Richard Carter's meta feed A merged feed of Articles, Sidelines, Reviews and Newsletters from en-gb Richard Carter Book review: ‘How to Read a Book’ by Adler & van Doren Fri, 07 May 2021 10:46:15 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) The classic guide to intelligent reading.

The classic guide to intelligent reading.

‘How to Read a Book‘ by Adler & van Doren

I decided to read How to Read a Book, having heard it recommended on YouTube by a Canadian named Curtis Mchale, who, judging by his videos, derives plenty of information from books.

Although they don’t emphasise the point until near the end of their book, Adler and van Doren don’t advocate you should follow their advice for every single book you read; it’s really intended to help you get the most from difficult-to-read, primarily academic books.

There’s plenty of sound advice in here about familiarising yourself with the book you’re about to read, identifying its main theses, and its key sections, before engaging with it in detail. The authors suggest you underline key passage and make marginal annotations—something this reader will never be able to bring himself to do. I guess I’ll just have to stick with my trusty index-card bookmarks.

Adler and van Doren also advocate plenty of summarising and other note-taking. Later on, they explain how to assess whether books’ authors seem to know what they’re talking about, and explain when it is—and when it is not—reasonable to reject an author’s theses. There is also some good advice about syntopic reading: reading several different authors on the similar and related topics.

As I say, How to Read a Book contains plenty of sound advice. My only reservation is the authors do go on a bit at times, repeating points they’ve already made more than once, and recapitulating stuff they’ve only just said. This is a long book, which could easily have been reduced to one-third the length without losing any of the key ideas. Such editing would surely have made the book even more useful.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Book review: ‘Illuminations’ by Walter Benjamin Fri, 07 May 2021 10:44:08 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) An eclectic collection of high-brow essays.

An eclectic collection of high-brow essays.

‘Illuminations’ by Walter Benjamin

I’d been meaning to read some Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) for a few years, and finally decided to get round to it having read a little more about him in Brian Dillon’s Suppose a Sentence. Not knowing which book to go for, I went for this essay collection.

I found Illuminations a bit of a curate’s egg. Some of the essays were wonderful. Some—primarily ones about literary figures I either don’t know, or don’t appreciate—did little for me. And one essay completely lost me, although I mean to have another go at it some time as it concerned an interesting subject, the philosophy of history, and I think reading it more than once will help.

Among the essays I really enjoyed, was an excellent piece about being an incorrigible book collector. I empathised with this one. There was also a thoughtful essay on literary translation—a subject that has begun to interest me, as I found myself over the last year or so reading a surprisingly large number of books by or about German authors (including this one).

The other standout essay was Benjamin’s famous The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, written long before the digital era, which seems even more relevant these days.

Despite finding this collection something of a mixed bag, the essays I enjoyed I enjoyed very much indeed. So I’ll probably give Walter Benjamin a second shot in future.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Book review: ‘Suppose a Sentence’ by Brian Dillon Fri, 07 May 2021 10:41:27 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) Essays on single sentences.

Essays on single sentences.

‘Suppose a Sentence’ by Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon likes to collect other authors’ sentences. I’m less methodical about it than him, but, when reading, I also often note down particularly pleasing sentences on the index cards I use as bookmarks. One example I always like to give of a great sentence comes from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, in which she is describing a mountain loch:

I know its depth, though not in feet.

I love that sentence.

Suppose a Sentence comprises a series of essays about individual sentences that caught Brian Dillon’s attention. As I felt with his earlier book Essayism, I suspect his literary preferences differ greatly from mine. But the whole point of this book was for Dillon to explore what it was he liked—or occasionally didn’t like—about a particular sentences. Sometimes he won me over; other times I was unconvinced. In a couple of cases, I ended up more determined to look into authors I’ve considered reading before, but never got round to. Joan Didion for one. I suspect I’ll like her. Roland Barthes for another. I suspect he’ll irritate the hell out of me.

I was delighted to see a typically majestic sentence from Sir Thomas Browne’s Urne Buriall feature in this book. It also features in my book On the Moor, and is the only book, my personal copy of which, I have literally forced into the hands of another author and told them to keep it. As Dillon wonderfully observes, Browne wrote ‘[s]entences schooled on the language of the Bible’. Not my usual cup of tea, but as wonderful sentences go, Urne Buriall is packed full of them.

Suppose a Sentence is an interesting idea for a book. I very much enjoyed it—even when I didn’t enjoy some of the featured sentences.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Book review: ‘Essayism’ by Brian Dillon Thu, 06 May 2021 22:03:24 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) A celebration of the essay.

A celebration of the essay.

‘Essayism’ by Brian Dillon

Alongside letters, the essay is perhaps my favourite literary format. That said, the term essay is so flexible and difficult to pin down, I would make the case that letters are simply a special type of essay, usually with a smaller target audience.

Brian Dillon’s Essayism is a book of essays about essays: a book of meta-essays, if you will. I enjoyed it very much indeed, although I suspect he and I generally prefer very different styles of essay. I love it when an essayist expresses their thoughts on a subject in the simplest possible terms, preferably with a bit of a literary flourish. Simple, but not necessarily plain. If ideas are worth sharing, why not express them in the clearest way you can? In some of the examples Dillon cites, I suspected the essayist was trying to do anything but.

But Dillon makes many observation in Essayism that I agreed with wholeheartedly. In some cases he expresses ideas I’d already arrived at on my own, but in a way sufficiently different to how I would have put them that I ended up re-examining my own thoughts in more depth. Which is one of the best things an essay can do, if you ask me.

Dillon is particularly good on the fragmentary and provisional nature of essays: their aim is not to be the final word on a subject, but to allow the essayist to think out loud about the topic in hand—perhaps even enabling them to work out what they think.

I found myself thinking a lot about Essayism long after I finished it. I shall certainly return to it in future. I shall also be checking out some of the essayists mentioned inside. I cannot think of higher recommendations.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

18 April 2021 Sun, 18 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) My great-niece (age 6) finds a fossil. A WhatsApp message from Jen’s nephew. His six-year-old daughter has found an interesting stone at the seaside. Is it a fossil?

Ammonite fossil
Ammonite fossil

Yes it most certainly is. An ammonite, unless I’m very much mistaken. I explained that ammonites were around for a very long time, but died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66-million years ago. So the fossil was at the very least 66-million years old.

