Wednesday, December 11, 2019

100. The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

Colin Dann is my white whale of used book hunting.  I found a later book of his King of the Vagabonds and grabbed it as it fell under my reading area of interest: animal adventure subgenre.  I have looked high and low (well at least in dozens of used bookstores in many major cities in the US and Canada and even a few in Europe) for the last 15 years and have not found a single copy of his books. My guess is that they were not published in large quantities in North America, or that they are in some in-between age category that has since been swept up in the resurgence of YA fiction post-Hunger Games.  This copy that I read was not some great find.  Rather, it has been reprinted as a classic and I found a new edition at Kidsbooks on Broadway in Vancouver.  I believe it was imported from the UK.  So I continue to seek his other works.  Maybe one day a trip to Great Britain will reveal the mother lode.

And thus it is fitting that this should be my 100th book of the year.  I am in a mild state of disbelief about this and I don't want to go on too much about except to record how I got here.   My goal for the last three years, since the crash of 2016 (when I read only 18 books) has been to get my average back up to 50 books a year.  I recognized that with such a significant deficit, this was going to take several years of more than 50 books.  I pushed myself then to read at least 5 books a month, with at least once a week.  Somehow, I caught fire this year and the reading just kept flowing.  There were only a few times when I flagged a bit, but the momentum I had built carried me forward.  There were several changes in my life that allowed this to happen.  I had very little videogame playing, with no game that is really grabbing me.  My daughter started going to elementary school and became a bit more independent (though still wants to play constantly when we are together).  My job has a lot of flexibility and a lot of satisfaction, which I think helped me to cut waaaaay back on useless social media scrolling.  I still go to Twitter almost daily but for minutes now instead of the hours that it had been in the past.  I guess there is a good side to advertising ruining the internet.  Since it sucks, I'd rather be reading!  Anyhow, I am happy with this achievement, but even happier with all the great books I have read.  I'll get into that at my end of year post.

The Animals of Farthing Wood was very straightforward, a little bit too simple for me to really get into.  Despite that, by the end, I was quite moved and felt a real sense of triumph at the completion of the adventure.  The stakes don't feel that high, though in the narrative animals do die and the threat of human destruction and cruelty is very real and depressing.  This was Dann's first book and judging by my memory of King of the Vagabonds, I suspect his work increases in subtlety. 

The story here is about the animals of Farthing Wood, a badger, a fox, an adder, an owl, a kestrel, a toad, a mole and families of hares, rabbits, hedgehogs, mice and voles.  The books starts in a drought and quite soon after the animals discover that their precious pond has been filled in by developers.  (Fucking developers, I hate them already but just typing this and thinking about the emotions this early part of the book brought up gets me stirred up.)  They realize they need to do something and they band together to try and find a solution.  At that point, Toad who had disappeared shows up.  Turns out he had been snatched by some kid and put in a jar and then released quite far to the north.  He made his way home which took four mating seasons.  Learning what happened to his pond (where had been born and raised), he tells the animals that he had discovered a nature reserve and could probably find his way back there.  The animals decided, after some debate, that escape to this place may be there only choice.  Their decision is confirmed the next day when the bulldozers show up.

It is a true adventure journey.  They battle weather, forest fire, nasty farmers, big agriculture, the hunt, predators and traffic.  Every episode is cool and tense, though as I said before, you always feel there is a certain benevolence to the narrative.  This does get undermined once or twice, which made me think I would wait a few more years before reading this to my daughter.  The travail with the fox hunters was particularly thrilling and satisfying.  A great book and a deserved classic.  I hope more kids in North America read it.


Rick Robinson said...

My reading goal is always 104, two books per week. Most years, I make that.

I have this book, Elsevier/Nelson Books hardcover, first edition copyright 1979. It has a wonderful wrap-around jacket painting by Troy Howell. I read it in 1979 or 1980 when I bought it, but its been on the shelf since, until I just now took it down to make this comment. Perhaps I will read it again, since it's once more in hand. Thanks very much for the reminder.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Damn, bro, you make it sound so easy! :)

That first edition sounds beautiful.