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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 March 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's been five years since Jamie's collection 'Findings', so I looked forward to this with eager anticipation; nor was I disappointed. She dedicates this collection of pieces to "the island-goers", even though the settings include Bergen, Central Scotland, and a Pathology Lab at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee; happily islands such as Rona, St Kilda and Shetland also appear.

These essays, or perhaps 'meditations' is a better term, range in length from two to about 30 pages, long, and each are beautifully illustrated by stylish b & w photos. Whether describing the synchronised,shining curves of a pod of orcas, the eyes of gannets, "round and fierce, with a rim of weird blue", or the irregular surface of a cancer tumour, named "for the crab, because a cancer tumour sends claws out into the surrounding tissue", her eye continues to offer unusual poetic or challenging perspectives, especially when she pictures parts of the human anatomy as a landscape of land and river margins, mud-flats et al.

Her eye extends to an archaelogical dig, "the bite on the point" of her trowel, and the discovery of the woman in the cist burial. Although her sharp eye also catches the "glowing marshmallow pink" of icebergs in the morning sun during an Arctic cruise, her ear also delights in the charm of the "di-diddle-ditted" of a petrel in its burrow on Rona, responding to the tape recording played at its burrow mouth. There's also the account of her determined attempts to overcome the ocean's might, to finally describe the isolation of St.Kilda at her third attempt, and an almost hypnotic encounter with the curving power of cetacean skeletons in the 'Whale Museum' in Bergen.

Overall, this is an insightful and largely inspiring set of writings, with the marvels of the natural world predominant. I confess to feeling that the piece on 'Pathologies' was not to my taste, and felt it sat rather uneasily amongst the other writing, though I can see the link with other pathologies, including the cist burial. Hats off to 'Sort Of' books for some lovely paperback production values: clear typesetting, gorgeous cover art, illustrations, and the book's 'feel' in your hand.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having absolutely loved Findings, Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie's previous collection of essays, I was very excited to read Sightlines. Also inspired by the natural world, it is just as quiet and contemplative, and revisits some of her previous subjects - sea birds, islands, pathology - as well as the aurora borealis, a lunar eclipse, archaeology, whales' jawbones and a dead storm petrel she finds on St Kilda.

But as with Findings, this is more than just `nature writing'. Jamie uses each of her closely observed subjects as a jumping-off point for a meditation on our relationship to the object in question, its position in time and in the world, and its personal significance for her. The result is a series of spare yet lyrical essays that continue to resonate long after you have put the book down. Wonderful.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an unusual book of essays, taking as its core theme the way we perceive the natural world; when we look at something, what do we see?
This sounds like it would be self-indulgent mind-gabble, but it isn't, these are beautifully crafted pieces of work that delight you with their insight and their use of language.

The description of parts of the human body under the microscope as landscape, was a completely original take on a grimly fascinating subject. It isn't all meditation, there's a lovely recollection of an archaeological dig as a teenager and these slivers of biography add to the human interest within the book.

If I hadn't known that Kathleen Jamie was a poet, I would have probably guessed it from her prose. She has an absolute mastery of language but this never distances you from her writing. I enjoyed her humorous description of the (non)trips to St Kilda as much as the more deeply meditative pieces.

Kathleen Jamie's prose output may be relatively sparse, but masterpieces aren't created overnight. Highly recommended, not just to those who enjoy the natural world, but to all who enjoy good writing.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a great fan of the increasingly popular genre of 'nature writing', with recent favourites including Robert Macfarlane's 'The Wild Places' and Philip Connors' 'Fire Season'. However, although it is not a genre that tends to produce terrible books, it can tend towards mediocrity; good descriptive writing abounds but truly exceptional work is rare. That's why I was delighted to discover this marvellous book of essays - and sad that I hadn't come across Kathleen Jamie's work earlier. ('Findings', her first collection, has shot right to the top of my to-read list).

These essays are an eclectic mix, spanning place, subject, and length - some are only a few pages long, others much longer. But nearly all are outstanding in one way or another. Jamie opens the collection with 'Aurora', a description of a journey towards the northern lights that is possibly the best piece she presents here, and certainly my favourite. What Joanna Kavenna struggled to do in hundreds of pages in her turgid 'The Ice Museum', Jamie manages in less than twenty, moving evocatively from a description of the 'colossal, witless indifference' of the surrounding icebergs themselves, to the radar screen that marks them out as a 'rash of green dots'. She is also not above humour, which conveys a vital sense of herself and avoids the overly-stylised journalistic tone that sometimes afflicts travel writing. Reporting that some suggest that you can hear your own nerves working in the Arctic silence, she goes on to say that 'Some people say you can smell icebergs, that they smell like cucumbers. You can smell icebergs and hear your own nervous system. I don't know.'

I have reviewed this first essay in such depth because its strengths are, largely, the strengths of the other essays in this collection. As well as being a wonderful writer, Jamie is also superb at structure. This is demonstrates most strongly in a later piece, 'The Gannetry'. Her sighting of the fin of a killer whale and race to follow the animal's path around the island is infused with tension; you don't expect nature writing to be page-turning, but this is. However, a structural choice that is, in my opinion, even more effective, is her juxtaposition of the description of the gannetry with reflections on her relationship with her son. This is initially frustrating when a seemingly irrelevant description of a text conversation between them interrupts the description of the killer whale chase, but is brought full circle when she reflects at the end of the essay that killer whale packs are matriarchal, meaning that grown sons remain with their mothers. There's no need to spell out her own feelings about her son growing up and moving away from her, as she's done it all already.