Realising a six-year-old might struggle with the concept of 66-million years, I explained that, if she were to count out 66-million seconds without stopping, it would take her just over two years.

Apparently, my great-niece was delighted with the confirmation that she had found a very old fossil. But the next pressing question on her mind was:

How does Uncle Richard know all this?

Because Uncle Richard is a bit of a science nerd, dear great-niece. And I kind of hope this fossil find helps turn you into a bit of a science nerd too.

17 April 2021 Sat, 17 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) In search of wrens. It suddenly dawned on me earlier this week that I hadn’t seen or heard a wren for several months. Wrens, being such little birds, are notorious for suffering from severe population plummets during bad winters.

Today, while Jen was visiting her mum, I decided to head up the track into Crow Nest Wood, determined to see a wren. Before I’d even entered the wood, a tiny feathered blob flew out of the trees, landed on the drystone wall right in front of me, and blasted out its unmistakeable soprano-jackhammer song. I couldn’t believe my luck at such a perfect photo-opportunity.

11 April 2021 Sun, 11 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) Snow and bluebells An inch of snow overnight, followed by a quick thaw.

April snow

Wild garlic, lesser celandines, and early bluebells in Hill House Wood.

I can’t remember the last time I saw snow and bluebells on the same day.

Book review: ‘The Circling Sky’ by Neil Ansell Sun, 11 Apr 2021 12:04:32 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) On nature and belonging in an ancient forest.

On nature and belonging in an ancient forest.

‘The Circling Sky’ by Neil Ansell

The Circling Sky describes a year’s worth of regular visits Neil Ansell made to the New Forest in Southern England beginning in early 2019. Ansell was born and raised near the forest, and wanted to re-explore an area that had meant a great deal to him as an enthusiastic young naturalist.

The book is primarily about the nature Ansell encounters during his visits to the forest, but he also finds time to reflect on his younger days, and to philosophise about our own species’ impact on the natural world.

Agreeably, Ansell tends to set out on his walks without any particular aim in mind. He doesn’t seem especially concerned to encounter the forest’s headline species. As he puts it, ‘My natural inclination has always been to just wander out alone, and see what I see, and miss what I miss.’ It seems to me the most enjoyable nature encounters are those in which you simply come across species getting on with the all-important business of getting on. There are many such encounters in this book, not just with birds and mammals, but also with trees, flowers and invertebrates—especially butterflies and dragonflies. Ansell is particularly good at describing the roles individual species play in the local ecosystems. ‘Everything affects everything else,’ he explains; ‘we are all on this journey together. Ecosystems evolve, just as surely as do species.’

And, just as surely as do species, ecosystems can diminish and ultimately die out. In recent times, this has been mostly due to our own species’ actions. While Ansell is quick to endorse the idea that we should all take steps to reduce our own impact on the natural world, he says he can’t help feeling ‘we have all been conned into believing that we share equal responsibility’. The fault is not with individuals, but with the system itself: a system ‘we have all been dropped into […] that was never of our own choosing’. It’s the system that needs addressing, not simply the actions of individuals caught up inside it.

I don’t want to give the impression that The Circling Sky is all doom and gloom. Far from it. The joy far outweighs the melancholy. But writing about our species’ impact on our planet has become almost a necessity in the early years of the twenty-first century. As Ansell puts it:

Nature writing may often be read for comfort and reassurance, but perhaps we need to allow a little room for anger too, for the ability to rage at everything that has been taken from us, and been taken by us.

Ansell gets the balance just right: plenty of comfort and reassurance, mixed with just a little bit of anger.

Highly recommended.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Disclosure: Neil Ansell provided some cover blurb for my book On the Moor. I have since met him, and consider him a personal friend. I received a free review copy of The Circling Sky from the publisher.

10 April 2021 Sat, 10 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) A spot of nature waiting. Took Jen to visit her mum. With half an hour to kill while I waited, I headed up the hill to Crow Nest Wood with my snazzy birthday binoculars. Last time I walked up there, a couple of weeks ago, I heard the car-alarm call of a nuthatch. So I decided to sit on a rock and do a spot of nature waiting.

A nuthatch appeared within minutes. As raucous as ever, but it still took me a couple of minutes to locate the bird flitting up a silver birch. Blue back and russet underside, with a narrow bandit mask across the eyes. Striking little birds. I watched for a good 15 minutes as it chiselled violently into woody crevices with its stiletto beak, trying to prise out grubs. It seemed to be having a lot of success. It was then joined by a second nuthatch, that immediately and successfully begged for food. Some sort of courtship ritual, I assume.

9 April 2021 Fri, 09 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) A walk along Blackstone Edge. A walk to Blackstone Edge via the ‘Roman Road’. Bright sunlight with moody, dark clouds. Meadow pipits everywhere.

Blackstone Edge
Blackstone Edge (with hiker for scale)

As we reached the trig point near the summit, I heard the unmistakeable cronk of a raven, and looked up just in time to see it flipping upside-down mid-flight in the way they do. Some of my friends still think I’m winding them up about ravens flying upside-down. A raven cronking over Blackstone Edge—how gothic is that?

Raven over Blackstone Edge

I once saw Snowdonia from Blackstone Edge, but there was no chance of that with the sun descending to the west. Apparently, on a clear day, I might just have been able to make out the summit of Helvellyn in the Lake District, immediately to the right of the very visible Pendle Hill. No luck there, either. But I did spot Ingleborough and Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales. And my favourite trig point on my beloved Moor.

I really enjoyed our walk. We don’t visit Blackstone Edge all that often, but I’ll certainly try to make a point of rectifying that mistake.

8 April 2021 Thu, 08 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) A walk round Withens Clough reservoir. A blustery walk around Withens Clough reservoir. As we left the car park, we immediately spotted our first wheatear of the year flitting about on some tussocky rough ground in the way they do. In fact, that was how I knew it was a wheatear even before I could train my binoculars on it. Definitely one of my top-ten birds.

Nice views across the reservoir towards Stoodley Pike monument, cloud-shadows scudding across green hillside. At the far end of the reservoir, a pair of Canada geese, and a pair of goldeneyes. I’ve seen goldeneyes on the reservoir several times before. They’re not a species I’m particularly familiar with, so it’s always nice to see them.

