21st-Century Yokel explores the way we can be tied inescapably to landscape, whether we like it or not, often through our family and our past. It’s not quite a nature book, not quite a humour book, not quite a family memoir, not quite folklore, not quite social history, not quite a collection of essays, but a bit of all six.
It contains owls, badgers, ponies, beavers, otters, bats, bees, scarecrows, dogs, ghosts, Tom’s loud and excitable dad and, yes, even a few cats. It’s full of Devon’s local folklore – the ancient kind, and the everyday kind – and provincial places and small things. But what emerges from this focus on the small are themes that are broader and bigger and more definitive.
The book’s language is colloquial and easy and its eleven chapters are discursive and wide-ranging, rambling even. The feel of the book has a lot in common with the country walks Tom Cox was on when he composed much of it: it’s bewitched by fresh air, intrepid in minor ways, haunted by weather and old stories and the spooky edges of the outdoors, restless, sometimes foolish, and prone to a few detours… but it always reaches its intended destination.
The book is illustrated with Tom’s own landscape photographs and linocuts by his mother.
I thought this book was so fun. I really enjoyed the author’s voice and storytelling style. I loved his run-ins with nature, although some of them made sad. I greatly enjoyed his stories involving his father, who is this larger than life character that made me laugh out loud. His antics cracked me up and he seems like he is a man of indomitable spirit much of the time. I found myself looking forward to the next time that Cox would relay a dad story.
There were some parts that were triggering, that caused me anxiety (Roscoe), and then the chapter about his Nana – beautiful. The picture he paints of this woman, his Nana, who bought her starter home with her new husband, started a family, then lost her husband young, and ended up being in the same home her whole life touched me. Especially when we learn that Nana began filling the back garden with shells, lots of shells, glued up in her back shed building. Then she passes away, and the second owners after her keep the shell house of dreams and even added to it. She just sounded like a tough lady, to keep practical and not really every go anywhere, but to just keep dreaming and finding a way to bring her dream to her. It was a wonderful tale of Nana, and it was obvious that Cox really loved her dearly. She was his Nana.
There were some spooky moody chapters too – particularly the scarecrows that he finds. I didn’t know that this was such a thing in a field anymore! Maybe in an English countryside and farm fields?
Overall I loved this book. I am really looking forward to reading more by this author!! He is a new to me author, that I discovered during Nonfiction November. This book called to me so strongly that I bought it online then and there when I read about it on Secret Library Site’s blog, and then read it as my first, and only, nonfiction read of the month. I wasn’t disappointed!