Monday, January 31, 2022

Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium


Field Study is a beautifully written, poetic, and meandering memoir by Helen Humphreys on botany, land sovereignty, life, and her work and studies in herbaria and botanical collections. Released 21st Sept 2021 by ECW Press, it's 232 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

The author is an accomplished poet and, despite this being a non-fiction read, the lyrical, precise use of language belies her origins as a writer. The book is arranged around seasonal observations and activities, beginning in the winter with ruminations on herbaria, collecting, plants, ecology, and humans place in the system of things. The following seasons contain some astute (and sobering) commentary on the nature of beauty, hubris, and naturalists (Thoreau) who have traversed these trails before us. Throughout the cohesive whole, the language is uppermost. She writes very very well and this is often a joy to read. In addition to the superlative writing, the book is filled with numerous botanical drawings and mounted samples of plants.

Although layman accessible and not an academically rigorous book, the chapter notes and annotations are full of additional information and sources for further reading. 

The audiobook version has a run time of 3 hours and 15 minutes and is narrated by the author. She has a gravelly and uneven voice (voiceovers are clearly not her primary occupation), but once I got used to the cadence, and her occasional slight stumbles with some of the nomenclature, I found it a very restful listening experience. The sound and production qualities were fairly high throughout.

This is a wonderful book, and one I will revisit. It's probably something of a niche read - but for fans of nature memoirs like Helen McDonald, Thoreau, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, it will likely be deeply satisfying.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.    

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