Friday, August 17, 2007
Desert Island Books - Part 1
I've always loved reading as far back as I can remember, I think the first book I ever owned, certainly the first I can remember, was Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day by Alison Uttley and for that reason alone it remains one of my favourites. I possess hundreds and hundreds of books though few of them are fiction. Not that I don't read fiction but mostly it is borrowed from the library or bought in paperback and then passed on when I've read it. The books I keep are mostly to do with the things I'm interested in so I have a lot of gardening books, cookery books both old and modern, books on knitting and other crafts, books about the Home Front in WW2, books about family history and local history and country life and so it goes on. If I was banished to a desert island with only a dozen of my books I'd be very hard-pressed to choose which they would be. Among them though would be Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day for the happy childhood memories it brings.
Also among the favoured few would be the two volumes (counting as one book!)of Meta Given's Encyclopaedia of Cookery, it fell open at the page containing my favourite recipe - Quick Apple Streusel Coffee Cake. I made that a lot when the children were young. Clicking and enlarging the picture should make it readable I think.
I've always been attracted to cookery books that give a week's or a month's menus, Meta Given went one better and did a whole year - breakfast, lunch and dinner! It's an American book published in the 1940s and I came across it by chance in a secondhand bookshop. My friend C in New Hampshire supplied a set of US cup and spoon meaures and translations of words I didn't recognize.
The Scented Garden by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde is a delight to read, there are lyrical descriptions of all the wonderful scented flowers and shrubs that grow in English gardens from the winter months then spring and summer through to autumn or as she calls it 'the afternoon of the year'. The last part of the book has the most wonderful recipes for sweet bags, pot pourri and other delights taken from old manuscripts and books such as A Queen's Delight (1664) and Delights For Ladies (1594). Finally there are plant lists which are perhaps a touch out of date as far as the names go since the book was originally published in 1931 and the botanists have been busy changing names since then - often more than once!
Letters From Compton Deverell was discovered in a secondhand bookshop near Saffron Walden about 30 years ago and was the first of my collection of books by 'BB' who was both an artist and naturalist as well as a sportsman. It is in the form of a series of letters to a young man posted abroad telling of the passing seasons in the English countryside. The year it describes happens to be my first one in this world beginning with the winter of 1946 which was one of the worst in living memory.
England Is A Village by C Henry Warren is illustrated by 'BB' and was written during the first months of WW2 and is again just about daily life in an English village - a world and way of life that no longer exists.
Another children's book now though I didn't actually read it until a few years ago. I read a magazine article about the garden of a small manor house in Huntingdonshire called Hemingford Grey. A few weeks later I was driving down to Suffolk when I spotted a signpost for Hemingford Grey and as I had time to spare I decided to detour and visit the garden. This happy spur of the moment decision opened up a magical world for me, the garden is lovely and there is a small shop which is where I discovered the Green Knowe books by Lucy Boston. I met the present owner of the house who is Lucy Boston's daughter-in-law and she told me that the house and garden are the setting for the books and that it was possible to book a tour of the house. I didn't have time that day but I bought the first of the books and a few weeks later I went back to see the house and bought the rest of the series. The house is quite magical and dates back to the 11th century, it is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the country. There is a wonderful collection of patchwork quilts there too as Lucy Boston was not only an author and talented gardener but also made the most beautiful quilts. During the tour I was fortunate enough to be allowed to hold the original of the little ebony mouse from the story - everyone else had to be satisfied with just seeing it:)
This seems to be turning into another of my novels so I'll do the other 6 books in a seperate post.