Took some moody photos of the ruined farm and sycamores at the head of the reservoir, then headed back towards the car park to see if the wheatear was still around. He was. There was also a more photo-shy female. Lovely little birds.

Ruined farm, Withens Clough.
Ruined farm (Red Dikes—thanks, Paul Knights), Withens Clough
Male wheatear
Male wheatear
6 April 2021 Tue, 06 Apr 2021 21:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) Buzzards and blizzards. A walk around the lanes on a crisp, clear, bright afternoon. As we headed along the farm track, I glanced up and spotted a buzzard hovering in the updraft above Little Moor. Buzzards have always been rare around here, in sheep country, but seem to have become a bit more common in recent years. I then spotted a second buzzard off to my left. The first soared down to join it while a kestrel hovered low near the ruined farmhouse, and a curlew burbled somewhere nearby.


A strong side-light, with dark, dramatic skies over the Moor. Then a hail shower scudding down the Hebden Valley far below. Within a minute, the shower spread, heading up the hillside towards us. The second half of our sunny stroll instantly turned into a stomp through a blizzard.

Hail shower heading down the Hebden Valley.
Hail shower heading down the Hebden Valley.
Newsletter No. 22: His glib, beardless chops Fri, 02 Apr 2021 08:45:43 +0100 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) Insensitive teenager · Helen Macdonald · Patrick Barkham · Richard Mabey · Julian Hoffman · photography · Mars · Christina Riley · icebergs · bowling alleys · cassette tapes · Richard Thompson · Antikythera mechanism · and more… Rich Text

2ND APRIL 2021


When I was at secondary school, I would often remark, with complete confidence, that I would die of a heart-attack at 56. I think I must have thought I was being funny, talking so matter-of-factly about my distant, yet tragically young demise. How I wish I could go back in time and slap my teenage self across his glib, beardless chops.

Today, I hit 56. If there’s one thing I’m determined to do over the next 12 months—if for no other reason than to prove that young idiot wrong—it’s to make it all the way through. Either that, or die in the attempt.

Anyway, I thought I’d better send this latest newsletter out pretty damn smartly, just in case…

Some stuff I thought worth sharing

These go all the way to eleven:

  1. The things I tell myself when I’m writing about nature
    Helen Macdonald gives some sound, ‘not-too-serious and also quite serious’ nature-writing advice.
  2. ‘Viruses and man-eating tigers and predatory Asian hornets are all part of nature’
    Patrick Barkham interview the veteran British nature writer Richard Mabey. As a fan of both nature-writing and literary correspondence, I was intrigued to read Mabey is considering writing his next collection of essays in the form of letters, very much in the style of his hero Gilbert White. Sounds perfect.
  3. The Wild Nearby
    My mate Julian Hoffman on how the wild wills its way into the most developed and unexpected of places.
  4. The Royal Photographic Society archive
    The Royal Photographic Society Journal is the oldest continuously published photographic periodical in the world. This digital archive provides searchable access to all issues from the first, in March 1853, up to 2018. Best viewed in full-screen mode.
  5. Perseverance Rover’s descent and touchdown on Mars
    We are a talented species. Nasa’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing on Mars.
  6. Emerging from a mussel shell
    Christina Riley tracks down the work of pioneering seaweed collector and artist Mary A. Robinson.
  7. Iceberger
    A website inspired by a tweet. Draw icebergs and see how they would float. It’s totally addictive.
  8. Right Up Our Alley
    Astonishingly skilful drone footage captured inside a bowling alley.
  9. Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94
    Thanks for all the mix tapes. The Dutch engineer was also instrumental in the development of the first CD.
  10. ‘I had to put the pen down, take a deep breath, have a little cry’
    Britain’s greatest guitarist, Richard Thompson, has finally written his memoir, covering a life-changing crash, and his fiery romance with his ex-wife and singing partner Linda Thompson.
  11. Scientists may have solved ancient mystery of ‘first computer’
    Researchers claim a breakthrough in study of 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism, an astronomical calculator found in the sea.

Recent Reading

More book reviews »

And finally…

After I’d made some encouraging progress on my Darwin book, things suddenly ground to a halt this month. I used this as an excuse to investigate a new(ish) software app designed to help people like me link and analyse their notes. I was hugely impressed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for some low-cholesterol cake.

See you next time.

…I hope.


31 March 2021 Wed, 31 Mar 2021 20:10:13 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) The first swallow of summer. An early evening walk around the lanes. Spring in full flow. My first butterflies of the year—a pair, checking each other out. A curlew burbling in our farmer friend’s field, then flying overhead en route to the Moor. Pussy willow at its fluffiest…

Pussy willow.

…but where, oh where, are the swallows?

Ah! There you are:

First swallow of the summer
First swallow of the summer

I know a single swallow doesn’t make a summer, but this one certainly made my March.

Nerdy in the extreme Tue, 30 Mar 2021 14:14:27 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) In which I am extremely excited about a powerful (and free) new app. Work-wise, I became severely bogged down in the latest chapter of my book earlier this month. I knew what I wanted to write about, and I’d done my research, but the various ideas and snippets of information I’d gathered simply refused to gel.

I draft everything I write in a format called Markdown. Markdown files are basically plain text files in which you can use a few simple conventions to indicate desired formatting. If, for example, you want some text in bold, you surround it by double asterisks **like this**. I really like Markdown because it doesn’t lock you into any particular proprietary app or file format. There are many different apps for editing plain text files, and I use an assortment of different ones depending on which particular project I’m working on, and whether I’m writing on my desktop Mac, my iPad, or my iPhone. Once you have a document written in Markdown, it’s a piece of cake to convert it into HTML for a blog post, or PDF or Microsoft Word or some other text format. This very article was drafted in Markdown and cut and pasted as HTML into my website content management system.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a large number of Markdown files containing, among other things, Journal entries, research notes, web clippings, article ideas, idle thoughts, strategic brainstorms, articles, newsletters, and drafts of my books. A couple of weeks ago, I used the excuse of having become bogged down to finally have a sort through all my old (and current) Markdown files and put them into some sort of order. To be honest, I was itching to try a new, free application I’ve been hearing good things about that was designed for this very purpose. It’s called Obsidian; it’s available on both Mac and Windows, with mobile versions available soon; and, half an hour after I’d loaded all my files into it, and made a few crude searches and replacements, I was a total convert.

