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What we’re reading this summer!

Schumacher College staff share their reading lists for the summer holidays.

Tamsin Treleaven (Taught Programmes Senior Administrator and Admissions Officer)

For many years I have been completely fascinated by the Polar Regions and the early Polar explorers.  I have read much about Captain Sir John Franklin’s search for the North West Passage, Robert Scott and particularly Ernest Shackleton’s exploration of the Antarctic.  Their incredible strength of character and endurance is a constant source of inspiration to me.  I have just completed Mawson’s Will by Lennard Bickel (1977).  This is the story of Australian Douglas Mawson’s scientific exploration of a little known coastal area of the Antarctic. 

Unlike other explorers of the time, Mawson was more interested in scientific discovery than the fame of chasing the Poles.  In 1911 Mawson set out to chart fifteen hundred miles of the Antarctic coastline and claim it for the British Crown.  He began his exploration with two companions and two teams of dogs.  The journey was unimaginably hard, impossible almost.  After six weeks and 320 miles, trekking across mountains and glaciers in sixty mph winds, one of Mawson’s companions and team of dogs disappeared into a crevasse, along with all his equipment and food.  Mawson also lost his second companion and eventually all the dogs.  His final journey back to the coast and ‘base camp’ involved him literally clawing his way across the ice, starving, frostbitten and near death, but at no point did he give up.  The physical battle that he endured was enormous, but the mental one is what I find so inspiring – such unbelievable courage and sheer dogged determination to survive.  Despite this he continued his meticulous scientific observations, even in the face of death.  Mawson successfully mapped more territory in the Antarctic than anyone else of his time.  Whenever anything in my life seems difficult, I think about those explorers, their strength, unbreakable spirit and vision.

Pavel Cenkl (Head of College)

Book: Keep Walking Intently: The Ambulatory Art of the Surrealists, the Situationist International, and Fluxus, by Lori Waxman

I keep returning to this book because it lies at the intersection of so much that is foundational to my own engagement with the world. My passions for running as embodied engagement with place, for philosophies of the human and more-than-human, and for ecologies of all kinds are woven together in this survey of 20th century performance and visual art. My love of this book is encapsulated in Waxman’s description of Constant Nieuwenhuys’ vision of a dynamic labyrinth, which “comprises multiple moving centers and no wrong way of getting there; no getting lost, only finding new paths; no stable structure, but rather one continually created and recreated based on the behavior of its inhabitants.”

Robyn Minogue (Deputy Head Gardener and Teacher)

Book: Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This book comes highly recommended with most of my household/friends having read it. The book begins at the time of the Strawberry Moon while at the same time we at Schumacher were patiently waiting for our own strawberries to ripen. Kimmerer describes a deeply intimate and reciprocal relationship with the living world around her. The gift of abundance is celebrated in her relationship to the earth. As a food grower you slip between the magical appreciation of the wonder of the bounty and beauty of the earth and the desperate endeavour of sowing, growing and harvesting. Kimmerer’s words keep you in the poetry of reverence and honours the growers sacred role as partner to the Earth. I think this will be a book I come back to time and again and a message that will continue to nourish my daily role of food growing.

Marguerite Legros (Intern in Ecological Horticulture)

Book: Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will not Protect You

Having heard this sentence so much over the last few weeks, I wanted to understand its origin. I wasn't disappointed! Audre Lorde is a black, lesbian and feminist poet and her words are very powerful. In this compilation of essays and poems she writes about the values of speaking up (whoever you are), the necessity of poetry (in any forms), the transformative power of anger (as an individual and in society) and the reality of racism. As a woman, the book challenged deeply my white biased vision of feminism. Her words have an universal impact and every text is beautifully written, I highly recommend it! (I've also been reading the prequel of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman...very dark and not as groundbreaking as the first trilogy but still very good and enjoyable!).

Brenda Nagy (Programmes Administrator)

Book: In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Braughtigan

In watermelon sugar, the landscape is surreal and constantly in flux: each day has a different coloured sun which creates different coloured watermelons, things are made of watermelon sugar and the extinct anthropomorphic tigers who killed and ate people but could also sing, talk and play instruments still pervade the psyche. It’s a first-person account of iDEATH, a type of Eden in a post-apocalyptic world where people live peacefully and nature intersects with technology. There is also the forbidden Forgotten Works, a huge rubbish heap where the remnants of the former civilization lie abandoned.

