Saturday, February 18, 2006

Tai Haku's book club

When I'm travelling or hemmed in by bad weather I like nothing more than to curl up with a good book or two (or four or five) and read. I thought that every once in a while I'd share recommendations, brief reviews and links with regard to some of my favourites. Here's the first five:

Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pankenham is the follow up to his earlier book Meetings with Remarkable Trees. Remarkable trees of the world is for me a much more interesting book as, where its predecessor restricted itself to unique trees of Britain and Ireland, it details amazing individual specimen trees from around the world. The photography of ancient pines, giant spear straight eucalypts and gnarled banyans is sensational and the history of the various specimens and the tales of the people whose lives they influenced is fascinating.
"See a bird. Enjoy it. Congratulations. You are now a bad birdwatcher." Its hard to argue with Simon Barnes' logic in How to be a Bad Birdwatcher. Although about birdwatching, a lot of the simple guidance in this book could be applied to any nature observing activity, Barnes hits straight on the significance, sometimes lost on other writers, of enjoying yourself whilst in the field and explains in neat prose the progression from hanging a peanut feeder to achieving more lofty birding goals. Like the activity it describes this book is relaxing and enjoyable and easy to learn from. Every birder should read it.

Neutral Buoyancy is a great attempt to describe the personal significance of scuba diving. Although this is a hard task to achieve as every diver feels different about the thing they love, Tim Ecott makes a valiant attempts and I often found mmyself nodding along as Ecott described a certain sensation or feeling. Mixed into his personal journey, Tim feeds in a history of diving from mediterranean sponge divers through the Cousteau and Hass teams to the present day. The best book I've read on scuba diving.

Once Neutral Buoyancy has wetted your appetite for scuba (if its not there already) you might want to try something a bit more edgy. There are hundreds of books dealing with sharks, but for me The Shark Watcher's Handbook is the only one to properly address how to go about diving with sharks. In addition to a very good section on sharks and diving with them generally, it has a nice field guide section dealing with the larger species commonly seen by divers and a listing of shark sites around the world. If I have criticisms of the book its that the field guide deals with too few species and the site guide may be slightly outdated (as a sad result of reduced shark populations). However its the best book for those who wish to see sharks by such a margin these are minor things.
Also by How to be a bad birdwatcher's Simon Barnes is Flying in the face of nature. This is the story of a year spent watching birds at the RSPB's Minsmere reserve. Minsmere is a flagship site for the RSPB with rare british waders breeding and significant numbers of Bittern and Marsh Harriers. Barnes captures the mood of the place and its people perfectly as well as passing on the importance of the reserve to himself and the others who work and bird there. A really nice description of the shifing seasons at a remarkable place.

Please feel free to share any suggestions of your own in the comments section as I can always use more books.

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