Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Hugh Aldersey-Williams is a writer and curator based in Norfolk, England. An art exhibition based on his best-selling Periodic Tales: The Cultural History of the Chemical Elements opens at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, in October 2015.

Aldersey-Williams's latest book is In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
With a new book coming out, I thought I would prepare for the festival circuit by reading Francis Plug: How To Be a Public Author by Paul Ewen. Poised somewhere between fact and fiction, it recounts the author’s attempts to ingratiate himself with a series of prize-winning writers and get them to sign their books for him while trying to hoover up as much free drink as he can – a kind of Fear and Loathing ... on the literary circuit. It’s mad and hilarious.

Also with a pulsing vein of paranoid delusion running through it, I loved Rob Magnuson Smith’s novel Scorper. A scorper is a kind of chisel used in stone carving as well as the name given to the person using it. The book describes an American man’s visit to the deceptively quiet Sussex village of Ditchling on the trail of his artistic hero, the sculptor Eric Gill. He doesn’t get far in his quest. Instead, he is – horrifyingly for him, amusingly for us – waylaid by a series of eccentrics, temptresses and mysterious warnings. We’ve all been to villages like it.

I was moved and impressed by Suzanne O’Sullivan’s series of case studies of psychosomatic illness in It’s All in Your Head. This compassionate book takes the position that many more of our illnesses are psychological rather than caused by an organic disease than we think. The cases she describes are shocking, dramatic and revelatory. The stigma of any mental illness is still very strong, and for many who suffer their priority is to find a link to a physical disease at any cost and against the clinical evidence.

Richard Girling’s The Hunt for the Golden Mole is properly angry about the loss of biodiversity our species is causing. He uses his personal quest for a notionally negligible animal to illustrate the fact that all species matter. Any species loss diminishes me, because I am involved in life on earth, as John Donne nearly said.

I have been writing a popular science book (for lack of a better phrase) about the tide. This has led me to the coasts, both those familiar to me and some further afield. Most of the time, I look out on the cold, brown, shallow North Sea. It can seem an uninspiring body of water at times. But I realized its huge significance to life in northern Europe when I read Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are. Patrick Barkham’s lively Coastlines filled in my impressions of other parts of the British coast that I was not able to visit.
Visit Hugh Aldersey-Williams's website.

The Page 99 Test: Anatomies.

The Page 99 Test: In Search of Sir Thomas Browne.

--Marshal Zeringue