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"A profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the bows of an ancient oak tree."—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees "James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy." — Sara Maitland, auth "A profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the bows of an ancient oak tree."—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees "James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy." — Sara Maitland, author of How to Be Alone Joining the ranks of The Hidden Life of Trees and H is for Hawk, an evocative memoir and ode to one of the most majestic living things on earth—the oak tree—probing the mysteries of nature and the healing role it plays in our lives. Thrown into turmoil by the end of his long-term relationship, Professor James Canton spent two years meditating [PA1]beneath the welcoming shelter of the massive 800-year-old Honywood Oak tree in North Essex, England. While considering the direction of his own life, he began to contemplate the existence of this colossus tree. Standing in England for centuries, the oak would have been a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. In this beautiful, transportive book, Canton tells the story of this tree in its ecological, spiritual, literary, and historical contexts, using it as a prism to see his own life and human history. The Oak Papers is a reflection on change and transformation, and the role nature has played in sustaining and redeeming us.  Canton examines our long-standing dependency on the oak, and how that has developed and morphed into myth and legend. We no longer need these sturdy trees to build our houses and boats, to fuel our fires, or to grind their acorns into flour in times of famine. What purpose, then, do they serve in our world today? Are these miracles of nature no longer necessary to our lives? What can they offer us?  Taking inspiration from the literary world—Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Katherine Basford’s Green Man, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and others—Canton ponders the wondrous magic of nature and the threats its faces, from human development to climate change, implores us to act as responsible stewards to conserve what is precious, and reminds us of the lessons we can learn from the world around us, if only we slow down enough to listen.


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"A profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the bows of an ancient oak tree."—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees "James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy." — Sara Maitland, auth "A profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the bows of an ancient oak tree."—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees "James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy." — Sara Maitland, author of How to Be Alone Joining the ranks of The Hidden Life of Trees and H is for Hawk, an evocative memoir and ode to one of the most majestic living things on earth—the oak tree—probing the mysteries of nature and the healing role it plays in our lives. Thrown into turmoil by the end of his long-term relationship, Professor James Canton spent two years meditating [PA1]beneath the welcoming shelter of the massive 800-year-old Honywood Oak tree in North Essex, England. While considering the direction of his own life, he began to contemplate the existence of this colossus tree. Standing in England for centuries, the oak would have been a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. In this beautiful, transportive book, Canton tells the story of this tree in its ecological, spiritual, literary, and historical contexts, using it as a prism to see his own life and human history. The Oak Papers is a reflection on change and transformation, and the role nature has played in sustaining and redeeming us.  Canton examines our long-standing dependency on the oak, and how that has developed and morphed into myth and legend. We no longer need these sturdy trees to build our houses and boats, to fuel our fires, or to grind their acorns into flour in times of famine. What purpose, then, do they serve in our world today? Are these miracles of nature no longer necessary to our lives? What can they offer us?  Taking inspiration from the literary world—Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Katherine Basford’s Green Man, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and others—Canton ponders the wondrous magic of nature and the threats its faces, from human development to climate change, implores us to act as responsible stewards to conserve what is precious, and reminds us of the lessons we can learn from the world around us, if only we slow down enough to listen.

30 review for The Oak Papers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pickle.

    Elegant, poetic prose, on the seasonal world of the emblematic tree. I was reminded of ‘The Peregrine’ (J.A. Baker) in it’s deep sensitivity to surroundings and plentiful kinetic descriptions of swallows, wrens and woodpeckers ‘....plunging into the dark green woodland’. There is an unpinnable air of melancholy, especially on the passage of time experienced between earthly beings. Both the author and those he visits for their expertise seem to have been drawn to nature in their respective fields Elegant, poetic prose, on the seasonal world of the emblematic tree. I was reminded of ‘The Peregrine’ (J.A. Baker) in it’s deep sensitivity to surroundings and plentiful kinetic descriptions of swallows, wrens and woodpeckers ‘....plunging into the dark green woodland’. There is an unpinnable air of melancholy, especially on the passage of time experienced between earthly beings. Both the author and those he visits for their expertise seem to have been drawn to nature in their respective fields and hobbies in times of darkness, to be within touching distance of trees and their grand, comforting embrace. Sitting in the ‘emerald enclosure ‘ of the tree, becoming progressively more comfortable in it’s presence; not tree-hugging but tree-understanding. Evocative and reminiscent of my fave haunts among hometown vicarage oaks, vibrantly brimming with heady smells of muck, moss and leaves; cool, calming, wreathing green life and movement surrounding your senses (likely while sneaking an acrid Players No.6). Just about the right amount of history / literature quoting asides to make me feel I’ve gained some knowledge, and an appreciation of the oak’s importance for insects, birds, our past, our present wellbeing. Obviously it’s oak-centric, but prepare for a bit of beech bashing. ++

