Two ‘Wild Food’ books: Food for Free and Wild and Free

Before we go any further I would just like to say that it’s a moot point whether these books a) really count as Landing Tales reads as they don’t live in that shelf region and b) would really be a better fit into our retired craft and garden blog Curiously Creatively. I say moot point, because whatever the arguments either way, these foraging books are what I have decided to feature in today’s blog post. And anyway, as you all already know, I can be somewhat flexible as to what constitutes a bona fide Landing Book Shelves title. As to the subject matter, I refer you to the Landing Excursions category and to the occasional garden or cookery feature that creeps in here. So that’s that out of the way then…

Front over of the 1992 edition of Food for Free showing a variety of plants.

Food for Free, 1992

Food for Free by Richard Mabey (Harper Collins 1972, 1992) was given to me about a year ago and is a former library book, so it had already performed much service by the time it passed into my hands. I think there has been a more recent reprint, which I may try to buy. Wild and Free by Cyril and Kit Ó Céirín, (O’Brien Press 1978; Wolf Hill Publishing 2013) actually belongs to The Bookworm, though I confess that I have rather commandeered it lately. This is what happens when you buy people books that you really want for yourself! Both books were originally published around the same period, looking at British and Irish wild food respectively. There is of course much overlap between the two books as far as flora and the uses to which they were/are put. Each book has its own approach, Food for Free being more of a field or gatherers guide to edible plants. It gives notes on habitat, season and details on how many of the plants have been used in the past, sometimes with basic cooking instructions. For some plants, the text merely notes that the plant is edible (eg the White and Red varieties of Dead-Nettle) without any further detail. In contrast, Wild and Free presents a collection of methods for a range of dishes, cordials, wines, jellies etc based on a seasonal foraging calendar and tried and tested family recipes. The Ó Céiríns write in detail of about twenty-four sources of food, giving plenty of instructions for making such tasty items as elderberry syrup, nettle soup, crab apple wine and a whole host of blackberry treats. There also seems to be a lot of beer and wine recipes!

As the Bookworm and I have a penchant for foraging, they are both handy books to dip into now and again as we like to extend our foraged food range now and again. Up until this year, I’d say that we have arrived at a fairly regular pattern of free range goods, focussing mainly on berries. Usually we end up with a good supply of blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowan berries and elderberries in the freezer for jelly making. We have used various recipes for preserves, but most frequently the Thane Prince book mentioned over on Curiously Creatively. The exception to all of the berry harvest is elderflowers, which we have picked for a lovely refreshing cordial in the last few summers (one batch already made so far this year, we hope to do another). Wild and Free gives a recipe for Elderflower pancakes that I would like to try for a change – I imagine they’d be great for a weekend breakfast.

Cover of Wild and Free showing blackberry jam & fresh berries.

Wild and Free, 2013

But in this particularly strange spring and summer, with the help of our two foraging guides, we have branched out slightly and explored some new foraged food. For quite a while we have been thinking of turning towards having a go at collecting some young ‘greens’ from the wild plants on offer to see if we could make a meal out of wild vegetables. As Richard Mabey points out, ‘It is easy to forget, as one stands before the modern supermarket shelf, that every single one of the world’s vegetable foods was once a wild plant’. This is obvious if you think about it, though as The Bookworm pointed out, you can quite see why nobody ever thought that cultivating and selling nettles was a great idea. Though maybe, a cultivated nettle would have no sting?

As you might have guessed, nettles were one of our target greens, having been meaning to make nettle soup for years. Funnily enough, we were rather wary about the idea of picking something so stingy to eat! Tip: stout gloves are required. It is also worth poiting out that venturing near a nettle patch with ripped jeans means that you get your knees stung at the very least. In the end, our foraging and cooking went very well thanks to the handy recipe in the Ó Céirín book. In the chapter on nettles, the authors retell a story about St Columcille and his Lenten instructions that his soup of nettles, water and salt should have nothing else ‘except what comes out of the pot stick’. The enterprising cook apparently hollowed out the pot stick and poured milk and oats into the broth. A much more substantial meal. Inspired by a note in Mabey’s book, we have also tried Goosegrass or Sticky Weed, which he tells us was recommended in spring soups and puddings by the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706). We did ours in a pasta dish, which seems to be a much more twenty-first century twist on things.

