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A Pile of Pelicans

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Friday, 26th September 2008

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Pelican paperbacks

The two books at the top of this pile are Pelican Originals (a non-fiction paperback imprint, published by Penguin); Robert Arvill’s Man and Environment and John Barr’s Derelict Britain, both published in 1969. I bought them in my student days when I was writing my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield (I favour shorter titles these days).


With the ambition of youth, I thought that if I read widely enough in geology, natural history, ecology etc., I could somehow encapsulate the broader picture in its local context in my handwritten sketchbook format.


I had in mind a kind of poetically satisfying overview which would be grounded in the small details that anyone could observe for themselves. Whitman’s phrase in his Song for All Ships, All Seas appealed to me; ‘a brief rude recitative’; something half-way between song and speech. As a graphics student, I felt that I should aim, in my writing and illustration, to move people emotionally but also convince them intellectually. I wanted to avoid a fudged appeal to feelings, where you might feel free to exaggerate and fabricate details to create a dramatic effect, but I didn’t want to come over as drily factual either. It’s hardly surprising that my subsequent work hasn’t matched up to my student ambitions! (But it’s been fun trying)


As far as I remember, I never read these particular Pelicans. No, I didn’t think that, by simply having them sitting on the shelf, I would absorb the ideas by a process of osmosis! I had an awful lot on at the time, I’m surprised how much I did manage to read.


You might think that, as they’re now so out of date, they wouldn’t now be worth reading but I think that you could go to them for an understanding of the back-story of today’s environment and a reminder of the way we were thinking 40 years ago.

Books are
like friends . . .

. . . they stay with you a long time .

Talking or reading, you pick up ideas . . .

. . . and those ideas become so much a part of you . . .

To some extent, we’re all blank journals, absorbing experience, ideas and beliefs and, in turn, passing some of them on.

. . . that eventually you forget where they actually came from; An insight that’s all your own? Or something borrowed?