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4: Jonathan Keeble reads a fascinating account of the history and symbolic power of oak trees, by James Canton. When a relationship breaks down, James Canton begins to spend time with an ancient oak tree near where he lives in Essex - the 800-year-old Honywood Oak. “I began to visit the oak as one might visit a friend. From the first meeting there grew a strange sense of attachment I didn’t consciously recognise until I began to realise the significance that trees, and oak trees espe From BBC Radio 4: Jonathan Keeble reads a fascinating account of the history and symbolic power of oak trees, by James Canton. When a relationship breaks down, James Canton begins to spend time with an ancient oak tree near where he lives in Essex - the 800-year-old Honywood Oak. “I began to visit the oak as one might visit a friend. From the first meeting there grew a strange sense of attachment I didn’t consciously recognise until I began to realise the significance that trees, and oak trees especially, can have in our lives.” Spending time at the tree, James finds solace from his distress. More than that, he begins to feel bewitched by the power of the tree. It is then that he begins an exploration of the history of oak trees, and their vital importance in history and myth. “As I’ve dug deeper into the historical and cultural layers of ancient Europe, I have begun to realise just how common the veneration of oak trees was.” He meets people who work with oak, and artists who have been inspired by oak trees. And, as he sits at the oak, he records in detail the sounds and sights of the natural world around him. “A wren pipes up, a staccato tic, tic, tic from somewhere in the centre of the oak. A hare appears on the path, all ears, lean and jittery, only to disappear into the long grasses and ferns that cover the soft slopes of the stream valley. It is a slice of time laid bare, a moment when the normal flow of life is frozen.” Beautifully-observed nature writing and fascinating history, with a soundscape of the natural world, and music by Max Richter. Produced by Elizabeth Burke. A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alice (Married To Books)

    I'm a huge tree lover, so a book about studying trees and especially one that played a role in a major historical event in medieval England. The author James is drawn to this tree after experiencing a relationship breakdown and The Oak Papers is in diary format, writing about nature and speaking to those who use the exploration of nature as a coping tool for mental health and research. I enjoyed this, pure escapism! I'm a huge tree lover, so a book about studying trees and especially one that played a role in a major historical event in medieval England. The author James is drawn to this tree after experiencing a relationship breakdown and The Oak Papers is in diary format, writing about nature and speaking to those who use the exploration of nature as a coping tool for mental health and research. I enjoyed this, pure escapism!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    It is said that an oak grows for 300 years, lives for another 300 and then takes 300 years to die. Those, of course, are the lucky ones, most live around 150 to 200 years. The oldest oak in my part of the world, Dorset, is the Wyndham’s Oak near Gillingham and is 10m wide. I’ve not seen it yet, one day though. However, I don’t have a tree nearby that I have the same affinity with that James Canton does. but there is some tree in my locale that I take time to walk by and admire as the seasons gri It is said that an oak grows for 300 years, lives for another 300 and then takes 300 years to die. Those, of course, are the lucky ones, most live around 150 to 200 years. The oldest oak in my part of the world, Dorset, is the Wyndham’s Oak near Gillingham and is 10m wide. I’ve not seen it yet, one day though. However, I don’t have a tree nearby that I have the same affinity with that James Canton does. but there is some tree in my locale that I take time to walk by and admire as the seasons grind past each year. I love the way that they constantly change through the days as the light transforms the way that they look. Canton’s tree is called the Honywood Oak and is a magnificent tree. It has a girth of 28 feet and is thought to be around 800 years old. It is one of the last survivors of the 300 or so oaks that were once in the 130-acre park at the Marks Hall Estate. One of the others left has the fantastic name of the Screaming Oak. Just imagine if most of them were still there and hadn’t been cut down. He was to spend two years of his life with this tree. Getting your head around a tree that can still be alive around at 10 times your life span takes some doing. They are almost timeless; to think at oak speed means slowing ourselves down to the speed that this tree operates at. Appreciating the imperceptible changes that take place to the tree over the year, without contemplating it in the context of minutes and seconds or the latest social media notification, takes a fair amount of self-control, but it was something that Canton managed to do. In fact, it was something that he needed to do as this oak became something of a crutch in supporting him through an emotional time dealing with a breakup. But there is more to this than his time spent with this particular tree. It is often considered to be our national tree and it had helped shelter us, we have built boats and ships from it and even further back in our history it had a strong spiritual and ritual element especially those that had mistletoe growing in the branches. He speaks to knowledgeable people who know much more about the local woods that he could ever know and takes the time to glean details from them. Tentatively I close my eyes. Time passes. A calm creeps over me as though a blanket has been wrapped around my shoulders. A numinous peace descends. When I open them, there is only the oak framed before me, the grey bark ridged and still, so still. I feel bewitched. An obsession with a particular tree could be seen as being slightly dysfunctional, but in these strange times in 2020 people have been taking the time to walk out in their locality and connect with places, woodlands and people have begun to reconnect with the natural world once again. If I am looking for a particular peace then I know I will find it alongside water and in among trees. I have a particular affinity for the oak too, as my name is derived from the French for oak, le chêne. I really liked this, the writing feels natural and at other times intimate. I liked the diary format that was used in some parts of the book, it didn’t feel overbearing, just fitted right in with the wide topics that he is writing about in his exploration of oaks in our culture and folklore. If you have a thing about trees then this would be one to read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    6 AUG 2020 - spied on Laura's feed. I have a deep affinity for trees and their stories. I will really enjoy this listen-to. Many Thanks, Laura From BBC Radio 4: Jonathan Keeble reads a fascinating account of the history and symbolic power of oak trees, by James Canton. When a relationship breaks down, James Canton begins to spend time with an ancient oak tree near where he lives in Essex - the 800-year-old Honywood Oak. “I began to visit the oak as one might visit a friend. From the first meeting th 6 AUG 2020 - spied on Laura's feed. I have a deep affinity for trees and their stories. I will really enjoy this listen-to. Many Thanks, Laura From BBC Radio 4: Jonathan Keeble reads a fascinating account of the history and symbolic power of oak trees, by James Canton. When a relationship breaks down, James Canton begins to spend time with an ancient oak tree near where he lives in Essex - the 800-year-old Honywood Oak. “I began to visit the oak as one might visit a friend. From the first meeting there grew a strange sense of attachment I didn’t consciously recognise until I began to realise the significance that trees, and oak trees especially, can have in our lives.” Spending time at the tree, James finds solace from his distress. More than that, he begins to feel bewitched by the power of the tree. It is then that he begins an exploration of the history of oak trees, and their vital importance in history and myth. “As I’ve dug deeper into the historical and cultural layers of ancient Europe, I have begun to realise just how common the veneration of oak trees was.” He meets people who work with oak, and artists who have been inspired by oak trees. And, as he sits at the oak, he records in detail the sounds and sights of the natural world around him. “A wren pipes up, a staccato tic, tic, tic from somewhere in the centre of the oak. A hare appears on the path, all ears, lean and jittery, only to disappear into the long grasses and ferns that cover the soft slopes of the stream valley. It is a slice of time laid bare, a moment when the normal flow of life is frozen.” Beautifully-observed nature writing and fascinating history, with a soundscape of the natural world, and music by Max Richter. Produced by Elizabeth Burke. A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4 Listen here - https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00... 11 AUG 2020 - Mr Canton expresses exactly how I feel in the company of majestic trees - deeply respectful, in awe, and wishing the trees could share with me their stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Serena