I could bore you rigid with a full account of what I’ve been up to using Obsidian over the last couple of weeks, but there’s no way I could convey how excited I am by this remarkable piece of software. It seems purpose-built for the way I prefer to work. Suffice to say, if you’re a writer, and you make a lot of notes, I heartily recommend you check it out. There are plenty of YouTube videos to give you a feel for it.

I’m already finding plenty of links I didn’t realise existed between various ideas I’ve had, and various topics that interest me. Again, I’ll spare you the details. But I will show you a representation of my current Obsidian Markdown files, and how they all link together. The cluster near the bottom of the image represents the book I’m currently working on:

No, not Ultron versus Jarvis, but the organised chaos of my Markdown files (with labels turned off to keep things simple).

On Obsidian, this sort of image is completely interactive. I can click on the nodes (dots) representing each document to see what’s inside them, and to see which other documents they’re linked to. I can also filter and rearrange them on the screen to get a far better feel for how my own research and ideas fit together.

If you think the foregoing was nerdy in the extreme, just thank your lucky stars I didn’t start banging on about the Zettelkasten note-taking method, which Obsidian is designed to support. I’ve been looking into that too. It’s also incredibly powerful. If you’d like to know more, check out this book.

I could happily spend many more weeks and months tweaking my Obsidian Markdown files. In fact, I’m sure I shall: that’s the whole point of having them. But I do now at least have the skeleton of a very powerful notes management system in place. So, my real priority is to get back to my stalled chapter.

But with Obsidian and Zettelkasten to assist me, I’m now confident I’ll soon be back on the right track.

30 March 2021 Tue, 30 Mar 2021 12:55:10 +0100 Richard Carter (Sidelines – Richard Carter) Spring has finally returned. Spring has finally returned. Having detected the briefest (three seconds) of distant burbles drifting down from the general direction of the Moor on 27th February, I enjoyed breakfast on 4th March accompanied by the repeated lilts of a curlew flying back and forth above the field in front of the house. It isn’t spring until the curlews have returned.

I haven’t seen any sign of any lapwings yet, but it surely won’t be long now. I’m already getting jittery for the return of my beloved swallows. The earliest I’ve ever seen them at our house was on my birthday (2nd April), but they’re usually at least a week or so after that. With the recent spell of good weather, though, there’s always the hope of an earlier return. I’m checking out the window every hour or so.

As we drove to the post office to pick up a newspaper the other weekend, Jen spotted four roe deer in one of the fields owned by our farmer friend. As we returned home, the deer bounded across the road in front of the car and headed up Little Moor towards the Moor proper. Even though we knew they were there, they were incredibly difficult to see, camouflaged as they were against the dark heather. Only their white tails gave them away.

We’ve continued to take our regular walks around the lanes, and I’ve taken a couple of slightly more strenuous walks on the far side of the valley while Jen was visiting her mum. Last Saturday, I spotted my first bumblebee of the year, buzzing back and forth low above a grassy bank in Crow Nest Wood. It was quite big. I’m guessing it was a queen looking for an old mouse-hole in which to establish a nest. Perhaps it should be called Bee Nest Wood.

New Road
The inappropriately named ‘New Road’ above Crow Nest Wood
Book review: ‘How to Take Smart Notes’ by Sönke Ahrens Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:37:56 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) One simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking: for students, academics and nonfiction book writers.

One simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking: for students, academics and nonfiction book writers.

‘How to Take Smart Notes’ by Sönke Ahrens

I bought this book having begun to explore the very much in vogue (and extremely nerdy) Zettelkasten note-taking methodology developed by the late Niklas Luhmann. It’s a system that relies on cross-linking large numbers of discrete personal notes, and notes summarising research sources that have provoked your interest. The general idea is, link enough notes together in the right way, and whole new avenues of ideas for new writing topics will open up before you.

Luhmann, a sociologist, relied on a manual system containing many thousands of index cards. He credited this system with enabling him to write 70 books and more than 400 articles. In more modern times, it’s an approach crying out out for computerisation—which is how I came across it. Having become bogged down researching a chapter for my latest book, I began to look around for systems that might help me organise my existing notes in a better way. I soon stumbled across the remarkable, free software named Obsidian. Having loaded my notes into (and had my mind blown by the potential of) this application, I thought I’d better learn more about the Zettelkasten system. Which led me to Sönke Ahrens‘s book.

How to Take Smart Notes is an extremely useful introduction to the Zettelkasten system. The book was longer than I needed, covering a wider range of topics, all of which were interesting, but of less immediate benefit. What I was really after was a clear explanation of the key ideas of Zettelkasten, and this book certainly delivered that. As I read it, it became very clear to me that Ahrens had practised what he was preaching: his book bore clear signs of having emerged from a series of thoughtfully considered notes drawn from a wide variety of sources.

The key message from this book is that you shouldn’t treat your writing as something that comes at the end of your research; writing itself comprises a vital part of your research. Making appropriate notes as you go along might seem like a tremendous faff, but it’s the best way to ensure you’ve got the most out of your source material, and gathered your own thoughts in sufficient depth. But the real power of the Zettelkasten system is demonstrated when the ideas you’ve captured begin to link to each other in interesting new ways, suggesting brand new writing opportunities. I’m already starting to see that happen in my own collection of notes.

How to Take Smart Notes is highly recommended to anyone who carries out any form of research with the ultimate aim of writing about it.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Book review: ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:36:13 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) Cult author Stephen King explains how he goes about writing his punchy prose. Not being a great fan of fiction, I’ve only ever read one of King’s novels—Misery, which was excellent—but the advice he imparts applies mostly as well to any genre of writing. A large proportion of this book is memoir, rather than writing… Continue reading Book review: ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King
‘On Writing’ by Stephen King

Cult author Stephen King explains how he goes about writing his punchy prose.

Not being a great fan of fiction, I’ve only ever read one of King’s novels—Misery, which was excellent—but the advice he imparts applies mostly as well to any genre of writing.

