A Year of Reading Frugally: Months Five and Six

A line of bookshelves, mostly full, runs from the left of the picture away into the distance. Bulbs hang from the ceiling illuminating them.

When I decided to start this challenge, six months ago, one of the things that seemed obvious to me (and one of the main reasons I created it in the first place) was that my TBR pile would be smaller at the end of it than it was at the beginning. The logic was sound – no buying books means there will not be any more books to add to the TBR pile – but it overlooked an important point, namely that other people would buy them for me.

This oversight on my part has meant that having had my birthday in April I am now the proud owner of nine new books and aware that friends and family think book purchasing for me whilst I am not purchasing for myself is entirely fair game. This is not something I’m going to complain about (quite the contrary, it’s lovely) but it did cause me a little consternation in terms of the challenge because I was uncertain whether reading them would break the rules. At which point found myself thinking about a question my friend Atlin often asks herself:

“Who made that rule and how’s it working for you?”

This is a very sensible question indeed and provided me with a clear answer. This challenge is mine, I get to decide if I read the books I’ve been gifted during this year and since I want to read them, I shall. So I’ve put them in their own section at the very bottom of The List so they feel properly included.

Reading wise I have once again found myself turning to fan fiction and book series I’ve already read in preference to new books, thanks to my brain wanting comfort and familiarity over fresh excitement. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series came to my rescue in March and a whole plethora of LoTR, BBC Sherlock and BBC Merlin fan fiction were my mental comfort blanket in April.

That said, I did read some books from The List (including one of my new ones) and those were:

  1. Nigel, My Family & Other Dogs by Monty Don
  2. Olive, Mabel and Me by Andrew Cotter
  3. The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman
  4. The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor
  5. A Spell in the Wild by Alice Tarbuck
  6. Notebook by Tom Cox

I enjoyed all of these immensely but two stood out in particular and it would be remiss of me not to share my thoughts on them both:

A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Witchcraft by Alice Tarbuck

For someone who uses the word Witch as an identifier in most of my social media profiles I don’t often recommend books on witchcraft, which feels quite remiss of me. I suspect that most of the time this is down to me thinking that they are too niche to be interesting to anyone but my fellow witchy practitioners and so all my recommendations are done in private chats where I know the people I’m talking to will appreciate it. This book, however, may be niche but it is also deeply accessible and written in prose that’s so achingly beautiful I want every single person on this planet to read it. I mean look:

The edges of language are sharp, and pervert our meanings sideways. What the edges tell us, if we listen to them, is that there are experiences we can have that we cannot talk about using normal means, or at least not satisfactorily. These are experiences not just of our single personhood, but also of relation. They are experiences of the world, in the world; they are experiences where flowers reach their light right out into our eyes. They are experiences where we feel as if we are full of holes, as if the world can come not only close against us, but can actually enter right into us, so that we are as shot through with it as if we were Saint Sebastian, and the world arrows. The world does this: demonstrates, occasionally, that it isn’t just connected to us, isn’t a network in which we are one distant, autonomous node. Rather, it is us. We are, then, overpowered by it, entered by it and transformed. And in the same way, we enter the world, daily, and transform it, for better or for worse. Every time we act, every time we think, even, we are shaping the world and it is shaping us, and there is no escape from either. Understanding those encounters is the job of witchcraft. Learning how to enter into them, how to court them, how to cause them: that is magic.

Tarbuck, Alice. A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and six centuries) of Magic (p. 11). John Murray Press.

The fact that Alice has found such a wonderful way to describe how I think about my own craft means the world to me and so I read this book slowly, a couple of pages a night, savouring every word. I was desperate to devour it but unwilling to shorten my time with it regardless of the rush of instant gratification I could have had and, given how quickly I normally read, I can offer no higher praise.

Notebook by Tom Cox

I love Tom Cox’s work and have followed his writing since I first found Under the Paw back in 2009. He’d tell you he’s a very different writer now than he was then and I’d agree but the “tom-ness” of all his books ties them together regardless of the subject matter. If you insisted I describe what he writes now I’d have to say something like “memoirist meets nature writer” but I’d be doing him a disservice; his writing defies boxes and it’s all the better for it. Notebook is a joyously weird and wonderful collection of his jottings from various notebooks and manages to be funny, evocative, compelling and deeply insightful all at the same time. I’d also recommend checking out his website, tom-cox.com, as he regularly shares his writing there and it’s an absolute treasure trove of wonderfulness.

If you do pick up either of these to read based this recommendation, please let me know what you thought of them!


4 thoughts on “A Year of Reading Frugally: Months Five and Six

  1. This was a great read and I’m interested in both books now! And the wisdom in who made the rule and how is it working? I feel that inside myself. Thanks for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely love Tom Cox and notebook is in my pile to read. I do feel like a bit of a stalker as I follow him and his parents on Instagram. I saw him speak in Bristol about his book Help The Witch and I love that he writes as he speaks. It’s an aunthetic voice that I can hear as I read and you are right it comes through in all the books regardless of subject matter. I am going to read all your blog now as I am attempting the same ‘no new books’ this year. Have failed and bought 4 recently on holiday in Dartmouth. ‘Supporting local businesses’ :-)) I am very interested in nature and the cycles of the year from a very earthy perspective. I have an allotment and garden a lot. Do you think the first book you mention fits with that perspective?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you find the other posts helpful and I even though it’s agains against the spirit of the no new books thing I thoroughly approve of local book shop purchases. When this challenge is over I’ve decided that I will no longer buy physical books from Amazon, only local bookshops, and do my best to buy as many e-books as I can directly from authors and publishers rather than on the kindle store. Re A Spell in the Wild, it is structured through a chapter for each month of the year and Alice discusses foraging and what it available in nature for each of the months. She doesn’t talk specifically about gardening as she lives in a city so it’s more focused on parks and other outdoor spaces but I found that an added bonus. Does that answer your question?

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