The Top 5 series is back! Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously on the blog I have focused on witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more. I am going to try and bring this series back for every Saturday.
PREVIOUS TOP FIVE SATURDAY LISTS:
25th April 2020: Books Under 300 Pages
2nd May 2020: Re-tellings
9th May 2020: Books with Numbers in the Title
16th May 2020: Debut Novels
I do love books about nature and trees and forests – wild nature, dangerous and eldritch nature. Elfin nature. It is no surprise perhaps that, when I turn to poetry the Romantics are up there from the start for me! Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats… the big names. I remember reading the Andrew Marvell poem The Garden and discussing it at University and lamenting how tame the garden appeared, however lyrical and wonderful the poem is!
No white nor red was ever seen So am’rous as this lovely green. Fond lovers, cruel as their flame, Cut in these trees their mistress’ name; Little, alas, they know or heed How far these beauties hers exceed! Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound, No name shall but your own be found.
The core image and monument at the centre of this sort of setting is for me not Eden (neither Biblical nor Miltonic) – although there are always going to be resonances and echoes of it in any woodland setting. But those descriptions always feel a little managed, curated, tamed. Like the Marvell.
But Shakespeare’s woods – Arden, Birnam Wood, the happy hollow of the oak tree in which Edgar does “elf my hair” in King Lear – and iconically the woodlands around Athens governed by Titania and Oberon where the very weather is a reflection of their whimsy and mood – Shakespeare’s transformative, magical wild woods are the epitome that all these books carry like a ghost.
The Overstory, Richard Powers
This is one of those novels that genuinely changes the way you look at the world – the mystery and majesty of trees and forests…
“An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.
“This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe.”
THE TREES, ALI SHAW
A fun apocalyptic novel with a conservationist message and a dark, transformative magic running through it.
What would you do if, overnight, trees burst through the ground, the tarmac, the buildings of the world…?
“Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures into this unrecognisable world. Alongside green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb, Adrien sets out to find his wife and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.”
There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins.
The Lie Tree, Francis Hardinge
Anything by Frances Hardinge is going to be wonderful, and this features a wonderfully dark tree which can absorb our lies and reward us with a fruit that reveals a truth – the bigger the lie, the bigger the truth revealed.
“Faith’s father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.
“The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .”
Lanny, Max Porter
There are not enough superlatives to describe this: uncanny, folkloric, beautiful, important…
“Not far from London, there is a village.
“This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present.
“It belongs to families dead for generations, and to those who have only recently moved here, such as the boy Lanny, and his mum and dad.
“But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all.”
Dead Papa Toothwort is a gorgeous creation, alien, elfin and wonderfully Puckish:
Dead Papa Toothwort lies underneath a nineteenth-century vicar’s wife and fiddles with the roots of a yew in her pelvis. He loves the graveyard. He listens … Dead Papa Toothwort remembers when they built this church, stone from afar, flint from round here, timber from these very woods, local boys, bring down the bodgers and set them to pews, set them to floral ornaments, a hymn board with ivy corners, an altar table with – yes indeed, there he is, a Green Man’s head, grinning at the baptised and married, the bored and the dead, biting down on limewood belladonna…
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
Gloriously painfully honest and realistic and mythic at the same time, A Monster Calls is a wonderful tribute to Siobhan Dowd, to cancer sufferers, to cancer survivors everywhere – and the monstrous yew tree that comes calling for Conor O’Malley with the wildness of stories at his leafy fingertips…
“Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.”
Again, a David Mitchell book is an event, and a thing of beauty! But the music industry is not my natural setting and again I was caught between this and another book – Daisy Jones and the Six in this case – and Daisy Jones was read first. This time, because it was nominated on a book club I was part of.
Bonus: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he’s part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count.
Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich – they’re the only ones worth stealing from – but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards.
This one has been on my TBR for years. Literally years. I have heard nothing but praise for it, but so far have never quite got around to reading it! Go figure!
So, there we go: a range of books that I got in 2020 – save for the Scott Lynch – and do regret not reading during the year. Is regret the right word? Probably not to be honest: I do not regret the reading that I did do last year at all. But these are books that I would like to find time to catch up with this year – before prize season hits us again!
Pop in the comments below your thoughts on these – maybe let me know which I should read first!
UPCOMING TOP FIVE SATURDAY LISTS:
30th May 2020 — Books from a Male POV