Usually I won’t write about a book until I’ve finished reading it. But with this one I’m making an exception because I don’t want to rush it, for several reasons.
First and maybe mainly because I’m learning from it, as I’ve always learned from Dara McAnulty since I started following his tweets about the natural world a couple of years back. He knows much more about nature than I do. And his descriptions of everything he discovers and notices are so engagingly beautiful that a whole book of them needs lingering over to take in and properly appreciate. The book’s not heavy on photographs of what he sees and it doesn’t need to be. His word pictures are more than enough.
Another reason not to hurry is that the book’s written in the form of a year’s diary. Four seasons of emergence, growth, fulness and dieback that are definitely not a rushing through kind of thing. So don’t.
It’s personal too, and I like and value that in a book. So while it would have been perfectly possible to have written a more scientific volume of objective observations this isn’t that book. Because it’s about the author and his family as well as it’s observing, campaigning about and rejoicing in the environment they’re all from, their Northern Ireland. Which is great, fascinating and made even more so by the family’s ups and downs, huggings and traumas, expeditions, adventures, house moves and school moves. Oh yes, Dara’s fourteen years old while he’s writing this, adolescence is kicking in, and his bother and sister are even younger. So we learn about all of them, but particularly Dara. Using his pocket money to buy his first field guide (“Mushrooms and Other Fungi”) at the age of four. His love of and aptitude for learning, but also of how hard schools can be at times for him to do their sort of learning in. And his Undertones T-shirts, we hear about them.
Because great authors are not afraid to put themselves into their books, I always think, so you know who you’re spending your time with. And you definitely get to know Dara McAnulty better as this book moves along, from home at Eniskillen to new home in County Down. From Spring through to Winter and every day different.
So it’s well worth the reading and, as I said, the lingering over. Even if you think you’re not that interested in nature writing this might well get you there, it’s so well done.
So well done Dara. This is a beauty.
You can buy “Diary of a Young Naturalist” from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher, Little Toller, like I did.
And read more about writing here at “A Book in Your Bag”