Cover Image: The Stubborn Light of Things

The Stubborn Light of Things

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Member Reviews

This was such a lovely book to read, I especially enjoyed that we got to read about the authors comparisons to nature in both of her home locations in London and Suffolk.

I feel this would be enjoyed by nature lovers, or those new to this world. I’m on the former group and I felt I learnt from the book.
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Nature writing has become one of my favourite genres over the past few years and this book of essays is a great addition to the genre, and a great reminder that living in a city isn't a block to some amazing contact with the natural world.
The latter half, set in Suffolk, was very familiar as I live in the area and in a grey cold lockdown this book brightened my week
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Thank you to NetGalley and Faber and Faber Ltd for kindly providing me with a digital copy of this book for review.
Ok, a little back story. 9 years ago the building in which I work was completely updated and re-modelled. So now we have lovely 21st century plumbing and heating, but what we sacrificed was windows. I now work in 100% artificial light and ventilation. Prior to this I was always a nature lover and spent most of my childhood running around my local country park, joining nature groups run by the park rangers, and revelling in pond dipping and bat walks. And I loved all of that. But since my concrete imprisonment for 9 hours a day, nature has taken on much more importance for me. It is a need and I make sure I walk through the memorial gardens on my way to work every morning just so I can look, hear and smell a bit of nature in my day.
Since reading this book, I find myself looking out more for things the author mentions and nodding in agreement when I walk past overflowing dog waste bins that people have placed full bags on top, at the side or even on the bench next to the bin.
The writing in this book is beautiful. I found it so soothing and at times almost mesmerising. The book is also stunning to look at. I only had an e-arc but the illustrations looked lovely even in that format, so I imagine the hard copy will be a work of art and would make a lovely gift.
I hadn’t been aware of this author’s work before reading this book, but I will certainly be keeping my eyes peeled now for any nature writing she publishes in the future. An absolute treat of a read for me that has done wonders for my soul and inner peace.
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“At this time of year everything seethes with life: the nettles are thick with aphids, pollen rides the warm June air, the undergrowth is busy with baby birds and cuckoo spit froths overnight. It feels intoxicating”
I’ve loved gently dipping in and out of The Stubborn Light of Things each evening learning about ladybirds that nip and Roman snails that hibernate in chalk-rich soil, building a little lid for their shells and sealing themselves in for the winter. 2020 feels like a year where we all have a lot in common with Roman snails

Set out like a nature diary, this book has allowed me to slow the pace of my reading and absorb everything on the page just as if I was walking across Hampsted Heath or a frosted meadow alongside Melissa Harrison. At a time when life feels frenetic, it was almost an exercise in mindfulness-meditation. I can also thoroughly recommend her podcast of the same name.

Thank you to Faber Books  and NetGalley for my ARC
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This is an exquisitely written book, that I absolutely loved reading. Melissa Harrison is a writer for The Times newspaper and this is her collection of columns written in both London and Sussex on all things nature. 
 I found myself really slowing down to read this book properly and take in each word. Harrison has that rare gift of being able to make words transcend scribbled marks on a page to create detailed and colourful images inside the readers imagination. This book is not simply nice words collected though either, it is packed full of information on everything from flowers to bats, bees to badgers and I got to the end and felt I had gained a lot of knowledge and picked up the writers enthusiasm for the natural world. Eloquent, evocative and enlightening, definitely one to read. 

