Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Desert Island Books.

I came across an article written in a non birder blog which named five books that the blogger would like to take to a desert island. It was a kind of Desert Island Books thing. Desert Island Discs is a programme on the radio I like to listen to even though I think some of the choices rather odd and often wonder if the personality would really want to take such ‘stuff’ with them if they were going to be stuck with it indefinitely. Anyway the article did get me wondering which of my books (which are some way related to natural history) I would like to take with me for my own desert island discs. I may give some thought to music later. I’m going to stick to the format of eight and even cheat a bit as there is no one to stop me. It wasn’t an easy choice as I’d miss all of the others left behind, but I did definitely want stuff that would keep me occupied and keep the mind ticking over. So I plumped on the following that I have on my shelves and they aren’t in any particular order. I did discount any arty books, which wasn’t easy, as the work of people such as Keith Brockie has great appeal to me (I hear he has a new book coming out soon which is again focussing on the Isle of May). I thought in this respect I’d have enough visual stimulation exploring the island and looking at the prints in my other eight books.

Perhaps one the lightest books amongst the eight, but one that many years ago had me delving more into aspects of natural history and geology was David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. I still think the book and TV programmes are the best of the ‘life’ series (I have them all) although I accept that technological and other advances have been made since that issue, so some may fin Life on Earth a little old hat now. I found the information (and filming) on frogs especially fascinating at the time. The book has a bit of sentimental value too as I had it signed by the author when I bought it all those years ago, and all my life David Attenborough has fascinated me. He’s definitely the greatest communicator concerning the natural world as far as I’m concerned.

Next up would involve another great mind and that is Charles Darwin. I shall cheat here as I would want both volumes of Janet Brown’s Charles Darwin biography. The book shows how Darwin struggled to come to terms with some of his ideas and in fact it is well known he struggled on his famous voyage on the Beagle as he was often down with sea sickness. It is also shown how the ideas were built upon earlier thoughts of others. I’ve been meaning to try and get round to reading these volumes again, so being stuck on a desert island would give me the time.

A must take would be the BTO Migration Atlas. It’s a book that was put together in the main from information gathered by many people, many of them working on a voluntary basis. When anyone questions the wisdom of bird ringing this is one of the things I point them to. It gives much information on migration and the in depth migration patterns of the birds of Britain and Ireland. It’s a book I dip into time and time again, and even includes some Keith Brockie work.

Another two volume affair would definitely be wanting with me is the two volume (yes I’m cheating again) Birds of Scotland put together by the Scottish Ornithologists Club. Since purchasing these volumes I’ve given them only a cursory glance to be honest. I’ve seen enough to realise these are magnificently put together books with great photos, prints and maps. I could get well stuck into this. Scotland to me offers anything I would want in birds and nature, which includes great wilderness areas.

I choose something a bit different for my next choice and that is Jared Diamond’s Collapse. This deals in detail as to why societies have failed or survived and looks at many societies from around the world including Easter Island, Mayan, Viking and more up to date ones such as Rwanda. It goes into some scientific detail as to how the facts were worked out. A bit depressing in places, but it does end on a positive note at least to some extent. I’d definitely recommend this as a good read.

A book I have had for many years is the Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell. It’s aimed primarily at young people, so as to involve them with nature in a practical way. I’d want this one to remind me that an interest in nature should lead to discovery, learning and most importantly, fun which keeps one positive. There is too much negativity around about nature and in my opinion too many people take themselves and their hobbies far too seriously.

Next is Biographies for Birdwatchers by Barbara and Richard Mearns. I’ve mentioned this one in my blog before. It deals with the naming of birds and the lives of those commemorated in Western Palaearctic bird names. It’s another book I never tire of dipping into and it’s made me consider some of the people concerned in greater detail. An interest in bird watching and nature isn’t just about identification.

Last one is perhaps an odd one to choose. It’s a book I picked up for a ‘fiver’ last year at the RSPB Local Group fortieth anniversary celebrations. The title is, A New Dictionary of Birds by Landsborough Thompson. The theme that runs through all of the books I have chosen is that they are ones for dipping in and out of and as I am going to have to survive alone on the island I may not have time to sit and read at length. Of course this is not so new now, but this A to Z is full of good factual information and I can cope with any bits that are now out of date. First word in there is ‘Abdomen’ which I’m sure needs little explanation. Last words are ‘Zygomatic Arch,’ and you can look that up! Learning, remember, can be fun. There’s lots of interest in between.

So there you are, that’s my eight books. It wasn’t easy to get the number down to eight and I feel eighty might have been more appropriate. If everything was washed away in true Desert Island Disc fashion, and I could only save one book, it would have to be Birds of Scotland, not least as I haven’t read much of it and it is a great two volume edition.

Now I could pick eight discs very easily. Picking eight that are bird and nature related might not be so easy, although I can tell you now that Albatross by Fleetwood Mac would definitely be in there. I do seem to remember that the Albatross in the title is not referring to the bird! However little things like that won’t put me off. It’s a classic. I may have a go at choosing eight discs at some point in the future.

Not sure how I’d cope all alone mind you

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