    You can listen to "The Oak Papers" (a five part series) on BBC for free, read by Jonathan Keeble. You can listen to "The Oak Papers" (a five part series) on BBC for free, read by Jonathan Keeble.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    The Oak Papers is a diary written in the present tense. James Canton sets out to fall in love with the great old oaks of England, and he succeeds. It is an ode to oaks. The main focus of his attention is the Honywood Oak. He doesn’t locate it for readers, but it is on an estate northeast of London, two-thirds of the way to Ipswich. There are other famous oaks in the region, notably the Screaming Oak, which has three huge holes that could have come from The Scream by Edvard Munch. The book is meldi The Oak Papers is a diary written in the present tense. James Canton sets out to fall in love with the great old oaks of England, and he succeeds. It is an ode to oaks. The main focus of his attention is the Honywood Oak. He doesn’t locate it for readers, but it is on an estate northeast of London, two-thirds of the way to Ipswich. There are other famous oaks in the region, notably the Screaming Oak, which has three huge holes that could have come from The Scream by Edvard Munch. The book is melding of observation and references. Canton teaches descriptive writing of the wild, “the ties between literature, landscape and the environment,” and he freely associates his every sighting and feeling throughout the book. From the whorls of the bark to the insects in the air, birds, bats, the weather and the emotions he feels, the book is a prose poem to oaks. There are references and quotes of poems and poets, as well as some history of what the oaks have “witnessed” in their time. The Honywood Oak is 800 years old, but there are many over a thousand. For those who have not had the pleasure, English oaks can live for several thousand years. They become official landmarks. Their boughs can be incredibly long and gnarly. Their trunks, which can be 30 feet around, can hollow out, and people can enter them, literally standing inside the tree. It is not only amazing that they can be this old, but that they can survive at all in such a condition. Yet they thrive, given half a chance. It is the magic of English trees and forests that has led to so many great tales and literature. Trees are an inspiration, just by being there. Canton discovers, as readers will quickly surmise, that the oaks, and the Honywood Oak in particular, have become his obsession and first love. He admits his human spouse and he are breaking up, and his notably many visits to the tree are good indicator that things are better there than at home. There is peace and quiet at the foot of the oak. The book suffers from far too few images. What little there are are chapter openers, drawings of acorns, oak leaves and anonymous trees, when photos would have been breathtaking. Especially since he spends so much time describing named trees. Most of the tree books I have reviewed over the past couple of decades are less focused and more varied. This one is locked on English Oaks, but it does not break any new ground. Canton does (barely) mention the new science of neurobiology, in which scientists are determining how trees communicate within themselves and with other trees. This book does not seek to be authoritative, comprehensive, or even a useful reference. It is a collection of diary entries from Canton’s endless visits over a couple of years. As such, while it is quite lyrical, it is quite flat, and not very useful. David Wineberg

