My 2016… in review – part 2: Books

I have too many books. It’s a fact, but one I rarely admit (preferring to claim that it is simply a case of too little shelving). This year I started with good intentions of actually reading them all, or at least, a good number. Some I have indeed read, others I have dipped into or scanned the first chapter, some are still waiting for me to get around to them this year. Two books however, had me gripped to an extent that they stayed with me long after I closed the last page, and I would highly recommend both of them to anyone looking for reading matter for the Christmas break or to pick up in the New Year. They are “Common Ground” by Rob Cowan, and Chris Packham’s memoir “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”.  Of course, here you might stop me and say that you are not interested as nature’s not really your ‘thing’. (Although, as you are reading my blog I’d surmise that this is not totally the case!) But despite appearances, these two very different books are not really about nature at all, but about people.


My copy of ‘Sparkle Jar’ – in its natural habitat

In “Sparkle Jar”, Mr Packham is both honest and brutal. He doesn’t shy away from the grit of a situation, or pull any punches, he just tells it how it is, or was. Because that is how he is. Everything that has happened in his life, from sheer unrivalled delights to incomprehensible deaths, each meticulous detail is what has made him who he is today. And who he is, and the autism/aspergers condition that is part of his personality, has in turn shaped each of those experiences. In the simple clarity of the childhood innocence of Chris Packham’s earlier memories we are re-awakened to the sheer wonder of the world around us. Through the words of the adult comes a sincerity and earnestness that reminds us that if perhaps we could all retain just a little of this sense of marvelling and passion when we continue through life, then the world might well be a far better place for it.



Rob Cowan opens our eyes to a forgotten way of seeing in “Common Ground”. The book leads us on a journey through just that. The physical ground we share with our neighbours, strangers, ancestors and wildlife, but also the metaphorical common ground, that mutual meeting point, that blurring of boundaries where none of us are really as different or disconnected as we believe. As a way of coping with the challenges of being displaced to a new town, and the approach of fatherhood, Rob Cowen finds himself absorbed in the exploration of an area of land on the edge of Bilton which he undertakes with near-forensic detail. The nature, the history and the people, even the physical land itself becomes a solid character within the pages of the book and in Robs own life. 

“A young oak marooned in the centre of a farmer’s field stands like a lost child after some natural disaster. When I get home a note in my book reads: I love this place. It’s the best place I’ve ever been. Next to it is the scribbled drawing of the fox. I don’t remember doing either of them.”
Rob Cowen, ‘Common Ground’ pg.36

Both of these books will re-appear on my reading list, probably before the next year is out. I won’t say any more about them now, as I don’t want to spoilt them for you, but if you pick them up, let me know what you think!

(I always welcome feedback and am happy to chat – just comment below or find me on twitter @SophiEcoWild)

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