The story’s violent climax is reached when Margaret, the narrator’s former lover and resident of iDEATH, conspires with the rebellious whiskey drinking inBOIL and his followers from the Forgotten Works to show its residents what iDEATH really is! Allegorical, idiosyncratic and quirky, it’s filled with unconventional and vivid images, strange and detailed observational metaphors, humour and satire. It feeds my imagination and I return to it often.

Colum Pawson (Horticulture Teacher and Head Gardener)

Book: Mycorrhizal planet by Michael Phillips.

This book has opened my eyes to the fascinating and complex world of Mycorrhizal fungi that form a complex network of connections between plants and p[lay an instrumental part in the health of the soil, plants and ultimately the planet. The fungi attach themselves to plants an in return for sugars that the plant provides the fungi offer water and nutrients from a much great distance than the plants could find on their own. The book has helped us to confirm that many of the techniques we already use in the gardens at the College are beneficial and has given use the tools we need to actively work with the fungal networks. We have been experimenting in the garden’s with inoculating to increase the mycorrhizae in our soils as we plant our vegetables and thanks to the book we are now able to make our own inoculations from the soil on the estate.

Jonathan Dawson (Programme Coordinator and Senior Lecturer – MA Economics For Transition)

Book:The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato

We live in a moment of intellectual forment, when many of the foundational myths underlying conventional ways of thought are coming under assault. The core enquiry in Mazzucato’s splendid book is into the roots of value generation within an economy. The dominant view, deep-wired into modern thinking more or less across the board, is that the wealth-creator class is the heroic breed of entrepreneurs that need to be rewarded with low taxes, high incomes and minimalist government. Not so, it seems! In this richly referenced book, Mazzucato uncovers the central role of government in funding the early, risky stages of technology development. The tendency has been for the fruits of the value-generating activity of the state and workers to be captured by private enterprise; profit is privatised while, as in the financial crisis, for example, risk and loss is socialised. Time for government to become once again more assertive and for civil society to reclaim a greater share of the wealth that it is contributing so richly to generate. Time to identify the real ‘essential workers’!

Tracey Warr (Head of Research)

Ladurie, Montaillou - A detailed study of the lives of the inhabitants of a 13th century village in the French Pyrenees. Loaned to me by a former student (thank you!). Relevant for a biography I am working on about three sisters living in the early medieval period. I’m half-way through and it is a fascinating window into medieval lives.

A book on Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights painting, which I studied recently in The Prado in Madrid. I’ve been very interested in Bosch and this painting for a long time. It is informing some of my fiction writing.

Book on the 11th century Creation Tapestry in Girona Cathedral – again relevant to the biography I am working on. I draw a lot on visual and material culture sources for writing.

Sioned Davies’s translation of the Welsh medieval stories: The Mabinogion – relevant for my teaching on Poetics of Imagination this coming academic year (and marvellously enigmatic).

Martin Shaw’s Wolf Milk – also pertinent for Poetics of Imagination.

Tomas Saraceno, Arachnid Orchestra Jam Sessions – I recently saw an installation of Saraceno’s spiderweb drawings and films in Madrid. Like the Bosch painting, it is interesting to me for writing on the more-than-human.

Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. I started reading this a few years back after buying it in the wonderful Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris and thought it might be interesting to reread it now, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. (My other favourite bookshop is Raven Used Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Gaston Bachelard’s Water and Dreams – also relevant for Poetics of Imagination and for my ongoing writing on hydrophilia.

Taru Elfving et al.’s Contemporary Artist Residencies: Reclaiming Time and Space – relevant for the other Dartington Arts School MA I am teaching on: MA Arts and Place. Taru Elfving is a curator who I have worked with over the last five years and more.

Delfina Foundation’s Politics of Food. Delfina is one of the hosts for the MA Arts and Place network.

And for light reading (not pictured since they are on my Kindle) I’m reading Donna Leon’s detective series set in Venice. (The detective’s wife is a professor specialising in the work of Henry James.)

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