If you’re in or around London, I can’t recommend a trip to see The Glass Menagerie highly enough. This was everything I hoped for and more. Brilliant, subtle performances from a stellar cast – tick. A faithful take on Tennessee Williams’ original stage directions – tick. I was struck again by the timeless feel to Williams’ writing and his deftly drawn characters. In the interval, I couldn’t help miming a chef’s kiss to my partner. Perfection.
– Sophie Gordon
S.J. Parris’ Conspiracy is a page-turning historical thriller set in Paris 1585. Great atmosphere and characters with more intrigue than you could summon up in the phrase ‘imminent jeopardy’ – perfect poolside reading in my book.
You don’t need me to mention the record-breaking heatwave we’ve suffered this week. The day before it peaked, as some of our national papers told Britons to enjoy the sun and not listen to the ‘snowflake’ agitators about a climate crisis, I took from my bookshelf Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The landmark book exposed the impact of profligate use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture in the 1940s and 50s. It’s decades since I read it. It was published exactly 60 years ago, and I was curious as to whether such an old book, written well before the term ‘climate change’ was coined, remained relevant.
The book is special to me. I grew up with it on my parent’s bookshelf. Reading it and watching David Attenborough’s pioneering docs like Life on Earth instilled in me a passion for nature. It led me to work in children’s publishing and then write kid’s books on ecology. And it led me to work for Greenpeace where I edited the magazine and wrote leaflets and reports for public and lobbyists.
‘Silent Spring’ is a brilliant title, much mimicked. It stems from American birdwatchers who reported a steady decline in some species in the 1950s. Carson was a respected biologist and nature writer who investigated the reasons for the loss. With a rare gift for conveying science to a lay audience, she summarised a huge amount of research and statistics and funnelled this into a coherent argument – and a call to action to oppose the scorched earth policy of pesticide use.
At the time of her writing, nature was very much considered an ‘it’ – something to be mastered and bent to human will, whether in maximising food output, or as a dump for industrial waste. Carson pioneered a more Earth-centric literature, questioning the duality of ‘us’ distinct from nature.
Two years after its publication she died from cancer. She had to suffer vilification and attacks from vested interests like the pesticide manufacturers while ill, and she countered this with clarity and courage. She left a book that serves as a template for clear and great writing, and arguably was the genesis of the modern environmental movement, kickstarting public debate in earnest.
Reading it again, something stands out more than ever. There’s a subtext that says: you won’t save something you don’t love. Her love for the natural world sings out from the ink on every page. Given the week we’ve had, does her 60-year-old writing remain relevant? The excerpt below answers.
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less travelled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”