  8. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    Good for: * Calm app users * Those who can’t meditate during yoga * Taking a long walk in the woods * Wishing to climb a tree Why: I consider myself to be environmentally minded - I hike, I get excited by changing leaves, and I get anxious when I think of how much plastic I consume. Canton is outdoorsy in such a calm manner which is totally devoid of the regular bustling movement we in the US embody. I will go on hikes for 4-5 hours, cover mile after mile, and spend only 15 minutes actually at the pea Good for: * Calm app users * Those who can’t meditate during yoga * Taking a long walk in the woods * Wishing to climb a tree Why: I consider myself to be environmentally minded - I hike, I get excited by changing leaves, and I get anxious when I think of how much plastic I consume. Canton is outdoorsy in such a calm manner which is totally devoid of the regular bustling movement we in the US embody. I will go on hikes for 4-5 hours, cover mile after mile, and spend only 15 minutes actually at the peak before turning around and schlepping back down. Canton takes a whole different approach - spending years connecting with a specific ancient oak. Throughout the Papers he explores his growing connection to the natural world, and the solace which he receives from the tree. The book is graced with a variety of characters, all who have the same slow gravity of Canton, but who bring a variety of perspectives to the healing he receives from the Honywood Oak. These were my favorite parts. Canton’s discussions with others felt like therapy and were relatively fast paced compared to other passages of him describing the days under the oak. Papers is a calming, but occasionally sleepy, book. I wished I could have heard more about Canton’s motivation to seek out the oaks, but I loved his ongoing research about the combined history of humans and oaks. The intricate details he picks out - from the bark to the creatures who live within the oak - will make me slow down on my next hike.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mary Camille Thomas

    To be honest, this book bored me a little at first, an English guy regularly stepping away from his daily life to spend time with an 800-year-old oak tree, but it quickly grew on me as he discovers an alluring tranquility that makes his visits to the oak almost a spiritual practice. James Canton’s vivid descriptions, his research and reflections, and the appeal of the oaks themselves also help. It’s an interesting exercise to spend times outdoors in nature, in the same place, at different times o To be honest, this book bored me a little at first, an English guy regularly stepping away from his daily life to spend time with an 800-year-old oak tree, but it quickly grew on me as he discovers an alluring tranquility that makes his visits to the oak almost a spiritual practice. James Canton’s vivid descriptions, his research and reflections, and the appeal of the oaks themselves also help. It’s an interesting exercise to spend times outdoors in nature, in the same place, at different times of the day over the course of a year, and follow, without ever mentioning her, Mary Oliver’s advice: “Pay attention, Be astonished. Tell about it.” It’s not enough to sit inside, the way I observe my garden and its creatures from the comfort of the loveseat in the sunroom. One has to go outdoors and be exposed to the weather, listen to the birds, touch the rough bark of the oak tree, sit leaning against its sturdy trunk or climb up into its boughs. It’s not even enough to walk through the woods with an occasional pause to notice the acorn woodpecker swooping across blue sky or the fresh spring green tips of the ferns beside the creek. You need to sit down, butt on earth, and be a part of it all for a while. This is exactly what James Canton does; then he writes about it, mixing diary entries with what he learns about oaks through observation, interviews, and reading. As he explores the botany, history, and lore of oaks, he touches on some of my favorite topics:Druids, forest bathing, the mycorrhizal network of the “Wood Wide Web” A more vigorous editor might have pruned Canton’s excesses, e.g., descriptions of rapture can ring a little callow even though he is clearly a writer of maturity and depth; a conversation, as stimulating and fun as it might have been in person, gets tiresome when recorded in its entirety on the page. But these are just quibbles. I’m grateful to Canton for sharing his experience in such a way that the reader too comes to feel the calm and peace that he enjoys among oak trees. This is the kind of book I like to keep by my bedside, soothing reading to carry me into sleep. Thank you to HarperCollins for the advance e-galley!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cara Group

    I received this book as a free ARC thanks to Netgalley & the publisher. This is my honest review. “To gaze at the stars, to be in the company of oaks that will live so far beyond us, gives us peace, gives us the capacity to see ourselves in the context of a world so much more infinite, more significant than our own.” Sometimes a book finds you. That’s how I feel about the Oak Papers - I had requested this title a while back because I thought that it sounded unique and I enjoy books on meditation. I received this book as a free ARC thanks to Netgalley & the publisher. This is my honest review. “To gaze at the stars, to be in the company of oaks that will live so far beyond us, gives us peace, gives us the capacity to see ourselves in the context of a world so much more infinite, more significant than our own.” Sometimes a book finds you. That’s how I feel about the Oak Papers - I had requested this title a while back because I thought that it sounded unique and I enjoy books on meditation. Little did I know how perfect this meditation on nature, specifically oak trees, would be - especially during an exceptionally stressful & difficult time. I also now feel called to spend some quality time out in the park. “Was there a time when humans did not strike fear and alarm into the natural world around them?” The Oak Papers also gives a stark reminder of the destruction that careless, reckless, or even vengeful humans can leave in their wake and urges the reader to do better! I found the following quote to be particularly meaningful (I literally gasped when I read it) because this is true of some many things in nature and around us in general. Going through life only selfishly focused on your own perceived issues and uncaring about those around you can only lead to destruction. “If we are not aware and alert, other men will come with chainsaws and take down the remaining bodies of the great oaks that live upon this earth. And if we do not protect the young oaks that have only now begun to grow, there will be no great oaks in the future. In eight hundred years’ time, will there be any ancient oaks in these lands?”

