#BlogTour- David George Haskell- Thirteen Ways To Smell A Tree- @DGHaskell @Octopus_Books @RandomTTours

Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree takes you on a journey to connect with trees through the sense most aligned to our emotions and memories. Thirteen essays are included that explore the evocative scents of trees, from the smell of a book just printed as you first open its pages, to the calming scent of Linden blossom, to the ingredients of a particularly good gin & tonic: In your hand: a highball glass, beaded with cool moisture. In your nose: the aromatic embodiment of globalized trade. The spikey, herbal odour of European juniper berries. A tang of lime juice from a tree descended from wild progenitors in the foothills of the Himalayas. Bitter quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, spritzed into your nostrils by the pop of sparkling tonic water. Take a sip, feel the aroma and taste three continents converge.

Each essay also contains a practice the reader is invited to experience. For example, taking a tree inventory of your own home, appreciating just how many things around us came from trees. And if you’ve ever hugged a tree when no one was looking, try breathing in the scents of different trees that live near you, the smell of pine after the rain, the refreshing, mind-clearing scent of a eucalyptus leaf crushed in your hand…

Being the resident nature nut in the bookstore where I work, I do read quite a substantial amount of natural history books over the course of a year, and when the opportunity arose to read and review this bijou, glorious and fascinating book about trees, how could I possibly resist? Broken down into 13 concise and illuminating essays on a variety of trees, with diverse histories and habitats, Haskell takes us on a whistle stop tour of arboreal delights, traversing their history, their communication, the threats they face, but ultimately the absolute importance of their renewal and survival on the planet, by turn ensuring our survival too. The ecological threat we pose as a species to their survival cannot be overstated enough, and the message runs solidly throughout the book, as Haskell opens our eyes to the importance of trees in our life- both for body and soul.

Haskell observes early in the book that,

“Amid the smell of healthy trees, we feel at home. Leafy odours of vigorous trees signal productive habitats and human well-being. The absence of such balm sets us on edge.” 

and I think that this is the complete joy of his essays. He links trees to our human experience throughout,

“When we smell a tree, we become physically connected to a small part of it, molecule-to-molecule. The boundary between tree and human blurs a little,”

be it drawing on fond childhood memories of conker contests, the enjoyment of a peaty dram of whiskey from aged white oak barrels, a snifter of gin, or even a snifter of a pine tree hanging from rear view mirrors across the globe, to, perhaps one of any bookworm’s private pleasures, book sniffing- yes, the pleasure is real. I love the way that Haskell relates sniffing a book to truly breathing in the world. Marvellous.

There are wonderful little asides from Haskell’s own life and his experiences with observing and studying trees peppering the book throughout, and my underlining pencil (which personally I love sniffing, especially pencil shavings when it’s sharpened) was on overtime. There are so many little nuggets of wisdom and interest to be gleaned throughout, bringing to the reader’s attention, some familiar, and more unfamiliar, residents of the arboreal world. By linking his subject so closely in with human experience, he encourages us to sit up and take notice more of the ancient history and wisdom of trees, and there is a list of six practices at the close of the book, to invigorate, inspire and excite our love and appreciation of trees.

An absolutely superb little book that encompasses some big themes in a succinct, entertaining and informative way, without being overtly judgemental. Haskell’s defining message in Thirteen Ways To Smell A Tree is to simply inspire us to connect with, observe and value trees more, a message he achieves extremely well. Highly recommended, and it smells jolly nice too…

(There are also a series of compositions to accompany the book by composer and violinist Katherine Lehman, and she explains in her closing chapter, how she took Haskell’s essays and descriptions of the trees and converted the sensory pleasures he describes to music. They can be accessed at soundcloud.com/katherinelehman/albums, and also in the audiobook edition.)

David Haskell is a writer and biologist known for his integration of science, lyrical writing, and close observation of the living world. The late E. O. Wilson said of his writing that it is “…a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry”. Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, wrote that he “may be the finest literary nature writer working today”.

Haskell’s books — The Forest Unseen, The Songs of Trees, Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree, and Sounds Wild and Broken — are acclaimed for their attention to the richness of the living world and the ecological and evolutionary stories that bring this richness into being. They have won numerous awards including the US National Academies’ Best Book Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, Reed Environmental Writing Award, National Outdoor Book Award, Iris Book Award, and John Burroughs Medal.

Born in London, brought up in France, he has lived for the last thirty years in various parts of the United States, including Tennessee, Colorado, and New York. Haskell received his BA from the University of Oxford and PhD from Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a Guggenheim Fellow, and Professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where he has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching.

In a world beset by barriers, his work reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence. Find him at dghaskell.com or on social media @DGHaskell (Twitter), DavidGeorgeHaskell (Instagram and Facebook).

(With thanks to Octopus Books for the ARC)

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