Moving on to something that we still haven’t tried yet, I was tentatively considering looking for mushrooms and fungus. Mabey’s book has a section on fungus, which I found fascinating reading. I would love to try foraging for edible fungus, but I am aware that I need to do much more research first. At some point I hope to attend a workshop as a starting point, though I’m not sure if I will ever feel confident enough to try it for myself. In the meantime, I am happy to try to merely spot a few examples. The authors of Wild and Free describe a lovely foraging session, when they once gathered bags full of field mushrooms on a walk, which sounded fantastic. Sadly, we don’t live within easy reach of green fields, despite our lifting of distance restrictions now. That’s one for the future. Meanwhile, I will settle for our usual delicious berry harvesting.

I would love to hear from anyone who forages or who has any good book recommendations to pass on to us.

Frankly Feminine: A Little Worldly Advice from the 60s

Cover of Frankly Feminine, spine facing

Frankly Feminine, 1965

Frankly Feminine: A book of comprehensive information and advice for the woman of today was edited by Eileen McCarthy, published by The Grolier Society Limited, London, 1965. However, despite the publishing date, much of its content seems to me to hark back to the 1950s rather than the Swinging Sixties, with its emphasis on the hearth and home.

I have had this hefty lifestyle tome for several years, a birthday gift from He Who Put The Shelves Up. True to my usual form, I haven’t ever sat down and read it from cover to cover, though the Bookworm has virtually done so in my stead. She can quote bits of advice on various bits of social etiquette with complete confidence (which can be rather disconcerting at times!)

The Editor’s begins, ‘For today’s woman the world is limitless. She can come and go about the continents and the oceans; soon, if the fancy takes her, she may be exploring space, and setting up home on a satellite.’ However, McCarthy goes on to write, ‘but we shall always have the trick of finding our greatest contentment within a small and homely circle.’ Apparently ‘today’s complete woman – who sees the stars around her and finds her happiness still in her home, with her family, and friends’ is for whom this book is written.

So, all of that sets up a contradiction straight away; modern woman can do all sorts of things, but her place is still really in the home, especially if she wants to be ‘complete’. Even if she does make it into space, she will still want to be a homemaker on Mars. Oh, not forgetting that she will still have to maintain her figure to get the husband to put into said home in the first place.

A glance at the book’s contents reveals that Frankly Feminine tackles everything from beauty to gardening and room design to house insurance, as well as wedding, maternity, childcare and family life. The book also offers a crash course in cookery, covering baking, cuts of meat, types of fish and cooking for Christmas and other events. You could even learn basic plumbing and carpentry techniques from this handy volume. As the book chidingly points out, ‘Handywomen sometimes fall down on jobs because their toolbox is poorly stocked.’ The book is full of useful household management-type practical tips (handy in a pre-internet era). How about the removal of stains for instance? Frankly Feminine gives a comprehensive list of likely fabric stains and their removal. You could probably find an answer to almost any household problem. And, in these days of soul-searching about how much impact we have on the environment, perhaps some of the domestic advice could come in useful again. Anyone up for making some homemade cleaning products?

Frankly Feminine seemed to have its eye firmly on the better class of woman (complete or otherwise), giving advice on what household linen to buy and what cutlery will be required when setting up home for the first time (fish knives and soup spoons definitely, though you could apparently buy mustard and salt spoons later). And there are hints about keeping your silver cutlery in good condition. There was plenty of detail about dinner service buying and discussion about different sorts of glassware (Scandinavian, Venetian, French etc) including what sorts of glasses are for serving which wine. There was a clear expectation that the readers of this volume would be hosting dinner parties.

The fashion and beauty advice do take priority though, with careers, interview advice and driving tips trailing behind in the pecking order. There is much emphasis on having and keeping a good figure to the extent of having a ‘Plump-up routine’ for women who would like to gain or re-gain curves. Plenty of advice here for looking after face, hair, hands and neck too, though there is not a single non-white woman to be seen in the book and a definite fondness for featuring pretty, slim blondes in the Grace Kelly line. I was fascinated to read the section about foundation garments. I have somehow never associated girdles with this era. But here you can find instruction on the buying and wearing of appropriate underwear. Apparently, it was most important to get, ‘exactly the right garments that are going to pull you in, smooth you out, or prop you up in the right places.’ Sounds like a major task indeed. But never fear, it was a ‘matter of joint operations’ between a woman and her trusty fitter to ensure that the girdle producing the ‘slickest job’ for her ‘particular anatomy’ would be purchased. Phew, that’s alright then.