Thank you to Faber and NetGalley for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Having read novels by Melissa Harrison, I knew she was an excellent writer of fiction and included many descriptions of the natural world so I thought it would be interesting to read her nature diary ‘The Stubborn Light ofThings’.
The author spends her time in London and Suffolk and with passion she writes about the wonders of nature that are all around us in cities and the countryside. This exquisitely written book both entertains and informs with information on the decline of flora and fauna  and highlights how we need to protect and improve our green spaces for our own well being as well as the planets.
The Stubborn Light of Things is an excellent book which is a joy to read in these troubled times. Highly recommended.
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This was every bit as exquisite as I thought it would be and is not only a feast for the senses and imagination but a real treat in these strange times when going outside and experiencing these wonders of mother nature for ourselves is not so straightforward anymore. The unbridled passion Harrison shows for the natural world coupled with her love of conservation and topped off with a curious mind eager to learn more about the wide-ranging topics that fall under the ’nature’ umbrella each contribute to making this a joy to read. There are indeed too many wonderful aspects of this book to mention, as I would risk taking up far too many pages, but it is a beautifully written and keenly observed set of essays I unreservedly recommend to all fans of the countryside, the natural world and readers of authors such as Robert Macfarlane. Many thanks to Faber & Faber for an ARC.
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I loved this. A series of Harrison's pieces from her journalistic work, this documents her thoughts and feelings about nature both urban and rural. It's diaristic in nature but despite covering a couple of years the material is always fresh and interesting. I particularly loved that she champions positive progress in conservation, highlighting the changes people are making in their thinking and actions as well as documenting the bad news too. I was particularly fascinated by the section set in London and the sheer amount of biodiversity there is in the city. It was lovely to read.
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This collection of Harrison's articles is lovely.  I found her prose gentle, peaceful, and fascinating, and loved reading about the nature which she encountered around London - where I live - and Suffolk - where my boyfriend lived when I met him.  Such a lovely collection, and just the thing for these strange times.
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The Stubborn Light of Things is a collection of 62 easy-reading essays on the English countryside by novelist Melissa Harrison. Arranged chronologically from the autumn of 2014 until mid-2020, they form a calendar of seasons and a mosaic of countryside issues.

The book begins in London. Harrison journals about red kites, life in the Thames, fossil-collecting, bird-friendly architecture, wetlands projects, and why we must keep nature words in children’s dictionaries.

Through her eyes, the city sheds its smog and concrete, and becomes a place of three million gardens, nature reserves, and chalk grasslands with species including foxes, seahorses, and avocets.

In the winter of 2017, Harrison moves to Suffolk, and there begins the second half of the book. She writes of barn owls and bagged dog poo, bats and dusk walks, and the importance of wild, messy verges.

Throughout the book Harrison builds towards one point: that nature is for the ordinary person to see, identify, and enjoy; it’s not the preserve of wildlife cameramen and ornithologists. And by noticing nature, even in city hearts, we change the version of reality we live in.

The books ends with the coronavirus lockdown which has given fresh urgency to our relationship with nature. Harrison notes that within this ‘fragile new awareness’ and ‘sudden love’ is ‘everything we need in order to transform the way we live individually and collectively.’

Melissa Harrison’s essays were originally published in the Nature Notebook column in The Times. The brevity of each piece -around 800 words- keeps the information light, and makes for an easy, down-to-earth, page-turning read.

Spotted throughout The Stubborn Light of Things are black and white linocuts by Joanna Lisowiec, whose nature illustrations -in particular her birds- are well-worth admiring on her website.
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Here we have a chronological selection of the articles Melissa Harrison published in her nature columns and podcasts from 2014 to date, the last ones just recent enough to take in the first months of lockdown in the UK.  They cover time she spent living both in London and in rural Suffolk.

She doesn’t set herself up as an expert and stresses that we can all tune in to the natural world if only we take the time to pay attention to what is going on around us in even the most unlikely corners of a city, let alone the open spaces of the countryside.  Her descriptions of plants and animals are just gorgeous and spring from her obvious passion for nature.  I could quote so many passages that I’d practically be reproducing her whole book, but this one touched me especially.

‘When crocuses open fully to the sun they make me think of baby birds’ wide and importuning gapes: greedily, each clutch reaches skywards on delicate stems, top-heavy and hungry for light and life.  Meanwhile, in the still bare trees above them, birds are beginning to pair up: great tits and blue tits are singing the shape of their new territories, and by the time the crocus’s leaves have died back there’ll be a new generation giving voice in our parks and gardens.  Spring - as the crocus shouts - is nearly here.’

Coming so soon after I’d read David Attenborough’s ‘A Life on our Planet’, her book served to reinforce the same message for me but in a more gentle, locally-focused, intimately relatable way - the need to preserve the diversity of our landscape for the good of the wildlife it supports and of ourselves.  On the downside:

‘It’s hard to believe that in a month there’ll be more summer migrants and even greater volume, harder still to comprehend that the breathtaking dawn chorus we’re still lucky enough to be able to hear each spring is a shadow of what it once was, even one generation ago.’

