With her poet’s eye and naturalist’s affinity for wild places, Kathleen Jamie reports from the field in this enthralling collection of fourteen essays whose power derives from the stubborn attention she pays to everything around her. Jamie roams her native Scottish “byways and hills” and sails north to encounter whalebones and icebergs. Interweaving personal history with her scrutiny of landscape, Jamie dissects whatever her gaze falls upon—from vistas of cells beneath a hospital microscope, to orcas rounding a headland, to the aurora borealis lighting up the frozen sea. Written with precision, subtlety, and wry humor, Sightlines urges us to “Keep looking. Keep looking, even when there’s nothing much to see.”
After book club, I bought three books. One was this month’s book club book, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, one was The Girl of Ink & Stars, and the third was this. Nell suggested it to me, and I am grateful. This is the first nonfiction book (besides a couple of memoirs) that I’ve finished in months and months, and I really enjoyed it. It’s also a collection of essays, one of the BookRiot challenge categories (I’ve been struggling with that, but getting better!).
Sightlines is about nature, what nature means to us, how we approach it and deal with it, how human history is also nature. There is a lot about whales. I learned that I’ll be able to see an arch made of a whale’s jawbones, beside a road a few miles south of where I’m going on holiday in August. I learned about the history of whaling, and how Stromness had a scurvy hospital because so many whalers came back with it. I learned about some of the more remote islands, like North Rona, and the cleits (small dwellings) on St Kilda, and how people and industry and religion came and went. I learned about birds, which I love, such as skuas and Leach’s storm petrels. Kathleen Jamie writes beautifully and I was absorbed, from beginning to end, and kept reading bits out to my family. They were semi-interested.
I loved this, and intend to take it on holiday with me, so that I can sit on a clifftop in the wind and think about whales and birds and archaeology and feel all dramatic, and I will look out for her other books while I’m on the bookshop crawl, and hopefully pick up another.