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cara Group

    I received this book as a free ARC thanks to Netgalley & the publisher. This is my honest review. “To gaze at the stars, to be in the company of oaks that will live so far beyond us, gives us peace, gives us the capacity to see ourselves in the context of a world so much more infinite, more significant than our own.” Sometimes a book finds you. That’s how I feel about the Oak Papers - I had requested this title a while back because I thought that it sounded unique and I enjoy books on meditation. I received this book as a free ARC thanks to Netgalley & the publisher. This is my honest review. “To gaze at the stars, to be in the company of oaks that will live so far beyond us, gives us peace, gives us the capacity to see ourselves in the context of a world so much more infinite, more significant than our own.” Sometimes a book finds you. That’s how I feel about the Oak Papers - I had requested this title a while back because I thought that it sounded unique and I enjoy books on meditation. Little did I know how perfect this meditation on nature, specifically oak trees, would be - especially during an exceptionally stressful & difficult time. I also now feel called to spend some quality time out in the park. “Was there a time when humans did not strike fear and alarm into the natural world around them?” The Oak Papers also gives a stark reminder of the destruction that careless, reckless, or even vengeful humans can leave in their wake and urges the reader to do better! I found the following quote to be particularly meaningful (I literally gasped when I read it) because this is true of some many things in nature and around us in general. Going through life only selfishly focused on your own perceived issues and uncaring about those around you can only lead to destruction. “If we are not aware and alert, other men will come with chainsaws and take down the remaining bodies of the great oaks that live upon this earth. And if we do not protect the young oaks that have only now begun to grow, there will be no great oaks in the future. In eight hundred years’ time, will there be any ancient oaks in these lands?”

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    In response to the end of a relationship which left him foundering, the author sought out a means to find some peace, some emotional equilibrium in his life. As a man with a leaning toward the natural world, Canton decided to look closer at some of the monumental oak trees that lived not far from him, particularly the Honywood Oak, which, at 800 years old, has witnessed so much of English history. From the start, Canton asks permission to be physically close to this tree, a tree that has a small In response to the end of a relationship which left him foundering, the author sought out a means to find some peace, some emotional equilibrium in his life. As a man with a leaning toward the natural world, Canton decided to look closer at some of the monumental oak trees that lived not far from him, particularly the Honywood Oak, which, at 800 years old, has witnessed so much of English history. From the start, Canton asks permission to be physically close to this tree, a tree that has a small protective fence around it. He respects it and its caretakers and his respect deepens to something more as he returns again and again at different times of day, throughout the seasons, the year, then years, and learns of the true family of one oak tree and the family of creatures it supports. He learns and experiences the life cycle of all. He has written this book in a diary format of those visits. And as he learns, he also finds himself changing emotionally. And he seeks out others who are naturalists, woodsmen or the like to learn of their experiences and more about trees and nature. Some of the information, both new and old, is really fascinating. I didn’t know that trees communicate to each other! The personal journey is the meat of this book and the key takeaway for me is that it appears to be a journey each of us can take with necessary modifications, of course. I think my tree climbing days are well behind me so I would skip that. I recommend this for those looking for a meditative book on the natural world. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    After suffering a relationship breakup, James Canton begins visiting an 800-year-old oak tree, the so-called Honywood Oak in Essex, England (as well as two others near his home) for solace, and over the next two years, keeps a diary of his visits and interviews psychologists, scientists, spiritualists and woodworkers to puzzle out exactly why what the Japanese call “shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing,” is so emotionally beneficial. The results of these conversations, as well as entries from his d After suffering a relationship breakup, James Canton begins visiting an 800-year-old oak tree, the so-called Honywood Oak in Essex, England (as well as two others near his home) for solace, and over the next two years, keeps a diary of his visits and interviews psychologists, scientists, spiritualists and woodworkers to puzzle out exactly why what the Japanese call “shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing,” is so emotionally beneficial. The results of these conversations, as well as entries from his diaries and excerpts from poetry and literature, are collected in “The Oak Papers,” an engaging deep dive into oak trees. While there is science here (for example, that trees give off phytoncides, which are chemicals that have a measurable effect on human physiology), the tenor of this book is much more literary and spiritual—even etymological, as when Canton explains that the Celtic word Druid comes from “dru,” meaning oak, and “wid,” translated as “to see or to know.” Canton seeks to become one of those with “oak knowledge,” and the reader is invited to follow him on his journey, one of the chief pleasures of which is reading Canton’s beautiful nature writing, as when he describes how the oak’s “twisting branches flare and fly into the blue sky like witches’ hair.” Given that Canton chronicles his visits to oak trees over two years, the entires can feel a little repetitive at times, and I think the book would have benefitted from tighter editing. But “The Oak Papers” will be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone looking to experience a little therapeutic forest bathing from the comfort of home. Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Rushing

    Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 5 out of 5 stars. “It is the treecreepers I have come to see today.” Let me start by saying that I love trees. Since I was a child I have had an obsession with trees, likely due to the fact that I grew up in Maine surrounded by acres of trees, and my childhood was spent either indoors reading due to the winter outside, or running through the woods, hopping rocks across streams, or swimming. But the trees were always there. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 5 out of 5 stars. “It is the treecreepers I have come to see today.” Let me start by saying that I love trees. Since I was a child I have had an obsession with trees, likely due to the fact that I grew up in Maine surrounded by acres of trees, and my childhood was spent either indoors reading due to the winter outside, or running through the woods, hopping rocks across streams, or swimming. But the trees were always there. This is a beautiful love story to oaks. Not only does the author take us through a journey through his own history, but he also goes back – way back – in history beyond himself to give us stories of trees through the ages. This is a beautiful mixture of stories, quotes, science, emotion, journaling, imagery, memory, lullabies, songs, folklore, poetry, history, language… It was truly a work of art. I know that when he mentions the treecreepers he is referring to birds, but I love to imagine myself as a treecreeper – someone who loves to spend their time beneath the boughs of the trees, who feels the soul through the bark, senses the blood in the sap, finds complete beauty in the leaves through the seasons and even the bare branches in the winter.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matthias

    I didn't have high expectations for this book, but I wanted to try reading it anyway. The reason my expectations were low was that I was sceptical a book being written about one tree could be interesting. But more than one tree did star in this book! In the end, the microscopic view of looking at just a few oak trees worked well for the book and inspires a look at the world in a new way. A way to digest the idea of ecosystems in bite-sized chunks. Each tree is its own ecosystem, not to be mistak I didn't have high expectations for this book, but I wanted to try reading it anyway. The reason my expectations were low was that I was sceptical a book being written about one tree could be interesting. But more than one tree did star in this book! In the end, the microscopic view of looking at just a few oak trees worked well for the book and inspires a look at the world in a new way. A way to digest the idea of ecosystems in bite-sized chunks. Each tree is its own ecosystem, not to be mistaken for being apart from the rest of the ecosystem though but a way of looking at one specific tree in a very different way. I liked how as he sat with his trees he became just a sort of part of the tree in terms of how other wildlife seemed to view him. Woodpeckers flying above him, treecreepers spiralling around the tree above him, things that seem almost fantastical given how non-human animals are often very wary of humans. But I have experienced similar, where I've sat long enough near a tree that birds and come and gone as if to ignore my presence or be unbothered by it at all. And it is a very nice feeling, it feels sort of like an acceptance that no other human can ever give you.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Catherine A.

    The Oak Papers by James Canton exposes the reader to the sublime relationship the author maintains with the mighty oak tree. Particular attention is spent on a four hundred year old tree on an Essex estate. There are natural descriptions in this book that rival the most beautiful words I have ever read. Poetic and informative, the author is a gifted writer. This book, however, is not a quick read. It is the length of the book and the stationary subject that promotes prolonged interaction with t The Oak Papers by James Canton exposes the reader to the sublime relationship the author maintains with the mighty oak tree. Particular attention is spent on a four hundred year old tree on an Essex estate. There are natural descriptions in this book that rival the most beautiful words I have ever read. Poetic and informative, the author is a gifted writer. This book, however, is not a quick read. It is the length of the book and the stationary subject that promotes prolonged interaction with the text, much like the author and his beloved tree. "Let's stay a while and enjoy," the book seems to say. There is not much action. The reader must be invested to appreciate the work. I like trees. In fact, I have a tree I visit every so often, so I "get" what the author is doing. I highly praise Canton's poetic descriptions. His knowledge of literature celebrating oaks is also impressive . Sometimes, though, I would have preferred the author to include more personal associations in addition. Overall, I recommend The Oak Papers to readers who appreciate the stillness that accompanies the contemplation of a tree or anything beautiful in nature.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Monckton

    Written by a lecturer in “Wild Writing” at the University of Essex, presumably to the same formula he is teaching his students, i.e. find yourself a slightly offbeat topic, throw in a few words nobody knows, wax lyrical about the birds you recognise, repeat stuff endlessly (eg how many times do we need to be told that ancient stags head oaks resemble a bolt of lightening?), make up supposed verbatim conversations, get a bit sentimental/ new-agey/ spiritual and tell the reader how you ‘found’ you Written by a lecturer in “Wild Writing” at the University of Essex, presumably to the same formula he is teaching his students, i.e. find yourself a slightly offbeat topic, throw in a few words nobody knows, wax lyrical about the birds you recognise, repeat stuff endlessly (eg how many times do we need to be told that ancient stags head oaks resemble a bolt of lightening?), make up supposed verbatim conversations, get a bit sentimental/ new-agey/ spiritual and tell the reader how you ‘found’ yourself. Oh, and most importantly, pinch pages and pages of other authors’ work, and fit in as many reports of visits to unheralded experts as you can... Sorry to be so negative, but I found the whole book too contrived. I get that the author loves trees, especially oaks. So do I, having spent a lifetime working with and around them, but I don’t need to spend 8 years sitting in them trying to work out WHY I love them. Finally, for a far better book on a single ancient oak tree, read BB’s “Lord of the Forest”.