‘It is hard for us, with our short lifetimes, to fully experience the losses taking place around us; declines can also seem normal, or somehow inevitable.  Certainly, I grew up with the sense that there being less of everything than ‘once upon a time’ was just the way it was.’

But on the upside, her final paragraphs are inspirational and full of hope for the future beyond Covid:

‘When your life’s work is trying to connect people to nature, seeing so many newly tuning in to birdsong, revelling in rain showers and hungry for the rites of spring is deeply satisfying.  Suddenly, it seems, there’s space for the small, seasonal pleasures that sustain some of us, but which have gone unnoticed by many, stuck on the exhausting treadmill of travel and shopping and work: the first swift, the heady scent of lilac, a blackbird’s evening song.  

If we could take one thing from this nightmarish period and carry it into whatever world is to come, I’d choose this fragile new awareness, this new need for nature, this sudden new love.  It contains everything we need in order to transform the way we live, individually and collectively - if we can only nurture it.  This could be the start of something wonderful.’

Wholeheartedly recommended, I’ll be urging everyone I know to read this gorgeous book.  

PS.  I couldn’t agree more about the dog poo.  As she says, ‘why bag it up only to abandon it - or, worse, hang it on a bush or fence?  It makes no sense to me at all.’  Me neither.
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The Stubborn Light of Things is a nature diary based on a newspaper column.  For this reason I think it was a bit disjointed and didn't quite gel as a book.   The author is very passionate about nature but I didn't feel this passion through the writing.  It felt a bit clinical.  I usually love these types of books especially when you can almost 'smell the roses' and you can hear, taste, feel and smell everything through the prose.  I think I prefer nature books when they are connected to the human experience rather than just nature by itself.  Possibly just reading the book an entry at a time would be a better way to appreciate it, rather than as a general book.  Maybe listening to the podcasts would also provoke more feeling and connection.  Overall a good book that will resonate with lots of people in these strange times, I just couldn't feel the connection at this time.  Good Luck with it.
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If "The Stubborn Light of Things" was an object other than a book, it would be a wooden countryside gate, drifting open at the gentlest of touches to let you onto the path beyond.

Nature-writing is a tricksy beast of a genre. I find myself less enamoured as time goes by of the books that are purely about people – Amy Liptrot’s "The Outrun" was enjoyable, and even won a prestigious nature-writing prize. But it’s not about nature. And many other books on the same shelf, while they’re (mostly) not about people, fall victim to the author’s urge to make the most elaborate constructions of words – to the point that it becomes about the language and not the wonders of the natural world they’re meant to be evoking.

Melissa Harrison doesn’t bother with any of that. Her writing is accessible, in the best possible way. She begins "The Stubborn Light of Things" by admitting that it took her a long time to realise she could be a nature-writer, because she didn’t feel she had the knowledge, and she lived in an urban environment instead of the country. Perhaps many other people feel the same about reading nature-writing, if not writing it.

So let Harrison lead you onto the path. Each 'entry' in this book is short, originally published as part of the Nature Notes series in The Times from 2014 to early 2020. They follow the author’s seasonal observations of the life in the small world around her, ever-changing, ever-vibrant. The writing itself is often quite sparing, though scattered with lovely turns of phrase (like puddles of blue shining in a field). You learn new things about the natural world almost by stealth. And you marvel at Harrison’s powers of observation, you want to live up to it. I delighted in moments such as

“the mud under the tannin-rich oaks is blacker than the surrounding earth…”

I’ve never noticed this; now I’ll look for it.

Harrison is also adept at weaving subtle devastation into her observations and her musings about the wider human/natural world. She speaks of the loss of species and abundance, and the loss of human knowledge that could help us see what’s happening. She puts environmental problems into simple words:

“In making the countryside work so hard for humans, its ability to support other creatures began to be lost.”

Harrison practices what she preaches. She writes of choosing plants for her garden based on what creatures need them at what times of the year. She describes the time she had a great tit nest in her garden, and she calculated when the chicks would fledge so she could sit vigil on that day and protect the fledglings with a water pistol (“I’m proud to say they all survived.")

