Terry Tempest Williams’ book has accompanied me for part of my transcontinental journey across the USA. I found it in a bookshop in Wooster, Ohio and it has stayed with me now that we have reached the Pacific coast. She lives in and writes about the southern Utah desert; red being the predominant colour of the landscape. Our journey was limited to passing through northern Utah but I certainly want to explore the southern canyons at some point. At various points in our journey the landscape was red but only briefly, before the geology changed and in Northern Utah the white of salt is predominant. Much of the land in the American West is in public hands as protected wilderness and this brings tensions with those individuals trying to eke out a living in and alongside this environment where only small amounts of the territory are in private hands. This is unlike national parks in the UK, where people do live and work. She explores the meaning of wilderness to herself, others she knows and also to the Navajo and other tribes of the surrounding area. Her discussions around the language of the colour chime with my interest as an artist. This book will stay with me and I hope return to Utah with me one day.
Astronomy was on my mind last night as I attempted to photograph the full ‘strawberry’ moon which has coincided with the summer solstice for the first time in 50 years. The name was coined by the Algonquin tribes of North America who believed June’s full moon signalled the beginning of the strawberry picking season. It certainly has for me as I picked the first few alpine strawberries yesterday. Unfortunately there was too much cloud in the evening and the moon disappeared behind it. Apparently I will have to wait until June 21, 2062 to see it again if I will live long enough.
I found this book by Sir Robert Stawell Hall some time ago. It was published in 1893 and has chapters on the astronomical observatory, the sun, moon, solar system, gravitation. the planets (excluding pluto which had yet to be discovered), stars and much more. It has wonderful marbled endpapers, numerous black and white drawings and charts and a few colour plates. It is quite beautiful and I will keep dipping into it for some time to come.
We are so dependent upon electricity and although I am trying to reduce my use and have solar panels on the roof, it is not something I associate with the word ‘romance’. Published in 1893 by the Religious Tract Society, John Munro’s The Romance of Electricity addresses both natural processes as well as modern (at that time) electrical developments in non-technical language.
There are over 50 black and white drawings and diagrams. The first, opposite the title page is a photograph of lightning which made me think about photographing that phenomenon. The first seven chapters describe natural phenomena including thunder and lightning, St Elmo’s Fire, fireballs, the aurora and electricity in living creatures. He then goes on to discuss the ‘curiosities’ of the telephone, microphone and electric light and others, ending by speculating on the future. It is an interesting insight into something we now take for granted.
My travels have kept me away from the shop in the last couple of weeks. The last time I was in, this book attracted me. Over 10 years ago, my experience of sound and listening changed as I had developed a central auditory processing disorder. This leads to a difficulty perceiving speech when there is background noise. I have learnt to lip read a little but of course this is not an option on the telephone and the need to focus on speech so much when I am listening to someone talking has often led to accidents so I have had to learn not to multi-task when I am listening to speech. Bilateral tinnitus means that silence is an experience lost to me. Not being able to filter out background noise does mean that it is a little like having a hyperacusis for non-speech sounds and hearing a pin drop is not a problem. Some people find it hard to understand why I cannot hear what they are saying but can hear a distant sound. Fortunately the pathways in the brain for processing music are unaffected as I am a musician. Foreign languages are easier to understand as there is a musicality to them which I pick up. I missed David Hendy’s radio series so will enjoy reading his book which is also a social history, very much.
There is some sadness attached to finding this book in the shop. Originally published in 1843, it was republished in 1984 by Webberley Ltd, a long-standing independent bookshop in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, which has recently closed. The shop was continually in operation from 1786 and there is a list of all the proprietors and photographs of the two buildings they have operated from in the book. The second shop was their base from 1924 and is now being put up for development as apartments with retail space on the ground floor. In addition to books they sold art materials but one or two of the staff have now opened their own shop in Hanley, so there will be somewhere to get my art supplies.
Here is an article about the shop written by James Smith, one of the volunteers
What happens to the many old buildings the Methodist church finds itself in the unfortunate position of having to shed? Some of course are sold and in a sense disappear, but others are retained and put to good use. One quite inconspicuous structure on Hassall Road in Alsager was some time ago filled with books. More than 20,000 diverse volumes were crammed into mismatched bookcases, stacked almost to the ceiling. It looked rather like a second-hand bookshop and so it became.
The prevailing socioeconomic reality deprives somewhere like Alsager – a village whose population has grown beyond 10,000 – of a bookshop. To the west we have South Cheshire’s major town, Crewe, with a Waterstones and a WH Smith, and to the east the city of Stoke-on-Trent, whose independent bookshop closed earlier this year. In the 21st century Alsager’s positioning is a recipe for a literary wilderness, but this magnificent re-appropriation of a cast off chapel makes Alsager almost the opposite, at least on Fridays and Saturdays. Like a charity shop, the immodestly named Book Emporium is a dependable source of cheap copies (50p for a paperback, a pound for a hardback) of recent bestsellers. But, more than that, the selection is so comprehensive and wild you’ll come across things at the opposite end of the scale, interesting to nobody but you. On my first visit I left with Reclaiming the Ground, a publication by the Christian Socialist Movement from 1993 featuring historically insignificant essays by confessing members of the Labour party. For those after something older and grander, the Emporium keeps a range of antiquarian books, carefully catalogued by a retired schools inspector whose first language is ancient Greek. And naturally, considering the history of the venue and the associations it retains, there’s a lot of stuff on religion, from the works of Wesley and Whitefield to children’s Bibles and, in the spirit of ecumenism, the Anglican Prayerbook or an English translation of the Koran. There are even refreshments. Not that he would tire of the books, but if a customer’s body starts to let him down he can take a seat and enjoy a cup of tea. Everyone who helps out in the shop is a volunteer, which means the place tends to be handily overstaffed.
So that’s one thing you might do with an old Methodist chapel, if you can’t bear to let go of it. Another would be to open it as a museum. There’s one of those a few miles up the road in Englesea-Brook, and what money the Book Emporium makes supports the preservation of that heritage site and its collection of Primitive Methodist artifacts. Or you could just sell the thing and let it reopen as a mini-mart, because one thing you can’t get in a museum or a bookshop is a two litre bottle of Sprite.
One of my current photography projects is documenting the natural history of our garden. Natural history has been an interest of mine since childhood so this does not come as a surprise to those who know me. I can identify easily the mammals and birds who visit and most of the plants and trees, aided by a fairly extensive library accumulated over the years but am less good at naming all the invertebrates. This book came into the shop a couple of weeks ago and will be a useful addition as it is the volume in a series dedicated to invertebrates.
It was first published in 1913 and I have the 1930 reprint. The drawings are at times more helpful in identification than some of my more recent texts and there are practical tips for the zoology student in finding and studying different species. I hope that as the weather improves in spring, I will be outside with my camera adding to the shots I already have.