  18. 4 out of 5

    C N McGrail

    This is a wonderful book. It will ground you, it will remind you of how powerful it is to stop and be, it will remind you that the get-up-and-go, hustle and bustle of life can never bring joy and that stopping, even just for a while to be with the details of the natural world is joyful. This is, essentially, a book about a man and an oak tree. But it is entirely compelling. To watch the cycle of the oaks with him and to join him through his transformation is beautiful and inspirational. We have This is a wonderful book. It will ground you, it will remind you of how powerful it is to stop and be, it will remind you that the get-up-and-go, hustle and bustle of life can never bring joy and that stopping, even just for a while to be with the details of the natural world is joyful. This is, essentially, a book about a man and an oak tree. But it is entirely compelling. To watch the cycle of the oaks with him and to join him through his transformation is beautiful and inspirational. We have felt grief and we have wanted the world to stop. We have been entangled with stress and the grind of modern life. But James Canton steps away from this, drawn to the oak, and it is nurturing to experience this with him. This is 'nature writing' and so it is about nature. But it is also about literature, art, psychology, biology, philosophy, folklore and recovery. And not in a way that excludes the reader - there is nothing pretentious or high-brow here. Just honest, vulnerable writing for which any writer, especially a male writer, should be admired. A beautiful read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Priti Hathiramani

    The Oak Papers - one person's journey from an impulse to be beside the ancient oak he met one day.... to connecting and falling in love with this and other oaks through the time spent in their company. I found the trajectory of his journey fascinating, especially when it began to touch on the spiritual connection the author felt with oak trees. His writing conveyed he was entering new territory and was reaching for the vocabulary to express these powerful feelings which are often beyond words. W The Oak Papers - one person's journey from an impulse to be beside the ancient oak he met one day.... to connecting and falling in love with this and other oaks through the time spent in their company. I found the trajectory of his journey fascinating, especially when it began to touch on the spiritual connection the author felt with oak trees. His writing conveyed he was entering new territory and was reaching for the vocabulary to express these powerful feelings which are often beyond words. Weaving together tree knowledge, facts, folklore and personal experience, the entire book is beautifully written. The author lets us into his inner world, without the effort to sugarcoat the angst and struggle we all experience as we seek to grow more connected with the wholeness of life. Equally palpable is his joy and the sense of peace this journey has brought him. Whether you already have a connection with the natural world, or are on a journey to feel more at ease with yourself and your life, this book will either resonate with you or inspire you. Happy reading!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gwen Francis

    I highly recommend this beautiful book. It's a soothing, calming informative read and although written long before lockdown, it resonates with the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on all of us and our relationship with nature. Dr Canton visits an ancient Oak and shares the impressions he has a he sits in the presence of something that has witnessed the passage of 800 years. Although you can tell that he has come to know Oak trees intimately, and is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, I highly recommend this beautiful book. It's a soothing, calming informative read and although written long before lockdown, it resonates with the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on all of us and our relationship with nature. Dr Canton visits an ancient Oak and shares the impressions he has a he sits in the presence of something that has witnessed the passage of 800 years. Although you can tell that he has come to know Oak trees intimately, and is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, his knowledge filters through gently, carefully, without disturbing the balming effect of his words. Just holding the book in your hands feels a little like you're touching one of our ancient majestic oaks. The Oak papers, written by Dr James Canton, lecturer at the University of Essex, and it's available on Amazon. Feature on BBC Radio 4 PM Programme as book of the week in the summer of 2020: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anne Hadley

    In the leaves of The Oak Papers, you quit the rush and press of scheduled doing for the being world of the oak tree. There are plenty of good oak stories, from Thomas Hardy to the Druids, but even more absorbing are the pages devoted to time spent with the trees; for the still and peace of these moments, and for their rich fullness. Canton has an easy familiarity with the natural world, and the numerous community of lives supported by the oak come into being in this book’s pages; Canton becomes In the leaves of The Oak Papers, you quit the rush and press of scheduled doing for the being world of the oak tree. There are plenty of good oak stories, from Thomas Hardy to the Druids, but even more absorbing are the pages devoted to time spent with the trees; for the still and peace of these moments, and for their rich fullness. Canton has an easy familiarity with the natural world, and the numerous community of lives supported by the oak come into being in this book’s pages; Canton becomes one of their number. It takes courage to look inside, and more so to write about the vulnerabilities we find there. Canton does this, and as he entwines his being with the oak’s, he seems to find calm, and a gentle way of being that is both comfort and joy, to him and the reader.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anne Janzer

