Matt Gaw, Under the Stars

I wanted to love Matt Gaw's thoughtful little book Under the Stars: A Journey into Light, and I expected that I would.

It's one of those beautifully crafted books of British nature writing, this one about the search for darkness at night, or rather a search for genuine starlight in a world who's devoted so much energy to obliterating their infinitely distant rays from our vision. The cover looks intimate and feels hand-drawn, its pages are heavy and textured, its font and typesetting read as open and generous.

And he seems like a lovely guy, too, with presences on both Instagram and Twitter that tell me he's genuine in all these interests and projects, plus it's got lots of fans along with positive reviews in both The Scotsman and the TLS.

Am I too old to read nature writing that aims to portray discovery? Was it just that I was too tired that week to give it justice?

At any rate, I didn't get it. A couple of months on, my feeling remains, simply, that it was less substantial than I wanted it to be, or than I needed it to be if I was going to dwell in its pages past putting it down. Darkness is crucially important in an ecological sense, as well as culturally speaking, as writers like Paul Bogard (in his The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light) have explained in prose technical, lyrical, or even mystical.

For whatever reason, though I'm sure I'll read Paul Bogard's thrillingly thoughtful book a few more times quite happily, I'm ready to pass Matt Gaw's book, whose topic is so similar, to another reader, perhaps one more interested in a casual read (or more capable of one. I'm not always in a good space for reading, though I love books and reading them ever so much!).


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