As is probably obvious, I could quote endlessly from these essays, especially my other favourites, 'The Woman in the Field', 'Pathologies', 'On Rona', and 'Three Ways of Looking at St Kilda', but this review is already long. The only pieces that didn't quite work, for me, were the shorter ones, but I think this was because Jamie did not give herself space for the full development of ideas that she manages in the longer essays, and not because they were in any way badly-written. I recommend this collection wholeheartedly, and can't wait to read more of Jamie's work.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish poet. This book is a series of essays roughly grouped round the concept of 'the natural'. This is a wide field encompassing such subjects as Aurora, Pathology, the Hvalsalen (the Whale Hall at Bergen Museum). Natural doesn't necessarily mean living or sentient, but Jamie pulls them all together so that we can appreciate the connections.

These essays are in prose and I hesitate to say that the language is poetic because that term is frequently used damningly (and wrongly) to summon up ideas of flowery epithets and a generally precious and pretentious form of writing. Kathleen Jamie's writing is crystal clear. It is sharp and vivid and when she does use figures of speech they are apt and to the point. I think my favourite was her description of icebergs:
"Some people say you can smell icebergs . . . I smell nothing but colossal, witless indifference."

I really enjoyed this book and I was not sure I was going to. It is a book that I shall revisit, because I think it has a lot more to give than a first reading would discover. She made me consider at things I had largely ignored before and look at them in a way that I would not have thought of doing myself. Highly recommended.
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on 6 November 2012 a slow food kind of way

I was a expecting a poetry book but got a collection of essays.

Such a short book but I learned so much and want to explore so much more.

Kathleen Jamie - in that poet's spare, enigmatic way - gives an insight into her background, work, family and nature.

I cheered inside to read that she hadn't come from privilege or gone to university but what an indictment on our (their - Scottish?) education system that such a latent talent could pass through school without being recognised, encouraged or nutured.

Kathleen made me want to look up words, highlight phrases like 'the wind would catch it and send up plumes of rainbow', go beyond 60 degrees latitude, see the aurora borealis, visit the Hval museum, go to remote islands and more.

Her discussions about death and family resonated . By chance, at the same time, I was reading 'Supersense' by Bruce Hood and it's uncanny how Kathleen Jamie reflects the very topics in that book. Can we feel the spirit of land or animals like an echo from the past?

He didn't ask me to but I felt jealous on her husband's behalf at the intimacies of friendship described by Kathleen and of the access that her standing gives her and was positively exhilarated by her description of chasing killer whales around an island!

And all this with words - phew!
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read this book and was moved to tears at times, her sensitivity towards Nature is to be read to be understood. Actually, I felt this book was hard to describe as such, if you like poetry and Nature, you will get it, if you don't you will not. My husband didn't - his loss, so it depends on where you're coming from. If you know the particular areas mentioned around Scotland and the Isles it helps too, don't think you could fail to be moved in that case, unless you're some sort of android. Will now go back and read other work by the author and possibly re-visit some of the sites again.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 December 2013
This is a really rather remarkable book. Normally I would recommend a book on the basis of the majority of its pages. But this one is different.

Even if the rest of the book were poor - which it most certainly is not - it would be worth reading Sightlines just for the observation about sheep in a winter landscape. Clearly, I'm not going to tell you what that line is - but it made me stop, put the book down and wonder just how acute your observations would have to be to come up with a line like it.

The rest of the book is excellent and just as in Findings, some of the best sections are based indoors rather than outside. Time spent in a pathology lab, and a museum (maybe mortuary?) for whales produced wonderful essays.

The prose in the book is neither flamboyant nor self-consciously clever, but it is wonderfully well constructed - there is barely a word out of place, and each one seems to add to the sense of place that this book is about.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough - and you may be pleased to know that the line about the sheep come early in the book!
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on 26 April 2013
I heard the adaptation of some of these for BBC fours Book of the week. I listen to this on my way to work. It captivated me. I was not dissappointed.

Kathleen James love of the wild places and her keen observations really have you sitting right next to her. There are more essays in this book than we heard on the radio, the shortest of which I found to be the most profound. That one is about the day in the year when winter finally releases its hold and spring gets a foot in the door. It's about the change of the quality of light and the air. This is juxtoposed by her rather profound observation of her daughers life stage.

If you love wild places. If you want to travel and can't , or you just need a book to take you some place else, then try this. Kathleen is blessed with some amazing opportunities (and a very understanding hubby) and is a wonderful writer. She really knows how to wield a verbal palette and brush to paint the most amazing detailed pictures with very few brush strokes.

In some places Kathleen reflects on family life and the different take children have on the world. I too could relate to that.

I am really looking forward to reading more of her writting. I ended up buying everything I could find by her. (Her poetry is amazing too.)

I suppose I related to this writting so much because I share her love and fascination for the world we live in and the awesome creatures that inhabit it.
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on 11 May 2012
A wonderful book for 'island-goers' as in the dedication. Truly a joy - so well written. I have already lent the book to two friends but will get it back in time to hear the author speak about the book at the East Neuk Festival at the end of June. It will be interesting to meet the author.
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