Places Archive

Lines on the landscape with Macfarlane and Lopez

Thanks to the Twitter feed of the writer Julian Hoffman, I was directed yesterday to a recording of a conversation last Thursday between Robert Macfarlane and Barry Lopez at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Macfarlane — who is currently promoting his new book, Underland, in the United States — has said that it was reading Lopez’s Arctic Dreams at the age of 21 that turned him into a writer. Lopez has been similarly complimentary about Macfarlane’s work. The pair have long been writing to each other, but this was their first meeting. There’s an element of the mutual admiration society, but this is still a conversation worth hearing, in which two masters of writing on place talk about their craft and the ends to which they have turned it in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

  On June 27, incidentally, Julian Hoffman is due to publish Irreplaceable: The Fight to Save Our Wild Places (Hamish Hamilton), for which he set out “to explore loss in a way that wasn’t simply elegiac but defiant”.

‘Far corners and deepest depths’

The latest podcast of The New York Times Book Review takes listeners into “far corners and deepest depths”, featuring Robert Macfarlane, talking about his latest book, Underland (which you can read more about on Deskbound Traveller), and Julia Phillips, whose debut novel, Disappearing Earth, is set on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia. The Book Review also has a review of Underland by Terry Tempest Williams.

13 titles on Wainwright Prize long list

The long list for the Wainwright Prize — £5,000 for the best writing on the outdoors, nature and travel focused on Britain — was released today, World Environment Day. It runs to 13 books, which vary enormously in genre, subject, tone and length. Among them are Underland, Robert Macfarlane’s exploration of the world beneath our feet; Out of the Woods by Luke Turner, which is both an examination of bisexuality and a tribute to “Effing” Forest; Landfill by Tim Dee, which is about birds — gulls, specifically — and rubbish; and Timesong: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn, a hymn to a vanished landscape and the people who once inhabited it. The full list is on the Wainwright Prize site; the short list will be announced on July 2.

Barry Lopez: wisdom-keeper turns wisdom-sharer

If you have any interest in what we’re doing to what Barry Lopez calls the “throttled Earth”, and how we might begin to ease our deadly grip, you ought to read his latest book, Horizon. My review appeared in print in The Daily Telegraph on May 11 and is now online. You can also read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Robert Macfarlane on dark places, deep time — and books to get buried in

Back out in the light: Robert Macfarlane, in front of the Oriental plane at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Picture © MICHAEL KERR

In his latest book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Hamish Hamilton), Robert Macfarlane travels into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it — physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends. It takes him from Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, via the catacombs of Paris, to a nuclear bunker in Finland. It’s a book that expands our notions of what constitutes landscape. It’s one full of wonders — in Kulusuk, Greenland, he celebrates “the wildest land I have ever seen” — but also of warnings of the harm we are doing in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

  A week before publication, I went to Emmanuel College in Cambridge, where Macfarlane teaches, to talk to him about  what he calls “the hardest book I’ve ever written”. He’s spent a lot of time recently in dark, poky places, so I wasn’t surprised when he wanted to make the most of a sunny day and sit outside. We talked in the Fellows’ Garden, yards from a celebrated Oriental plane that was planted some time in the 1800s and seems to have as many branches reaching down as up. I wrote a piece for Telegraph Travel that appears in print today and is also online (though you’ll have to register to read it). You can read a fuller version of our chat here on Deskbound Traveller, including Macfarlane’s recommendations of new writing on travel and place. It runs to more than 4,000 words, so you might want to read it on something other than a phone.

The under-story of ‘Underland’ with Robert Macfarlane

My interview for Telegraph Travel with Robert Macfarlane about the wonder-filled Underland — the book he published this week — is now online and due to appear in print tomorrow. I’ll be putting a longer version up here on Deskbound Traveller a bit later.

RSL Ondaatje winners tell how they summoned ‘spirit of place’

I mentioned recently an event at the British Library in London in which four former winners of the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize talked of “the spirit of a place” and how they set about evoking it. You can now listen to an edited recording of it in the “Free Thinking” slot on BBC Radio 3.

‘Underland’ Book of the Week on Radio 4 from today

Book of the Week on Radio 4 from 9.45 this morning is Robert Macfarlane’s latest, Underland (which Hamish Hamilton publishes on Thursday), in which he drops into deep, dark and narrow places, and in the process broadens our notions of what constitutes landscape.

Lopez and Catholicism

An article in America: The Jesuit Review, pegged to the publication of Barry Lopez’s latest book, Horizon, explores how the writer was influenced by a Catholic upbringing — and what the Church might learn from what he has written.

Extracts from the RSL Ondaatje short list

Extracts I chose from the six books short-listed for the RSL Ondaatje Prize — for a book “evoking the spirit of a place” — appeared in the travel pages of The Daily Telegraph at the weekend and are online.