I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Long, Long Life of Trees by Fiona Stafford
Published by Yale University Press on September 27th 2016
Genres: General, Nature, Non-fiction, Science
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A lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings
Since the beginnings of history trees have served humankind in countless useful ways, but our relationship with trees has many dimensions beyond mere practicality. Trees are so entwined with human experience that diverse species have inspired their own stories, myths, songs, poems, paintings, and spiritual meanings. Some have achieved status as religious, cultural, or national symbols. In this beautifully illustrated volume Fiona Stafford offers intimate, detailed explorations of seventeen common trees, from ash and apple to pine, oak, cypress, and willow. The author also pays homage to particular trees, such as the fabled Ankerwyke Yew, under which Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn, and the spectacular cherry trees of Washington, D.C. Stafford discusses practical uses of wood past and present, tree diseases and environmental threats, and trees’ potential contributions toward slowing global climate change. Brimming with unusual topics and intriguing facts, this book celebrates trees and their long, long lives as our inspiring and beloved natural companions.
The Long, Long Life of Trees was not at all what I expected. I wanted a novel that would cover the historical, cultural and mythological history of trees in a way that would encompass a large variety of trees. The hope was that I would glean information that would make me a hit at parties and give me knowledge about a subject that would be fun to pull out while chatting in the office” “Did you know that the Holly Tree was..?” Unfortunately, The Long, Long Life of Trees was not THAT kind of book and admittedly soured my experience. This novel is all about artistic history of trees: poems, art, literature – it is also about the spiritual and religious connection humans have with trees.
The best part of this novel is the introduction where the author describes trees in a beautiful and lyrical way that honestly took my breath away. The language was strong and emotive. I loved trees for awhile in the way that the author loves them and felt deep wonder at the mysteries that are trees. She developed a narrative that brought the mystical nature of trees to the fore front, while condemning the destruction of forests in a powerful way. If only the book continued on this same vein..
I struggled through this novel because I care very little for art, carving uses and religious imagery curated from various types of trees. I have always had more of a desire to learn the societal and human elements behind nature and unfortunately even the literature component of this novel touched on aspects that, sadly, I could not begin to feel passionate about. I did not learn any neat facts to pull out at dinner parties and I certainly did not enjoy the dry, plodding narrative that followed the inspiring Introductory chapter.
The illustrations, although a wonderful idea, were largely wonderfully hand drawn samples, but I would have very much liked to have had images of fully trees in nature in addition to the author created. I have not seen some of these trees in person as this is a mostly British and European focused work, and would have liked to have a shot of the trees being explored.
Warning: Here There Be Empirical Facts, Mate!
Finally, I think the synopsis was misleading in utilizing words like “inspiring” and “imitate”. The Long, Long Life of Trees is an encyclopedia of trees: practical uses, poetic mentions, religious relevance and their prevalence in famous artwork. This is not a novel about the intimate or inspiring relationship with human mythos and cultural influence, but one of facts. Sadly, this book feels like it was marketed to readers of a different interest, or at least I was expected something different. The Long, Long Life of Trees is not a terrible book, it’s just mislabeled.
This book will appeal to readers who are looking for an empirical, encyclopedic book on trees, are interested in art, poetry and religious relevance of natural phenomenon and are able to read individual entries about European trees written like a textbook rather than through creative and emotional language.