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Short list for Boardman Tasker award

The short list was announced last week for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature. Among the five books is Two Trees Make a Forest (Little, Brown), the acclaimed debut by Jessica J Lee, founding editor of The Willowherb Review. Also included is The Unremembered Places (Birlinn), in which Patrick Baker explores far-flung ruins and relics — from a cemetery for dam-builders to the remains of illicit stills — that serve as archives for Scotland’s “wild histories”. It’s a haunted and haunting little book (just over 200 pages).

The winner of the award will be announced on November 21 at the Kendal Mountain Festival, which this year, like so many events, will probably be online only.

The pandemic, travel and poetry

Jean McNeil, a compulsive traveller forced by the pandemic to stay at home, ranges far and wide in the pages of the latest Literary Review of Canada, reflecting on restlessness, freedom and the enduring power of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry:

Travel is often tedious and upsetting, never mind dangerous. Over the years, I’ve been snarled in New York, where I found myself underneath the World Trade Center as both planes struck, and then marooned for weeks afterwards when all aviation was cancelled. I’ve been stuck at Toronto Pearson after an Air France flight crashed on the runway, stymied by polar whiteouts in Antarctica, stranded by volcanic eruptions, and abandoned by the Royal Air Force on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic. But the pandemic is the most effective grounding I’ve experienced. As I scour the silent London skies for planes, I consider what I have lost or, more precisely, what has been rescinded.

The quest for the fish owl

The Observer Magazine yesterday had an extract from Jonathan C Slaght’s Owls of the Eastern Ice, which I mentioned in a recent roundup. The book has also been reviewed by Helen Macdonald in The Guardian and Mark Cocker in The Spectator.

On ‘the imaginative space of the journey’

The latest issue of Five Dials, the excellent free literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton, will be launched on July 30 in an online event being organised by the LRB Bookshop. Five Dials 57, on the theme “To Leave and to Be Left Behind”, will explore  “the imaginative space of the journey – where it can take us and how it can change us”. Guest-edited by Sophie Mackintosh, it brings together “a range of playful, intimate and risk-taking voices from across contemporary fiction and poetry”. To celebrate the launch, Mackintosh will be joined in conversation by three of the magazine’s contributors: Rachael Allen, Bridget Minamore and Yara Rodrigues Fowler.

Barbara Demick’s ‘masterly’ new book on Tibet

In The New York Times,

Deserts and the end-times

In Desert Notebooks (Counterpoint Press), Ben Ehrenreich, who writes about climate change for that venerable American weekly The Nation, urges us to rethink our relationship with the planet, with one another and with time. William Atkins, who has spent some time in deserts himself, has reviewed the book for The New York Times.

A future without travel?

In The Washington Post, Henry Wismayer, a travel writer who hasn’t been able to travel, reflects on what he’s learnt:

… I couldn’t shake the creeping sense that so much of what we call travel is extractive, the commodification of someone else’s sunshine, culture and photogenic views. In my most cynical moments, I had started to see travel as something monstrous, a vector of humanity’s infestation that has evolved out of all proportion with what the planet can sustain.

On a world without tourism

The journalist and author Christopher de Bellaigue, in a thought-provoking piece in The Guardian today, on the pros and (mainly) cons of the tourist trade:

The virus has given us a picture, at once frightening and beautiful, of a world without tourism. We see now what happens to our public goods when tourists aren’t clustering to exploit them. Shorelines enjoy a respite from the erosion caused by cruise ships the size of canyons. Walkers stuck at home cannot litter mountainsides. Intricate culinary cultures are no longer menaced by triangles of defrosted pizza. It is hard to imagine a better illustration of tourism’s effects than our current holiday away from it.

Wainwright Prize long lists

Long lists were announced today — World Environment Day — for the Wainwright Prize, for UK-based books on nature, and for a new Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation.

Competition winners

Happy reading to my four competition winners, who will each be receiving a copy of James Attlee’s Isolarion. They are: Neal Brown, J Cavanagh, John Wyatt-Clarke and Rob Jones. Thanks again to the publisher, And Other Stories, for putting up the prize. And thanks, too, to James Attlee, who has reminded us (usefully, in these times) that you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to write an original book about a journey.

  And Other Stories, which is based in Sheffield, is a not-for-profit private company that aims to publish “innovative contemporary writing from around the world”. It does sell its books through shops, but it’s the support of subscribers that makes the books happen. It now has about 1,400 in more than 40 countries, receiving up to six books a year. During the Covid-19 crisis, it is doing what it can to support bookshops: 20 per cent of the price of each new subscription will be donated to the bookshop of your choice. For details, see the company’s website.