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      1. The only one that comes to mind is Where the Wildflowers Grow

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      2. Not that one — I have it on order from the library. (I’m reading Orchid Summer now and then need to find his take on the botany quest.)

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  5. That second one does look enticing, and you’re doing beautifully with your theme!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Liz! I’m having fun with it. I didn’t intend to include review books (I always try to use the thematic summer challenge as an excuse to read books that have long languished on my shelves), but maybe I’ll just keep going it and make it the 25-30 Books of Summer!

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  6. […] Sophie Pavelle, whose books featured earlier in my flora-themed summer reading: Orchid Summer and Forget Me Not. With Dunn on Unst, Shetland, he sees not only rare flowers but close-up orcas. Like Pavelle, who […]

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  7. […] fiction standout was The Language of Flowers, reviewed above. Nonfiction highlights included Forget Me Not and Braiding Sweetgrass, with Tree-Spotting the single most useful book overall. I also enjoyed […]

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