A large proportion of this book is memoir, rather than writing tips, but King writes memoir as punchily as fiction, so it’s entertaining stuff.

A good read.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:34:19 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) Streams of consciousness in the Hebrides.

Streams of consciousness in the Hebrides.

To the Lighthouse

We’ve all been to social gatherings in which individuals from various sub-gatherings are all talking at the same time. Over the general cacophony, we occasionally pick up a few phrases from someone expounding on a particular subject, only to have our attention interrupted by someone in a different sector of the room expounding on something else. Then another individual’s words come to the fore. Then we’re back with the first person. And so on…

Imagine if, in such a scenario, instead of hearing fragments of individuals’ conversations, you could segue between their inner thoughts. Well, that’s what happens in To the Lighthouse. If this sounds bewildering, you’re not far off the mark.

Nothing much happens in this novel. Which is why I’m not making any attempt to summarise the plot, such as it is. But, while nothing much is happening, a great deal of inner dialogue takes place. Then time passes. Then there are resolutions of sorts.

If my description of this novel sounds dismissive, I don’t mean it to be. Not many people could pull this sort of thing off, but Virginia Woolf somehow manages it.

To the Lighthouse is good. I’m glad I read it. But it’s far from an easy read.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as thanks for responding to a marketing exercise.

Book review: ‘Congenial Spirits’ by Virginia Woolf Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:32:44 +0100 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) The selected letters of Virginia Woolf.

The selected letters of Virginia Woolf.

‘Congenial Spirits’ by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was a great letter writer, especially to fellow members of the Bloomsbury Group.

This well-chosen collection covers pretty much the whole of Woolf’s life, being punctuated by occasional gaps during which she suffered from recurring mental breakdowns.

Woolf’s letter-writing style varied according to recipient, from kind to gossipy, intellectual to flirty, enthusiastic to occasionally snobbish. Whatever their individual styles, they’re fascinating reads. Woolf comes across as a far more rounded and likeable than I expected. I even laughed at a couple of her jokes. Here she is writing about the former ballerina Lydia Lopokova, who would soon divorce her husband and marry the economist John Maynard Keynes:

Lydia has got a new bed: Very tactlessly I asked her if it was a double one. No it isn’t, she said; I saw that one must not make jokes about beds, however many Russian Generals and Polish princes or Soho waiters she’s lain with. Her respectability is something your gamps would revere. But I find that talk about the Ballet has its limitations. Not indeed that she dances anymore: unfortunately she sometimes writes.

And here is Woolf writing to her great friend, and occasional lover, Vita Sackville-West, about the challenges of writing novels:

Now when I sit down to an article, I have a net of words which will come down on the idea certainly in an hour or so. But a novel, as I say, to be good should seem, before one writes it, something unwritable: but only visible; so that for nine months one lives in despair, and only when one has forgotten what one meant, does the book seem tolerable. I assure you, all my novels were first rate before they were written.

A seamless blend of serious, chatty and witty: the best sort of correspondence.

The final letter in the collection is Woolf’s famous suicide note to her husband, written immediately before she filled her pockets with stones and threw herself into the River Ouse in Sussex.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Book review: ‘Keep Going’ by Austin Kleon Mon, 01 Mar 2021 12:09:34 +0000 Richard Carter (Reviews – Richard Carter) Ten ways to stay creative in good times and bad.

Ten ways to stay creative in good times and bad.

‘Keep Going’ by Austin Kleon

As with Austin Kleon’s previous book, Show Your Work, the subtitle says it all: Keep Going examines ten ways in which creative types can continue to be creative. Not as useful as its predecessor, I think, but perhaps one to return to when you feel you might have lost your mojo.

As with Show Your Work, I feel compelled to point out that Keep Going is rather expensive for such a short book.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.
Newsletter No. 21: Positively sluggish Fri, 19 Feb 2021 16:14:38 +0000 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) Richard Mabey · Tim Dee · Mark Cocker · Amy Liptrot · Kathleen Jamie · Patti Smith · Alan Bennett · Melissa Harrison · Urban Birder · Patrick Wright · Clive James · and more…
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A belated Happy New Year! I hope you and yours are keeping safe and well. It’s not a particularly ambitious target, but let’s hope 2021 pans out significantly better than its predecessor.

Despite misgivings, I decided to stick with tradition and publish an annual video slideshow for 2020. Ninety-seven photos of life pretending to go on as normal.

In other news, I’m pleased to report progress on my Darwin book has accelerated from sub-glacial to a positively sluggish. Coincidentally, slugs feature prominently in one chapter—although I appreciate I probably shouldn’t mention this in future sales pitches. But it does very much feel as if the book is finally starting to come together. Slowly. I think.

When I ought to have been working on my book, I’ve continued to bang out occasional ‘Sideline’ posts. Here’s what I got up to in January and February.

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

  1. Happy Birthday Richard Mabey!
    Richard Mabey turns 80 tomorrow (20th February). Tim Dee celebrates the author who pretty much single-handedly invented modern nature writing. And there’s even the obligatory Twitter #MabeyMonth hashtag.

  2. How we lost our green and pleasant land
    Mark Cocker on how the pandemic has revealed not only how essential Britain’s natural landscape is, but how little ownership we have over it.

  3. A Hyper-Local Spring
    Amy Liptrot on contracted horizons during the pandemic.

  4. Keep him as a curiosity: Botanic Macaroni
    Steven Shapin reviews The Multifarious Mr Banks: From Botany Bay to Kew, the Natural Historian Who Shaped the World by Toby Musgrave.

  5. Art Lessons
    Peter Campbell was the resident designer and art critic at the London Review of Books until his death in 2011. In these 1996 notes, he offers art advice to Anna Fender.

  6. The Greatest Journey of All Time
    Gillen D’Arcy Wood on how the first Americans made their way from Siberia to Patagonia.

  7. Tweeted new poem
    Kathleen Jamie: ‘After a weepy morning missing folks and thinking This Will Never End, I made myself go out. Wrote a re-balancing poem. Feel better now.’

  8. ‘As a writer, you can be a pacifist or a murderer’
    As she prepared to ring in 2021 with a performance on screens at Piccadilly Circus, Patti Smith explained why she was optimistic amid the ‘debris’ of Trump’s years in office.

