Autumn non-fiction reads

Three non-fiction books I’ve read in the last two months –

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Is pop-botany a thing? It is with this charming book about the senses of trees, how they feel and how they communicate. Much of what is covered I had learnt in the handful of undergraduate botany and forestry units I did decades ago but nonetheless, it was nice to revisit drunken forests, conifer orgies, and mycelium networks. And I was reminded of the remarkable story about wolves, rivers and trees in Yellowstone National Park.

Wohlleben included lots I didn’t know about European tree species and the characteristics of European forests – ice isn’t a huge factor in the survival of the majority of Australian forests (but drought is). The peculiarities of different species was interesting (for example the term ‘shaking like a leaf’ is very real when you look at the Quaking Aspen), as was the author’s reflections on turning over 5% of German forest to ‘process conservation’ (which effectively means ‘do nothing’ and let nature take its course, for better or worse).

4/5 One for tree fans.

It Ended Badly by Jennifer Wright

If you’re up for a book that includes quotes such as “He was instructed to round-up all the dwarves in Moscow and send them to St Petersburg…” and “Party entertainment – a gang of prostitutes picking up walnuts with their lady regions…” then this is the perfect book. Better than playing All By Myself, a la Bridget Jones, Wright’s collection of the most traumatic/ dramatic/ horrendous break-ups in history is strangely compelling. What it lacks in emotional detail, it makes up for in historical facts – there’s plenty in this book about ancient Rome, medieval England and 1950s Hollywood.

The bottom line is that “You’re dropped” sent via text message seems nothing compared to Caroline Lamb’s scathing letter to Lord Byron, in which she enclosed a bloody lock of her own pubic hair.

3/5 Pop-history.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

I read the first half of this book many, many years ago (during my Holocaust-reading-decade). I may have revisited it after seeing the glorious film, Life is Beautiful.

But now I’m a counselling and psychotherapy student and the second half of Frankl’s book, on ‘logotherapy’ – his existential theory about the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful (and that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it) was my focus.

There is so much in this short book that demands reflection, thought and re-reading. If you haven’t read it, do (even if it’s just the first half).

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

“Ironically enough, in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes… Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

5/5 Should be compulsory.


6 responses

  1. Completely agreed with you on all counts re Wholleben and Frankl. I read the former for a book club and found it to be lightly amusing and a bit frothy. At the other end of the scale, the latter is the kind of book you never finish, no matter how often you read it. There is always some prescient wisdom to be gleaned from it.

  2. The tree one appeals since I saw a documentary with Judi Dench going in raptures over trees (she has the most amazing garden). You’ve convinced me even with those brief quotes that Frankl is compulsory – off to the library I go 🙂

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