The red telephone box is a British icon, standing by the roadside often in the most isolated of places, providing phone services at a time when many British homes were not connected. Nowadays they are rarely needed and many have been decommissioned and sold off to private buyers where they sit in back gardens; a nostalgic link to our past.
The village of Lawshall in West Suffolk has retained its red phone box but things are not as they initially appear. The tiny cast iron box opposite Swanfields was purchased by the village for £1 when British Telecom decided it was no longer cost effective to maintain it as a telephone booth. Deciding upon a use for it, the villagers settled upon its conversion into a book swap and community notice board, replacing the old telephone logo with a sign proclaiming its new lease of life and function.
Local library services have taken a beating with the effects of cuts and whilst librarians are keen to emphasise that the phone box is NOT a library per se (they are rightly protective and proud of the profession of Librarians), the book swap is well used and maintained and you will find some eclectic and contemporary books inside. Should you wish to read your newly acquired book nearby, the Swan Inn has been recently refurbished and offers meals alongside well kept ales which carry Cask Marque approval.
Our holidays are in sight and with a deliberately enforced policy of no WiFi, we will make the time to read. Pure bliss. Here’s some books we’ve enjoyed in the past and a few that we’ll be taking with us. There’s something for most of you here and we’ll be adding to it as time (and reading) moves on.
A wonderful and heartbreaking novel set in post-World War I rural Mississippi. It deals with issues of racial tension, love and betrayal . Having been unable to put it down the first time I read it, I simply re-read it once again.
This novel is set in Sicily in 1963 and the author successfully evokes the mood of a small Sicilian town in the throes of a family crisis. It traces the history of one of the town’s most prominent families – unveiling all of their secrets and mysteries. The author is brilliant at describing all of the nuances of life in this town. You feel the heat, smell the air, crave the gossip and feel transported to Sicily. If you’ve been there you will appreciate the authenticity of the description, and if you haven’t you will want to go.
The best journeys can be those you didn’t know you needed to take and this is one of those rare children’s novels that both delights the adult reader and returns them to a child’s perspective. Beloved since I first encountered it via my American primary school mistress aged eight, it wasn’t as popular in Britain as it was/is in the USA. Thankfully this parlous state of literary affairs has now been rectified and it has become much loved over here too.
Thisis not just the tale of a young woman clawing her way to survival in a world that seems hellbent on destroying her. It is also a story evolved from the author’s personal history. When she was a girl, Bond heard the stories of how her aunt, a young black woman, was believed to have been murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen in the 1930s for her relationship with a white man. The crimewent unpunished. And Bond herself was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Hence, Ruby is born of the pain of women as unwilling and unwitting victims. Scenes of raw violence and pain are mitigated by the sheer beauty of the prose, but not an easy read all the same.
How could we NOT want to take this as part balm and consolation for our lack of tickets to see Dolly do Glasto this summer of ’14. Asides her colossally successful musical career, Dolly is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans.
In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade”. Morales’s adventure allows her to compare the imaginary Tennessee of Parton’s lyrics with the real Tennessee where the singer grew up, looking at essential connections between country music, the land, and a way of life. It’s also a personal pilgrimage for Morales. Accompanied by her partner, Tony, and their nine-year-old daughter, Athena (who respectively prefer Mozart and Miley Cyrus), Morales, a recent transplant from England, seeks to understand America and American values through the celebrity sites and attractions of Tennessee. This celebration of Dolly and Americana is for anyone with an old country soul who relies on music to help understand the world, and it is guaranteed to make a Dolly Parton fan of anyone who has not yet fallen for her music or charisma.
A good book for the bookshelf voyeurist whose first action upon going to a persons house is to nose through their book collection.. Find out what cool people like Patti Smith, Roseanne Cash, Alice Waters and Judd Apatow stock on their shelves, through interviews and Jane Mount’s book spine paintings.
“We’re the unknown Americans,” says a character in Cristina Henríquez’s second novel, “the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them.”
That declaration bluntly explains the theme of “The Book of Unknown Americans,” as does the novel’s choral structure — made up of first-person reminiscences from an array of characters from Latin American countries including Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Paraguay, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of whom talk to us directly about their reasons for coming to the United States.
Central to the book is the account of the lives of its two central characters: a beautiful Mexican teenager named Maribel Rivera and her admiring friend and neighbor, Mayor Toro. Maribel has learning difficulties as a result of an accident, the details of which slowly become apparent in much the same way as one learns about the back stories of new friends.