By the end of the book, it’s clear that Harrison has become a lot more learned than she claims or believes herself to be. But she still doesn’t present herself as part of an erudite clique. She wants to share the observations and knowledge that are the result of her love and help her to love the natural world more. As Helen Macdonald said in her recent book Vesper Flights, there’s a joy and wonder in being able to recognise and name things. Still, Harrison doesn’t want a lack of scientific understanding or memory to ever be a barrier:

“While wildlife identification brings richness and particularity to the world, wonder happens with or without it. We should never let taxonomy be a barrier to engagement.“

If you’ve never read nature-writing before, or you have and you’re not sure about it, or if you revel in it – then this book is for you. It’s for your loved ones. It’s for everyone.

"The Stubborn Light of Things" is published on 5 November. With thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for an advance copy of the ebook in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to Faber and Faber and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book.

The Stubbon Light of Things is an honest and absolute delight of a book. I could not put it down and felt completely transported to the natural world for its entire reading.

Melissa is incredibly knowledgable and passionate, and I was comforted by the simple acknowledgement that you don't have to know everything to enjoy what's around you.

The end message of the book about taking time to listen to what's around us, to tune in, I thought was incredibly insightful. I can attest to the consistent, ever plodding on of nature and the comfort it brings me in these uncertain times.

The only improvement for me would be a clearer explanation of terms (I was reaching for my Kindle dictionary in almost every page), as I feel this could be a possible barrier to readers. I would also love to see this book with more images and illustrations to show you what the species described look like.

Overall though, a lovely and delightful book filled to the brim with nature, a few hours of pure escapism.
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Nature writer Melissa Harrison moved from London to rural Suffolk with her adopted dog and this book chronicles some of her nature observations and experiences from 2014 to 2020 in both locations.  In London she appreciated enormous parks, nature reserves and hundreds of bird species and many animals.  As wonderful as that was, Suffolk had even more in store, layer upon layer of nature.  Wild nature.

There is so much to say about this gorgeously written book!  As a forager and nature person I crave...NEED...nature and must be immersed as much as possible.  Like the author, when moving house the most crucial aspect to me is not the house but its proximity to nature.  Her descriptions are breathtaking and riveting, wondrously introspective.  She engages all senses and invites readers to do the same.

You will read about red kites, witch hazel, voles, numerous flowers, hedgehogs, nightengales, ladybirds, bees, moths, swifts, ivy, blackberries, oak, hedgerows, insects and so many more.  Not only that but the author discusses the effects of weather, climate, pesticides and traffic.  But this journal is far more.  It encourages us to really, really watch and listen and engage, even in little plots in cities.  We can learn about habitats and diets of birds, for example, or identify wildflowers.

This book really resonated with me as this past spring and summer due to covid plans changed with travel bans.  So, I took up bird watching in earnest which led to improving my photography.  As pointed out, we sometimes take information we grew up with for granted but what we can glean is unbelievably rewarding.

The book reads like a feast.  It is gentle and lovely.  If you are at all interested in nature...or wish to be...allow this to be your inspiration.  You cannot do better.

My sincere thank you to Faber and Faber Ltd. for providing me with an ARC of this deeply compelling book in exchange for an honest review.  Much appreciated.
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[included as part of an article on books to get you through winter]

Of course, while bringing the outside inside is soul-soothing, we all benefit from getting outside, however unappealing it might be when the cold is damp and the wind is howling. There is, of course, the old saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’, but sometimes even the right clothing isn’t enough to make us open the door. One book guaranteed to encourage you to step outside and make the most of the short light hours is Melissa Harrison’s forthcoming The Stubborn Light of Things (Faber). As an avid listener of Harrison’s podcast by the same name, which helped thousands and thousands of people through lockdown by bringing the Suffolk countryside to the ears of people stuck in flats and which is still available, this is the sort of soul-searching, vivid nature diary that will make you look afresh at your surroundings. The book is a collection of Harrison’s writing from the nature column she’s contributed to The Times since 2014. It divides neatly, per Harrison’s personal experience, into City and Countryside entries, so whatever your location you will find something to relate to and apply to the walk it will inevitably inspire you to go on – where, dare I say, you might find similarly hardy people to smile at, and the world will seem a little larger and more alive.
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