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Great reads: CPRE staff share their favourite books

Lewis Townsend
By Lewis Townsend

We asked the lovely staff at CPRE to share their most treasured books, so if you’re looking for inspiration, keep reading!

Whether it’s getting lost in the rich worlds of a fiction novel, or learning more about the world around us, reading remains hugely popular. Even in the face of an ever-encroaching digital world, for many a good book is the perfect antidote. For World Book Day 2023, we wanted to share some of our favourite books with you – and of course – they’re all somewhat countryside-themed!

Kate – Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found (Cheryl Strayed)

At the age of 22, Cheryl Strayed (the author) lost her mother. Her family soon fragmented, and her marriage fell apart. A few years later she made an impulsive decision that would transform her completely. She decided to hike more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail – without training or experience.

‘The book shows how nature, walking, woods and the great outdoors can help us deal with trauma and find peace,’ Kate says.

It’s a thrilling, but warm account of Cheryl’s adventure, against all odds. ‘In a nutshell, the countryside is essential to our health and wellbeing,’ Kate adds. ‘The film adaptation with Reece Witherspoon is also highly recommended!’

Mountains and coniferous trees as part of the Pacific Crest Trail near Seattle
Mountains and trees at Kendall Katwalk, part of the Pacific Crest Trail | Kelly Bork / Unsplash

Lewis – Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (Dave Goulson)

Dave Goulson is a professor of biology at the University of Sussex and has written several books about wildlife, and in particular, about bees. Silent Earth sets up the crucial importance of insects to our survival, before exploring why they’re under threat and where we’re headed if nothing changes. It concludes with a rousing call to action: what can we do to help?

‘I love Dave’s writing’, says Lewis. ‘His delight and fascination with insects shines through effortlessly, counterbalanced with obvious despair and frustration.’

‘The chapter “A View from the Future” is horrifying,’ Lewis adds. ‘It depicts an alternative timeline in which we’ve done nothing to address insect declines, and it reads like post-apocalyptic fiction. The sad thing is, it’s not.’

‘What I particularly like though, is that through the book we see that it doesn’t have to be this way. Even small changes can make a huge difference in helping insects to thrive.’

A small meadow rich with oxeye daisies and other plants
Partly inspired by Dave Goulson’s writing, Lewis created this small meadow in 2020 | Lewis Townsend

Catherine – All Among the Barley (Melissa Harrison)

Melissa Harrison is a nature writer and novelist whose previous work includes At Hawthorn Time (2015) and By Rowan and Yew (2021). Her work blends rich characterisation and beautifully realised settings.

All Among the Barley takes place just before the Second World War. We follow Edie Matthew who lives on a farm in Suffolk, in a community still reeling from the Great Depression. It’s a hard-hitting coming-of-age tale exploring rural culture at odds with shifting political and social tides.

‘The book has some beautifully evocative descriptions of the countryside, rural communities and traditions set at a time of impending social change,’ says Catherine, who cites the book as her favourite.

A rural suffolk farm with cows and a large tree
All Among the Barley is set in a rural Suffolk farm

Rebecca – The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)

The Remains of the Day is a first-person novel told from the perspective of a butler at a stately home in Oxfordshire. ‘It’s effectively a novel about the beauty of the English countryside,’ Rebecca says.

A gentle and meditative book, we follow the butler, Stevens, as he takes a trip through the west country to see a colleague.  ‘It’s quite a slow and calming book, with really witty storytelling,’ Rebecca adds.

Widely well received, The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize in 1989. It’s well-loved for its portrayal of Stevens, who feels just as real as the readers themselves. Profound and moving, it’s the ideal contemplative read set in the idyll of rural England.

Faringdon Folly Tower in Oxfordshire surrounded by farmland
The Remains of the Day is set in rural Oxfordshire | Lawrence Hookham / Unsplash

Brad – Wolf Brother (Michelle Paver)

Part of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, Wolf Brother is a richly imagined fantasy novel with nature and tribal history woven through it. Taking place 6,000 years ago, the books follow a 12-year-old boy called Torak, who can communicate with wolves.

‘It’s a great book,’ Brad says. ‘It’s quite an easy read with good characters – and suitable for adults and children.’

Wolf Brother received high praise for its authentic world, which Michelle Paver went lengths to create. She rode for 300 miles in the forests of northern Finland and Lapland. While there, she lived as people would have during the Stone Age, picking up the customs and beliefs of people who have lived there for generations.

A snowy forest in Finland with the northern lights in the background
Michelle Paver hiked across the forests of northern Finland and Lapland to help create the book’s world | Ozgu Ozden / Unsplash
Two young children reading a book in a field with the sun shining brightly in the background
Like reading? Check out our staff picks! Ben White / Unsplash


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