cover image Landmarks


Robert Macfarlane. Penguin/Hamilton, $18 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-241-96787-4

Macfarlane’s (The Old Ways) beautifully written blend of nature writing and lexicon connects the work of his favorite writers to the British Isles’ natural settings and the distinctive, lyrical vocabulary used to describe them. Each chapter is devoted to a different landform (such as flatlands, coastlands, and woodlands) and followed by a glossary of relevant terminology. The featured authors include “word-hoarder” Nan Shepherd, whose book The Living Mountain has its own lengthy glossary of colorful Scots words, such as “roarie-bummlers” (fast-moving storm clouds); and “water-man” Roger Deakin, whose book Waterlog, about his experiences swimming around the United Kingdom, unearthed archaic words such as dook (a swim in open water) and tarn (an upland pool or small lake.) The sources of the words in the glossaries are as diverse as the British landscape: works by famous wordsmiths such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Clare, as well as the various cultures, regions, and languages of Great Britain. Macfarlane bemoans the gradual disappearance of these colorful descriptors from modern usage, resulting in a “blandscape” of general terms. It would be fabulous if his wish in writing this exceptional compilation—for these words to “re-wild” contemporary speech—comes true. (Aug.)