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Next to Nature: A Lifetime in the English Countryside

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Blythe is of course best known for Akenfield, his oral history of a small Suffolk community, and, as someone as deeply rooted in just such a community as Blythe was, the pieces gathered together in Next to Nature have a remarkable immediacy and honesty of experience and expression. Better to have this in hard copy and flip open to some pages every now and then throughout the year.

From here, Ronald Blythe has spent almost half a century observing the slow turn of the agricultural year, the church year and village life in a series of rich, lyrical rural diaries.

The melancholy ever-rolling stream of Time through dark old rooms, the tilting photographs of past incumbents in damp vestries, the melting ice in dank shrubberies, the unwanted (or possibly longed for) companion catching one up in the foggy lane, and history seen as a medieval box of fun holy tricks to poke about in, these were among the experiences of January. The structure is perfect, compiling Blythe's columns from the Church Times by date, but not by year, so that we read through the circular time of the natural and ecclesiastical year, without altogether knowing where we are in a linear time that seems far less significant out in this little patch of the old rural England, where any self-respecting village needs something to hang dreadful stories on; Borley Rectory was just down the road, and "This was a Mabey walk to rival his walk with me to Wormingford Mere where, although I don't like to boast, we have a dragon. It is a selection of Blythe’s regular columns for the Church Times, covering many years and arranged by month.

With gentle wit and keen observation Blythe meditates on his life and faith, on literature, art and history, and on our place in the landscape. Beginning with the arrival of snow on New Year’s Day and ending with Christmas carols sung in the village church, Next to Nature invites us to witness a simple life richly lived. He makes the authors he loves feel like friends full of wisdom and warmth, kindred spirits through their words.

Poignantly, he turned 100 in November 2022 and died just two months later, so this book and my careful reading of it through the year are both tributes to his long and faithful life, much of it lived in an old farmhouse in Suffolk.

It is accepted by you that Daunt Books has no control over additional charges in relation to customs clearance. His work, which won countless awards, includes Akenfield (a Penguin 20th-Century Classic and a feature film), Private Words, Field Work, Outsiders: A Book of Garden Friends and numerous other titles. Mrs Woolf, wife of the manager, is a very celebrated author and, in her own way, more important than Galsworthy. His work, which won countless awards, includes Akenfield (a Penguin 20th-Century Classic and a feature film), Private Words , Field Work , Outsiders: A Book of Garden Friends and numerous other titles.Still, he seems to have been regarded with enormous fondness, each month introduced by a famous friend of 'Ronnie', ranging from Rob Macfarlane through Rowan Williams to Maggi Hambling.

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