This festive season, we asked Society Director, Professor Joe Smith, about what books he’ll be reading over the winter break.
He says: “One of the few good things about this very tough year is that so many of us have returned to the pleasures of reading. Thinking ‘twelve days of Christmas’ I’ve chosen a dozen books, including some I’ve read, some I’m reading and some I’ll spend time with over the holiday when the Society is closed.
1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Solzhenitsyn’s account of life in the gulag in Stalin’s Russia is a book I haven’t read since my teens. In the years since I’ve spent a lot of time with a couple of people who experienced years interned in Stalin’s Siberian camps as children. This simple account of a single day opens up a world of unimaginably difficult experiences. But they made it through.
2. Ann Johnston – An Introduction to the Trees of Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Lockdown permitting, I’ve spent a lot of time in the nearby Cambridge Botanic Garden. I love this introduction to some of the author’s favourite trees, which is written by an enthusiast volunteer rather than a practicing scientist. A bit like the Society, botanic gardens welcome and serve both professionals and amateurs.
3. Johny Pitts - Afropean
An interesting year to publish a book that explores both what it is to be European and specifically, what it is to part of Europe’s Black communities. I’m going to return to Johny Pitts’ book over the holidays. I’ve already found this original travelogue is threaded through with a curious and generous tone. Also, I like the way the book is just one element of a wider project.
4. Melissa Harrison – All Among the Barley
Melissa Harrison’s novel is a slice of English history and culture, delivered via a girls-eye view of life on a 1930s farm. I’m fascinated by the period: changing food systems (one of my prior research areas) is just one dimension of shifting political, economic and technological forcesat play. But above all, a well told story.
5. Bridget Minamore – Titanic
Plenty of us have turned or returned to poetry this year. Along with some old favourites, I’ve been re-reading Bridget Minamore’s Titanic collection. Direct, funny, tough - sometimes all of these things. The book was a gift for a significant anniversary from my partner in life and varied projects over the years @renatatyszczuk.
6. Vladimir Arkhipov - Home-Made Europe
Home-Made Europe is a compendium of ‘contemporary folk artefacts’, or useful stuff made from found objects. An inspiring collection that shows humanity’s endless capacity for ingenuity and adaptability. Also, plenty of humour in the book – intended and otherwise. We’re going to need all of that in the years ahead.
7. Tony White - The Fountain in the Forest
The Fountain in the Forest is on my holiday reading list. I much enjoyed his Shackleton’s Man Goes South, which grew out of a residency at the Science Museum. Tony blends big ideas and big stories - and I’m confident this will be a good investment of time.
8. Paul Rose and Joelle Martin-Achard – Global Biodiversity Festival: The Book
The Global Biodiversity Book is based on the festival of the same name (held virtually in the summer of 2020) and contains a great collection of inspiring ideas and action drawn from three days of talks. Featuring short pieces, they make you feel like making the world a better place isn’t so difficult after all. My piece in it is ‘How to stay safe and enjoy your stay on Campsite Earth’.
9. Kim Stanley Robinson – The Ministry for the Future
I’m not a big Sci-Fi fan - and I realise that admission will see me dropped from a few greetings card lists. But a couple of people I trust have pointed me to Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel. Oliver Morton describes it as the best climate change book he’s read, and I suspect he’s read them all.
10. Klaus Dodds – Ice: Nature and Culture
Society Fellow, Klaus Dodds’ contribution to the Reaktion Books’ brilliant Earth Series, is a cultural and historical account of ice and very firmly fixed on my wintry reading list. My flick through promises a beautifully illustrated and engagingly written volume. As the late, great David Bellamy FRGS says of the series: “What a fantastic idea, science and culture brought down to earth”. Quite an apt description of what lots of geographers get up to.
11. Amanda Craig – The Golden Rule
Remembering a fleeting COVID-secure outing to the beach in the late summer, I share here a satisfying page turner by Amanda Craig. It covers the big issues of the day, but in a can’t-put-down-story of twists, turns and believable characters living through just-believable coincidences. Also one that will be good to shake the sand out of the spine onto the table and hope for a summer on the beach in 2021…
12. Clerkenwell Boy and Serena Guen – Cook for Syria
We are in the midst of a season of festivals for a number of religions that have their origins in the Middle East, so here is a cookbook that’s also a fundraiser for UNICEF’s work for children of the region. Food has been a big part of how many households have ‘held themselves together’ in a tough year. We’ve really enjoyed this collection of recipes offered by a fantastic roster of chefs.
We are closed completely between Thursday 24 December 2020 and Friday 1 January 2021, inclusive.
The Society has awarded accreditation to Master’s degree programmes for the first time.
The Society has responded to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on the UK’s National Data Strategy.
Our Research Groups have done a great job of creatively adapting to a very challenging year. In celebration of their work, here are just a few highlights from 2020.
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