Much of the personal relationship advice (with men, family, friends) given in the book sounds so jarring to a 21st century ear, as Irish Times journalist Rosita Boland discovered in 2014 when she and some friends reviewed that section. Frankly Feminine encouraged women to see men not as friends but as potential husband material. The opinion of Boland’s readers was not generally favourable to the tenor of much of the advice given. That’s not surprising when you read, under the sub-heading ‘Giving in’:

There is no real equality between the sexes, and those who think otherwise are merely deluding themselves. Women have freedom, opportunity – but this doesn’t put us on the same footing as men. Fortunately, we aren’t natural world-shakers. We know that success doesn’t put its arms round us when we’re tired and can’t sleep at night. So, if we’re wise, we know when and how to give in gracefully. The benefits it brings are well worth while.

The book has a depressing attitude to what a woman might expect from a relationship with a man. Frankly Feminine encourages women to think of men as large overgrown children who can’t really be expected to be relied upon. It says that women should allow for men’s ‘superiority complex’ and that fact that ‘Most men have very little sense of humour about themselves’. Hmm, not very promising. However, some of FF’s advice can be sensible such as pointing out that we can’t expect happiness to come from without (‘like manna from heaven’), it has to come from within ourselves. Also, ‘Never make the mistake of thinking that life would be marvellous if you were doing something different’. Or, as I remember from my childhood, the grass is always greener attitude. Quite a wise observation. As Veronica, one of the readers in Boland’s article pointed out, some of the relationship advice is, ‘like modern positive psychology. All that is beautiful: how to be happy with life’. There are useful and sensible pieces of life advice here, about being confident and independent, but the man/woman advice in particular seems very dated.

As a piece of social and cultural history, Frankly Feminine is very instructive. This is a fascinating book for dipping into, but probably of more use now for the practical angle than the relationship advice. Having said that, some advice would now be out of date, such as the advice that sun-tanned skin was a good thing to have. Of course, much of the social etiquette would now be behind the times, but perhaps the advice on being a good guest still holds true! And the correct way to eat artichokes might come in useful (but not on a first date perhaps) as well as how to mix cocktails.

Maybe FF could form the basis of a reality television show, where women get to try out life as it was once lived? Just a thought…

A Landing New Beginning…

Section of non-fiction bookshelf

A few more to read…

As I am sure I don’t need to point out, it’s been a while since I visited the Landing Bookshelves, so things are a little dusty around here at the moment. The spiders and their cobwebs have certainly taken over here. I have recently found myself at home with time on my hands during the last couple of months so it seemed a good idea to spend some of this time rummaging around in the Landing domain. However I am forced to admit that I have so far avoided doing any cleaning while I browsed. In so doing, I have re-discovered a few treasures tucked away (needless to say, rather dusty ones) and a many still un-read tomes. Plenty of food for thought.

During my enforced stay within the confines of the Landing, I have become convinced that if somebody confiscated my library card (OK, both of them) and my debit card then I would still have plenty to read for a very long time to come. Now, this profound realisation takes me back several years and to the very raison d’être of the Landing blog in the first place. I set myself the task of reading around the bookshelves situated on our landing in 2012 and clearly I haven’t finished yet. Hmm, I wonder why that could be. I must stop buying and borrowing books if I’m EVER to finish this project… Part of the fiction bookshelf

You’ve probably guessed by now however, that although there are indeed (three) bookshelves on the landing itself, the strict definition of the ‘Landing Bookshelves’ has become somewhat of an elastic concept. I have dipped into bookshelves all over the house and most recently have been ferreting in the Bookworm’s shelves while she is away. I also occasionally trawl through books belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up (Am I the only person who buys gifts of books that I would like to read myself? Surely not).

As I have mentioned above, I have strayed somewhat from my original reading plan and I have incorporated library finds, purchases, review copies etc into my Landing blog, which while it dilutes the TBR content, doesn’t (I hope) detract from the range of literary topics covered. I have also really enjoyed having a few writers along to the blog to give a guest post or to answer a few questions on their latest book. The first of these was Andres Neuman, all the way back in 2012. Perhaps an author post is an idea to revisit in the future.

What I am trying to get around to saying here, is that I have really enjoyed writing this blog, despite the fact that my original bookish intentions have gone off the rails at times. Now, after a gap of a year I would like to get this blog back on the road. I hope to get back into a reasonably regular pattern of blogging before the year is too much older. I’m not promising to avoid library reads but I will delve a little more deeply into the extended Landing Bookshelves. I plan to work out a theme for a mini-series of monthly posts and get the old fingers tripping over the keyboard more regularly this year. I have decided that having kept the Landing Bookshelves going since 2012, it was a shame to give up on it without giving it another go.