Homesickness, dislocution and displacement; a yearning to belong and a yearning to preserve that which makes them different characterises the immigrant experience, something that is enhanced by the stories being set in Delaware- a state that is not the first to come to mind when one thinks of a destination. Very clever. Reading this book on holiday at my brothers home in Germany, listening to his own account of his loneliness and linguistic alienation, watching how he is now assimilated to the point of forgetting some of his native English enhanced the reading, ramming home the brutal reality of being a stranger in a land that represents so much to them prior to their arrival whilst appearing confusingly familiar too.
This book, beloved of myself from the moment I was given it aged four and much loved by my children, is relatively unknown in the UK, and undeservedly so. On a superficial level it is a lovely simple picture book with bold line-drawings that jump off the page, telling the reader about a sweet baby hero and the adventures he gets into. On the other hand, Harold And His Big Purple Crayon serves as metaphor for childhood and for growing up, dealing as it does with so many childhood challenges and fears. Harold has to manage himself with regard to the way night-time separates him from his parents; his subsequent travels away from the safety of his bed and the fact that he has to problem-solve without their assistance.
As the book opens, we see Harold has scribbled meaninglessly across the flyleaf and opening page but as the story starts and we read the first line of text, “ “One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight,” Harold’s crooked and meandering scribbles become a purposeful straight line from left to right, mirroring the English language. As the character explores what is imagination and what is reality, the process of artistic creation is laid bare. Harold is the embodiment of the art of drawing, something the artist Paul Klee describes as “taking a line for a walk.”
What does it mean to be real and how does something become real? For children, living lives of magical realism where the boundaries are blurred between reality and what feels like it, this is an ever shifting concept. Must we experience things for them to be ‘real’ or can they simply exist in our minds? Does their retelling in a story realise them? By interacting with them in a physical manner, Harold gives them a sense of universal actuality and through his understanding of what the drawn objects mean to him, they become imbued with a rationalists sense of reality.
Harold is followed by a moon that he himself had to draw because he awoke and noticed that it had mysteriously disappeared. His imagination, whilst unbounded, needs first to make tangible something both mystical and mysterious, and something of huge practical importance too: moonlight will help him navigate the darkness.
The knife edge of hazards that parents must help their children negotiate is reflected in Harold’s falling into the ocean he draws and tumbling down the hill that he climbs. But good parenting builds resourcefulness and Harold draws himself a boat when he tumbles into the ocean. In this way we arrive at the idea of fate and external locus of control versus control of our destiny and an internal locus of control. Harold’s own actions lead to possible danger- dragons and water and hills to tumble down. He starts to learn that one faces the consequences of ones’ own actions and eliminating risk is not the answer; it is how we manage and react to it that is the more important.
When Crickett Johnson submitted the first draft to the legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom, her first reaction (as she later admitted in her own words) was luke-warm and unenthusiastic although she acknowledges that on the day it arrived, she was so “dead in the head that she’d probably pass up Tom Sawyer.” Later on, Nordstrom writes to him and aplogizes: “I think it is FINE, and the little changes you made are just perfect. Thanks for the part about the forest, and for all the other little touches.”
Crockett Johnson went on to write several more Harold books under her capable hands and sold more than two million copies of the first ‘Harold’ book. It has never gone out of print.
Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, went on to edit many other classics, including The Carrot Seed, written by Johnson’s wife, Ruth Krauss. Crockett Johnson illustrated his wife’s book and he drew that same large bald-headed boy in an earlier comic strip called Barnaby. In an NPR article, Crockett Johnson is described as saying that he drew people without hair because, `It’s so much easier. And besides, to me people with hair look funny.’ He too, was bald and Crockett’s animal characters in Will Spring Be Early? Or Will Spring Be Late?, published in 1959 also share that naive and bald headed quality- his skunks, ground-hogs and bears lack any discernible fur.
Maurice Sendak himself was a protogee of Crockett Johnson, and the style he adopted in “Where the Wild Things Are” was floridly different to that of Crockett Johnson. Nonetheless, Johnson and Ruth Krauss had a creative hand in the wild abandon of Sendak’s famous illustrated book. Like Where the Wild Things Are, Johnson’s book acknowledges that the imagination of a child can carry him away from the safety of his home and his parents and after spending a safe amount of time out in the wilderness, the child desires to go home and is thus able to.