  9. Honeybee historians reveal how the UK floral landscape has changed over the last 65 years
    Scientists have compared flower DNA extracted from British honey made in 1952 and 2017. Their results reflect changes in UK agriculture, and provide evidence for how best to increase floral resources.

  10. A Round of Applause
    The latest annual collection of Alan Bennett’s diary entries, courtesy of the London Review of Books.

Plus… Three excellent videos featuring prominent nature writers:

  1. Discussion and reading with Tim Dee and Kathleen Jamie
    A fascinating, hour-long conversation hosted by New Networks for Nature Online 2020.

  2. Second Nature - New nature writing from Scotland
    An 18-minute documentary featuring five award-winning writers talking on the subject of nature and nature writing today: Kathleen Jamie, Jim Crumley, Chitra Ramaswamy, Roseanne Watt and Gavin Francis.

  3. In Conservation with… Melissa Harrison
    As a Zoom-call audience member, I very much enjoyed this hour-long conversation between the Urban Birder (David Lindo) and novelist and nature writer Melissa Harrison.

Recent Reading

More book reviews »
Note: My book reviews now contain links to the recently launched UK branch of, a website supporting local, tax-paying, independent British bookshops.

And finally…

Thanks for taking time to read this newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback is always welcome. With Facebook throwing its weight around (yet again) regarding who is allowed to see what, and with Twitter prepared to boot even the (then) President of the United States off its platform, I can’t help feeling cutting out the giant social-media middlemen and relying on good, old-fashioned, uncensored, unmediated email is the right way to go.

So, if you’re reading a copy of this newsletter on my website, and you haven’t subscribed yet, perhaps you better had. (That’s a spectacularly unsubtle hint, in case you didn’t notice.)

See you next time, spam filters permitting.


2020: a year in photos Fri, 01 Jan 2021 00:00:00 +0000 Richard Carter ( My tenth annual video slideshow. For the last few years, at this time of year, I’ve produced a video slideshow of photos to sum up my year just gone. Here’s the 2020 video:

Consistent beyond reproach, as in previous years, this year’s slideshow contains 97 photographs.

The background music, Igneous Rock, is also by Yours Truly. I don't have an ounce of musical ability. Thank goodness for Garageband!

See also: Previous years’ video slideshows

Newsletter No. 20: Giving it the David Attenboroughs Mon, 20 Jul 2020 15:23:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) In which I gatecrash a podcast, and share cool stuff by the likes of: Melissa Harrison · Luke Turner · Werner Herzog · Merlin Sheldrake · Robert Macfarlane · Gaby Wood · Caught by the River · Philip Hoare · and a host of talented extras.
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20TH JULY 2020


I hope you and your loved ones are still keeping safe and well.

Work continues apace on my ‘Darwin book’. It’s not a particularly pacy pace, I’ll grant you, but if Darwin taught us anything it’s that small developments over long periods can lead to wonderful outcomes. I’ve recently been writing about that very topic, as well as evolutionary vestiges, the geographical distribution of marsupials, birds’ nesting instincts, colour vision, bats, hypothetical bears, and a bunch of other stuff. I think this book might best be described as ‘eclectic’.

My research into bats provided me with the perfect excuse to gatecrash Melissa Harrison’s delightful nature podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things. You can hear me giving it the David Attenboroughs live(ish) from my back garden in episode 16, which went out earlier today. I’ve posted an extended version of my audio piece at the end of this article about the fiasco I went through putting it together.

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

  1. I rant against the jungle
    Werner Herzog fan Luke Turner interviews the man himself.
  2. How Margiad Evans wrote the earth
    One I’ve just added to my ‘To Read’ list… Margiad Evans’ writing is largely unknown outside her adopted Wales. Steven Lovatt introduces this nature writer of precision and feeling.
  3. Fungi’s lessons for adapting to life on a damaged planet
    Merlin Sheldrake in conversation with Robert Macfarlane about Sheldrake’s new book, Entangled Life, looking at the complex world of fungi.
  4. Vast neolithic circle of deep shafts found near Stonehenge
    Archaeologists have discovered an impressive prehistoric structure spanning 1.2 miles.
  5. Tea and capitalism
    Dutch merchants were the first to import tea leaves into Europe in 1609, but by the late 1700s it was the English East India Company, backed by state monopoly, that came to dominate what became known as the ‘Canton Trade’.
  6. How to draw an albatross
    My favourite genre of writing: a fascinating blend of nature, science and history by Gaby Wood.
  7. The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards
    Stunning bird photographs.
  8. Could the art of ‘sashiko’ help to mend our frayed world?
    In sashiko, the art of fabric-repair, the goal is not to hide the repair, but to celebrate it. It exemplifies the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi.
  9. An Antidote to Indifference—online in full!
    The wonderful Caught by the River website marked the 13th anniversary of their first post by making two editions of their irregular physical publication, An Antidote to Indifference, available free online.
  10. The fight for ‘Anglo-Saxon’
    Since September 2019, medieval scholars have heatedly debated the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’.
  11. PLACE 2020
    The Centre for Place Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University has just launched a digital project bringing together writers and artists to think about place and its meanings in 2020. A fabulous new resource.
  12. The Blues Brothers at 40: a manic musical romp that still sings today
    A 40th-anniversary tribute to my favourite film—although I don’t think the article makes clear just how fantastic the soundtrack is!

Recent Reading

More book reviews »

And finally…

To mark the 300th anniversary of the great parson-naturalist, I recently wrote about Gilbert White’s influence on Charles Darwin.

If you still have any reading left in you after that lot, please keep checking in on my latest Sidelines posts. Highlights from July 2020 include a nice photo of Comet Neowise over Hebden Bridge, and this recent photo of a barn owl in the field in front of our house:

Barn owl

Keep safe. Keep well. And I’ll see you next time.


Giving fiascos a bad name Mon, 20 Jul 2020 11:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Articles – Richard Carter) How not to make a simple three-minute podcast piece. It seemed like such a nice idea. I’d been reading up on bats for a chapter of my ‘Darwin book’. I’d also been eavesdropping on the local bats with my bat-detector. It suddenly dawned on me that I might be able to record a short piece about watching bats for Melissa Harrison’s lovely nature podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things. Rather than thinking things through, I immediately pitched the idea to Melissa. She liked the sound of it. My brief: please keep it to three minutes maximum, and avoid recording when it’s windy. Fair enough. I was sure I could stretch what I had to say to three minutes.

