Trawling my local library for something in the creative non-fiction category, I spotted Simon Winchester’s The Map that Changed the World and decided on the basis of the opening pages to bring it home. The first few chapters had just the kind of imagined detail that kept me interested in the life story of William Smith and his geological explorations, and just as my attention was starting to wane, Smith’s story became a local one. He (and I) are now in the mining villages south of Bath, where Smith was employed to build a canal. Geology that was feeling rather abstract comes to life when attached to a landscape I recognise as the A39.
This also feels like a good time to mention Patrick Gale’s The Whole Day Through, a novel with some non-fiction thrown in. I only wished I had taken it on my recent trip, as the end pages contain not just the obligatory ‘book group notes’ (is it only me that finds these horribly patronising?) but also a concise guide to the town of Winchester! Even after the event I found Gale’s notes illuminating, although the cynic in me wonders if the publishers put all of these extras in to mask the elegant slimness of the book itself .
I did enjoy the novel (a beautifully written story of former lovers who meet again in middle age) which I consumed in its entirety during a subsequent train trip to Birmingham. Sadly, this meant that I had no time to look out of the window and spot interesting geological features.