I have been reading Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful, acclaimed The Old Ways, and he takes much inspiration for his perambulations (both mental and physical) from the English poet Edward Thomas (above), who was a nature and travel writer before he was a poet. (Interestingly, it was Robert Frost who recognised the poetry lurking within Thomas’s prose and encouraged him to try poetry.) Macfarlane says he didn’t realise that while writing his own book (partly) on Thomas, Matthew Hollis was writing one also. I recently happened to pick up a copy of Hollis’s biography, All Roads Lead to France, not really knowing who Thomas was, but thinking that he looked interesting and was someone I probably should know about. In fact I nearly didn’t get the book, because one needs to curb one’s book collecting somehow. I thought, why yet another book on someone I don’t even know? But I have often found that these are exactly the type of books that I find later to be a dot in a line of connecting dots. I have often found that I have discovered someone hitherto unknown to me, only to read about them in subsequent books I pick up.
Now, this is not coincidence exactly, or some fortuitous alignment of the stars or whatever, after-all one would expect this sort of thing to happen from time to time. It’s only logical. But it is lovely how books are rarely self-contained, and a library will be a collection of books that share more than simply a connection of physical proximity.
Sometimes this can be a negative. The more one is referred to other writers from our current reading material, the more one is aware of the deficiencies in one’s knowledge.