The next few weeks bore witness to the kind of ineptitude that gives fiascos a bad name, as I struggled manfully with all manner of incompatible technologies, and carried out a number of spectacularly unsuccessful dry runs.

The idea was to capture simultaneous recordings of bat-clicks from the bat-detector, and me giving a running commentary via a lapel-microphone. I’ll spare you the technical details. During the first dry run, instead of capturing the intended bat-clicks, I managed to record 15 minutes of me, off-mic’, stumbling around in the dark, treading on slugs and swearing at bitey insects. It turned out I’d used the wrong type of cable. In the second dry run, my voice totally drowned out the recordings of the bats. After more tinkering, I finally cobbled together an admirably inelegant and complicated solution that I was 50% confident might just work. The following evening, I was all set to go, but the weather turned windy. I made a couple of test recordings of bat-clicks, just to prove I actually could, then decided to wait for calmer weather.

Next morning, I discovered I’d somehow managed to fry my bat-detector. It was totally dead. I contacted Melissa to say things weren’t looking too peachy. Then I remembered my two test recordings from the night before. Maybe I could use those! So I retrieved them from my trash folder and switched to Plan F. Plan F was much less ambitious: a simple piece to microphone, interspersed with the recovered bat recordings I already had safely in the can. What could possibly go wrong?

It took a week for the unseasonably strong winds to subside. Finally, the perfect evening arrived: clear sky; still air; crescent moon. Serenity reigned. As I waited for the first bats to appear, I clicked the record button on my phone, and began to deliver my intro…

It’s about an hour after sunset, and I’m standing in my garden looking across the Hebden Valley towards…

Suddenly, somewhere in the middle-distance, a small crowd of people began to sing. The noise grew. There seemed to be some celebration taking place—here, in the middle of nowhere, 230 metres above sea-level in the West Yorkshire Pennines! In my 19 years living on this tranquil hillside, I‘d never heard such a commotion. Bloody uncanny timing! I decided to give the celebrants a few minutes to calm down. While I waited, I checked the news on my phone… Ah… Mystery solved! After a gap of 30 years, Liverpool F.C. had just become English soccer champions! #YNWA

When, after 30 minutes, the celebrations showed no sign of subsiding, I decided to trust to luck and hid behind a tree, hoping my microphone wouldn’t pick up the distant strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Come on, Richard: three minutes on bats. Strut your stuff! A little bit of science, a little bit of history, a couple of jokes… how hard can it possibly be?

Two hours: that’s how hard! Two whole hours! This thanks mainly to my inability to talk into a microphone for more than ten seconds without tripping over my own tongue. The neighbour’s dog barking at the weirdo talking to himself in the next garden didn’t help either. Neither did the local tawny owl that decided to start hooting midway through a very promising take that was immediately rendered unusable due to my expletives.

Somehow, I got there in the end. I was frankly astonished when the first edit of my piece came in at a little under six minutes. To meet the brief, I had to do a lot of trimming. Out went most of the science and history; in remained most of the crap jokes. With scalpel-like precision, I even had to excise a few phrases from the middle of sentences in order to squeeze in under the three minutes with an entire second to spare.

You can listen to my final three-minute edit on episode 16 of Melissa’s podcast. As for the full-blown original version, I went through quite a bit of hassle putting it together, so I’m damned if I’m not going to make use of it somewhere. So why don’t I post it here, in all its unexpurgated wordiness?

Gilbert White’s influence on Charles Darwin Sat, 18 Jul 2020 08:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter (Articles – Richard Carter) To mark the 300th anniversary of his birth, a brief account of Rev. Gilbert White’s influence on Charles Darwin. 18 July 2020

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Hampshire parson-naturalist Gilbert White, whose classic book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has been in continuous print since 1789.

Charles Darwin was something of a Gilbert White fanboy. In his autobiography, written towards the end of his life, he reminisced about his own childhood fascination with natural history:

From reading White’s ‘Selborne’, I took much pleasure in watching the habits of birds, and even made notes on the subject. In my simplicity I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.

‘The Natural History of Selborne’ by Gilbert White
Title page of one of my copies of ‘The Natural History of Selborne’ by Gilbert White.

Had history taken a slightly different turn, and had the opportunity not arisen of a place aboard HMS Beagle, there’s a very good chance Darwin might himself have ended up a parson-naturalist. His father’s plans for him, once he had dropped out of medical training, was for a career as a country clergyman. It was to this end that Darwin studied at Cambridge.

In 1846, Darwin wrote to thank Leonard Jenyns for a promised copy of his new biography of Gilbert White. Jenyns was a parson-naturalist himself, and had turned down the offer of the place aboard HMS Beagle, suggesting Darwin as a suitable alternative. Of the White biography, Darwin observed:

I feel sure I shall like it, for all discussions & observations on what the world would call trifling points in Natural History, always, appear to me very interesting. In such foreign periodicals, as I have seen, there are no such papers, as White, or Waterton; or some few other naturalists in Loudon’s & Charlesworth’s Journal, would have written, & a great loss it has always appeared to me.

White and his classic work are mentioned several times in Darwin’s correspondence and notebooks, and in a number of his published works, including The Descent of Man, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, and The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms.

In his late 40s, while visiting a nearby ‘water-cure’ establishment for his various ailments, Darwin, in his son’s words, ‘made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Gilbert White at Selborne’.

Anyone whose classic book influenced my hero is also a hero in my book.

Happy 300th birthday, Rev. White!

The above article also appeared on my Friends of Charles Darwin website.

Bats podcast piece Thu, 16 Jul 2020 11:00:00 +0100 Richard Carter ( I make a guest appearance in episode 16 of Melissa Harrison’s podcast ‘The Stubborn Light of Things’. Here’s an extended version. I made a guest appearance in episode 16 of Melissa Harrison’s delightful podcast The Stubborn Light of Things, in which I talked about the science, history and natural history of bats.