    James Canton has written a lovely book about the peace he finds among trees—specifically, old oak trees. Canton spent hours sitting next to, and sometimes in the branches of, a few favorite oaks. He observed everything around and within him. Noting the effect on himself led to a larger exploration. He writes, “I made being beside an oak tree part of my daily ritual, like a religious practice.” It’s nature writing and personal exploration, with a dash of history thrown in. The writing is beautiful James Canton has written a lovely book about the peace he finds among trees—specifically, old oak trees. Canton spent hours sitting next to, and sometimes in the branches of, a few favorite oaks. He observed everything around and within him. Noting the effect on himself led to a larger exploration. He writes, “I made being beside an oak tree part of my daily ritual, like a religious practice.” It’s nature writing and personal exploration, with a dash of history thrown in. The writing is beautiful: “The darkness of winter settles upon the earth slowly like a vast cloud that gradually floats across the sun and steals the light.” This is a book to be read slowly and savored. Perhaps outside, while sitting under a tree, or indoors, looking longingly at bare, wintry branches.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Anyone who knows me knows I love oak trees. I didn’t know what to expect from this book other than the author was also an oak tree lover. This book must be read when you’re in the right mood, otherwise it’s boring. I was sometimes captivated and sometimes bored. If you’ve got a decent imagination and you’re looking for a lyrical, meditative book all about whisking you away into the world next to an oak tree through all seasons then this is exactly what you want. I am impressed by the author’s ab Anyone who knows me knows I love oak trees. I didn’t know what to expect from this book other than the author was also an oak tree lover. This book must be read when you’re in the right mood, otherwise it’s boring. I was sometimes captivated and sometimes bored. If you’ve got a decent imagination and you’re looking for a lyrical, meditative book all about whisking you away into the world next to an oak tree through all seasons then this is exactly what you want. I am impressed by the author’s ability to continue to describe the feelings and sights and senses and sounds without repeating himself at all. That takes skill.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lewis

    A deep, reflective and authoritative insight into the relationship between humans and the natural world. Through being with, studying and researching oaks, the book collects thoughts and feelings about their historical, practical and spiritual role in society. The writing is lyrical and poetic, sculpted from years of being with trees. Scientific insights about green health and exercise, forest bathing and human evolution, provide a base and constant sharp edge to the deep personal reflections th A deep, reflective and authoritative insight into the relationship between humans and the natural world. Through being with, studying and researching oaks, the book collects thoughts and feelings about their historical, practical and spiritual role in society. The writing is lyrical and poetic, sculpted from years of being with trees. Scientific insights about green health and exercise, forest bathing and human evolution, provide a base and constant sharp edge to the deep personal reflections that are detailed throughout. This is essential reading for Essex locals, dendrologists and all that are interested in what it means to be human.

  25. 5 out of 5

    twilight gecko

    i've often described myself as having a strange relationship with trees.. i have many moods and emotions mixed with the trees i've known.. this book is part historical, many facts, references to many authors and poets who also write about oaks.. and then it is a diary of observations and musings sitting under this one oak.. it is dreamy, poetic and well written.. sometimes my journal entries are similar.. it's an easy book to put down and pick back up, as each page is another day in the life, be i've often described myself as having a strange relationship with trees.. i have many moods and emotions mixed with the trees i've known.. this book is part historical, many facts, references to many authors and poets who also write about oaks.. and then it is a diary of observations and musings sitting under this one oak.. it is dreamy, poetic and well written.. sometimes my journal entries are similar.. it's an easy book to put down and pick back up, as each page is another day in the life, beneath the oak tree.. it did take me a couple weeks to get thru it, as it's not a page turner.. but a dreamy pause in my day..

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julia Mitchell

    ‘I am learning to settle into silence. I am learning to listen.’ A serene slice of wilderness writing packed with profundities. Would recommend to anyone who finds themselves drawn to oaks in particular, but also to anybody who would like a book which provides a quiet contrast to the business of life. Could feel myself coming back to the book time and again for reassurance and tranquility, in much the same way Canton came back to his oaks.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Warrick

    A thoughtful, sometimes melancholy book as the author finds solace from the stress of life in visiting and re-visiting some ancient oak trees. It is always alert and sensitive, and links to both science and mythology about these trees as well as some extended conversations with experts of various kinds, but there's a little too much strain in the 'awe', 'wonder' and 'glee' for me as the writer climbs deeper and deeper into his woody meditations. A thoughtful, sometimes melancholy book as the author finds solace from the stress of life in visiting and re-visiting some ancient oak trees. It is always alert and sensitive, and links to both science and mythology about these trees as well as some extended conversations with experts of various kinds, but there's a little too much strain in the 'awe', 'wonder' and 'glee' for me as the writer climbs deeper and deeper into his woody meditations.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gary Vincent

    This is the number one book of the year for me. James writes beautifully of his interaction with the 800 year old Honywood Oak and its environs. I have always felt there is something special about large old trees, and now I understand what it is about. I am so grateful that James shared his extraordinary experience with us. I can’t imagine why anyone would not enjoy this book!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Renee Hall

    I just finished THE OAK PAPERS by James Canton. There was so much about oak trees: the history, importance, symbolism- in comparison to humans and nature. The story seemed well researched and thoughtful. The author reflecting on his draw to the magnificent oak, in times of uncertainty, and in meditation was quite interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    A brilliant book by James Canton, discussing the positive impacts of spending time with trees. The book follows a narrative of his personal accounts which are beautifully written and is interspersed with incredibly insightful interviews and interesting philosophical references. Written in a very accessible yet deep and far reaching manner, it’s a must read for any enthusiast of the outdoors.

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