When I heard about this book, The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks, I really didn't know if I would enjoy it or if I would find it boring.
James Rebanks is a shepherd.
I didn't know much about shepherding and really only got this from the library for the insight it might give me about the Lake District since I will be visiting there next year. Most of what I know about the Lake District is what I have read from authors and poets such as Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. I thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective of this area.
“It is a curious thing to slowly discover that your landscape is loved by other people. It is even more curious, and a little unsettling, when you discover by stages that you as a native are not really part of the story and meaning they attach to that place.”
I had no idea how much I would end up loving this book.
James Rebanks started a Twitter account. And it took off. His account, Herdwick Shepherd, has over 69,000 followers. This led to the creation of this book.
The Shepherd's Life is his memoir of growing up in the the Lake District of England in the 1980's and 1990's farming the land and raising Herdwick sheep as his father had before him, and so on.
As I read I had to constantly remind myself that this man is close to my own age and was growing up at the same time I was because his life was so different from what I have ever experienced. It seems so timeless. In many places it seemed like it could have been telling me about the early 1900's.
The beginning of the book first detailed a little background into the author and his family and home.
He spoke of the school that he was forced to go to and how they treated the farm children that didn't seem to want anything better out of life than this life that the educators from other parts of the countries deemed so simple and backward.
"This crappy, mean, broken-down school took five years of my life. I’d be mad, but for the fact that it taught me more about who I was than anything else I have ever done. It also made me think that modern life is rubbish for so many people. How few choices it gives them. How it lays out in front of them a future that bores most of them so much they can’t wait to get smashed out of their heads each weekend. How little most people are believed in, and how much it asks of so many people for so little in return.”
He has broken the book into four parts: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring.
Each part tells about the daily life of a shepherd during that time of year as well as giving background information of his years growing up.
He began to read books voraciously as a young teen which led to the thirst for knowledge that would eventually lead him to Oxford.
It seemed that many people felt that once he left the farm to study at Oxford he would never go back to the farming life, but he did.
I loved the way the book was broken up into seasons and I really loved his writing style.
“And then we do it all again, just as our forefathers did before us. It is a farming pattern, fundamentally unchanged from many centuries ago. It has changed in scale (as farms have amalgamated to survive, so there are fewer us of ) but not in its basic content. You could bring a Viking man to stand on our fell with me and he would understand what we were doing and the basic pattern of our farming year. The timing of each task varies depending on the different valleys and farms. Things are driven by the seasons and necessity, but not our will." (p. 32)”
This book is not one that is meant to be rushed through but it is still a quick read. I would sit down to read "just a few pages" before bed and would realize, what seemed like mere minutes later, that I had read 50. I learned so much about shepherds and their way of life from this book.
I found that when I was reading Far From the Madding Crowd last week that my experience with the book was made richer by the fact that I had read this one first, because of the insight into shepherding that it had given me.
I highly recommend this book.