I’ve posted an article about the fiasco I went through making my three-minute piece. If you’d like to listen to the extended (5 min 45s) version, here it is:

Newsletter No. 19: Comfort Reading Sun, 10 May 2020 14:08:26 +0100 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) Melissa Harrison · Tim Dee · Horatio Clare · John Mitchinson · Ronald Blythe · Mary Beard · Benjamin Myers · Zack Arias · Eric Newby · greenland sharks · Maunsell forts · England rugby · Charles Darwin (obviously)
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10TH May 2020


I hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe and well.

The extra time freed up by the lockdown has afforded me some uncharacteristically productive stints of writing on my ‘Darwin book’. In recent weeks, I’ve been exploring, among other topics, beards, the dawn chorus, and birds’ nests. As I’ve said before, everything has a Darwin connection.

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

  1. Nature writer and novelist Melissa Harrison has launched a new podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things, documenting the wonder and richness of the natural world. It brims with delight.
  2. Confined to his ‘sometime new home at the bottom of Africa’, Tim Dee will this year miss springtime in his ‘sometime old home in England’. This has led him to meditate on Gilbert White’s Swallows. (See also Comfort Reading below.)
  3. Horatio Clare passes on some valuable lessons he learnt writing a memoir about his parents’ divorce.
  4. Sarah Beavins describes a recent visit to the wonderful Ronald Blythe at his home, Bottengoms Farm. (See also Comfort Reading below.)
  5. Unsatisfied with George Orwell’s description of patriotism, John Mitchinson digs deep into his own personal history to untangle the complex roots of his Englishness.
  6. I loved the Asterix books as a kid, and appreciate them even more as an adult. When their illustrator, Albert Uderzo, died in March, the London Review of Books resurrected historian Mary Beard’s earlier piece Bonté Gracieuse! Astérix Redux.
  7. Benjamin Myers has released a PDF ebook of his short story A Stone Statue in the Future in support of independent publishers Little Toller and Bluemoose Books. An excellent coffee-break read for the price of a cup of coffee.
  8. As a keen photographer, I first became aware of the legendary travel writer Eric Newby through his wonderful photo-book What the Traveller Saw. The Royal Geographical Society recently launched a new virtual exhibition based on the book.
  9. After a hiatus of several years, American photographer Zack Arias recently relaunched his entertaining YouTube channel. Although I’m not feeling in the least burnt out, I particularly enjoyed his video Burn Out 02 : How To Restart Yourself : Inspiration Is For Amateurs, which provides some sound advice that doesn’t just apply to photographers or the burnt out.
  10. Caroline Crampton on the iconic WW2 Maunsell forts in the Thames Estuary.
  11. Katherine Rundell on the fascinating Greenland shark.
  12. The mystery of why fans sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot at England rugby union matches has finally been solved.

Comfort Reading

In this time of crisis, I’ve been chilling out with plenty of comfort reading. For some reason, I’ve been finding writers in the 80s and 90s especially comforting:

More book reviews »

And finally…

If all the above isn’t enough to keep you going, please don’t forget to check out my regular Sidelines: lines I write on the side, so to speak, when I really ought to be writing other stuff. 27th April was a particularly delightful day I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Keep safe. Keep well. And I’ll see you next time.


Newsletter No. 18: 169 in giraffe-years Sat, 04 Jan 2020 09:09:37 +0000 Richard Carter (Newsletter – Richard Carter) Julian Hoffman · CGP Grey · WG Sebald · Kathleen Jamie · Tim Dee · LRB · Alan Bennett · Caught by the River
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New Year is a time for reflection. This particular new year, I pass a numerically tidy, yet otherwise insignificant personal landmark. Today, I am 20,000 days old. Thanks for the card.

At 08:45 GMT this morning, as all five digits on my personal odometer advanced one click, it was sobering to realise the next time that happens—if I make it that far—I’ll be 82 years old. I certainly won’t see a fourth five-digit turnover.

To quote Philip Larkin in a similar context, ‘It makes me breathless’… Twenty-thousand days! That’s 169 in giraffe-years!

Virgil was right: tempus does indeed fugit. I’d better carpe the diem while I still can…

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

  1. I was delighted to hear my mate Julian Hoffman’s excellent essay on the chambered nautilus, The Spiral Windings, has been nominated for the John Burroughs Nature Essay Award.
  2. The always fascinating CGP Grey points out the importance of posing the right question. In this case, the right question happens to be, Which planet is the mostest closest to the earth? I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the answer.
  3. Episode 105 of the excellent Backlisted Podcast recently discussed one of my favourite books, WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.
  4. During the launch of her latest book, Surfacing (see Recent Reading below), Kathleen Jamie gave an interesting interview with the Herald newspaper. I’m very much looking forward to seeing her in conversation with my pal Amy Liptrot at the Caught by the River event in Farsley in February.
  5. Talking of Caught by the River, Tim Dee provided them with some poignant end-of-year reflections.
  6. As a long-time subscriber to the London Review of Books, I enjoyed this video discussion about its 40-year history by some of those who were there.
  7. The LRB also recently published the latest extracts from Alan Bennett’s diary, entitled What I did in 2019.
  8. Also filed under ‘what I did in 2019’, here’s my ninth annual video slideshow.

Recent Reading

More book reviews »

Book update

My ‘Darwin book’ continues at a pace that makes glaciers look positively hasty. But I guess glaciers have grown pretty hasty these days, so perhaps there’s hope for me yet. The book is about looking at the world through Darwin-tinted spectacles. Lately, I’ve been writing about autumn leaves and dippers (the birds, not the pickpockets). For a Darwin groupie, everything has a Darwin connection. If you’re inexplicably champing at the bit for more of my writing, keep checking out my regular Sideline jottings.

Wishing you all a great 2020.


2019: a year in photos Wed, 01 Jan 2020 00:00:00 +0000 Richard Carter ( My ninth annual video slideshow. For the last few years, at this time of year, I’ve produced a video slideshow of photos to sum up my year just gone. Here’s the 2019 video:

Consistent beyond reproach, as in previous years, this year’s slideshow contains 97 photographs.

The background music, Pizzi-Carter, is also by Yours Truly. I don't have an ounce of musical ability. Thank goodness for Garageband!

See also: Previous years’ video slideshows