More soon, but meanwhile if anyone would like to drop me a line to let me know if you have a favourite blog item, please feel free to do so!

 

 

Month of Letters Round-Up: Final Stages

Month of Letters yellow logoI did say on an earlier post that I would give you an update on my Month of Letters progress and so here it is. The short version is that I am still keeping going and I think I can safely say I am on track to complete the month. If you want a bit more detail than that, do read on And if you want to look at one of my previous Month of Letters post try here or here. You might want to give it a try yourself next year!

As I have done before I jotted down a list of possible recipients before starting, beginning with family and friends back in the UK. I have begun to see Month of Letters as a wakeup call where I have become slack in keeping in touch with old friends. I then add all of my Ireland based friends, most of whom are in Dublin. I suppose really I end up re-writing my Christmas card list in February (maybe next Christmas I should simply file it away for February instead of putting it in the recycling bin).

Birth of Venus

From Teri

My intention to do something really imaginative in the mail line this year has not actually transpired. In fact, I am being a very thrifty correspondent and operating a ‘using up’ system, which I am aware may sound rather heartless. However, it is all in an environmentally aware kind of a way really. I have collected up so many postcards over the years that to either dump them or buy yet more would be foolish. And anyway, I do have some nice cards to bestow. This year I have been using up my Penguin book jackets, Spike Milligan cartoons and some Chagall cards from The Tate Gallery. I have also indulged my passion for free stuff, acquiring book marks, postcards and tourist information cards to enclose with a note for my international recipients.

Excavation: Iraq 1933-34

From Barbara

The one big difference for me in doing Month of Letters this year is that I no longer have my dad’s birthday to mark, as he died in June 2016. I also used to squeeze in my parent’s anniversary card at the end of the month since it fell at the beginning of March, so that has now gone. I gave the challenge a break last year for these reasons, but decided to return afresh this year and try to include as many people as possible who mattered to me. It’s never too late to make an effort somewhat greater than clicking on a Facebook ‘like’ button for a change. I will say no more for fear of sounding mawkish but you see what I mean.

So now I am on the home straight with only a few more posting

Winnie the Pooh, Piglet & Heffalumps

From Karina

days to go so I might have to double up a bit more to fit in the waifs and strays. I have been writing to my mum more often these days and also sending mail to our daughter who is studying away so I already have been doubling most days. This year I have included some new faces, as I have despatched postcards to new correspondents gained from the Month of Letters membership. This has broadened my range to Canada, Scotland and Northumberland (and I haven’t quite finished). I have added in here pictures of some cards that I have received in return, but the nice thing is that I usually find that replies trickle through into March, which makes February into a nice long month really.

And now I am off to pen my last few postcards of the month!

 

TBR Pile Update: It’s growing larger, not smaller

TBR Pile Bedside Table

Not getting any smaller…

I am yet again becoming worried about the size of my TBR Pile, as I seem to be adding to it faster than I am reading it. The interesting aspect of this TBR growth is that new piles have begun to accrete in different places. To be strictly accurate, the growth in the bedside table pile is not a new phenomenon, but the strangely solid, immovable quality is a new feature. In the past, bedside table books tended to come and go, so the whole pile had a fluid feel to it. However, for the best part of this year, the books on the pile have been behaving like a sticky post or a pined tweet, and staying firmly put. That is not a good sign. Now, I will admit that books have remained on my bookshelves unread for about twenty years, but a bedside reading table isn’t supposed to work like that. I am not sure why, but it just isn’t. This is not a restful state of affairs I can assure you.

Strangely enough, a couple of books on the Bedside TBR pile have no right to be where they are, as I have actually read them. Why I have not re-homed them by now, I have absolutely no idea. Well, except for the small matter of running short of shelf space in the fiction section (AKA the bedroom bookshelves). An Instance of the Fingerpost (Iain Pears) and a Presumption of Death (Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh) will definitely be heading for a charity shop soon. I brought them back this summer from another TBR Pile at my mum’s house. The Iain Pears novel had languished unread for years and I am glad that finally I managed to read it, as it was both gripping and atmospheric. As you might recall, I am fond of historical skulduggery and this was an excellent example of 17th century political and religious machinations.

My guiltiest TBR confession is that Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone has been awaiting reading since I received it as a ‘Secret Santa’ gift last year. I did begin to read it a few months ago but I put it aside after becoming distracted by something else. I think I made it to page twenty-two before Mary Queen of Scots came between us. My only excuse is that I must have still been in a historical frame of mind at the time. I think this was after Arbella Stuart and Elizabeth I, but before An Instance of the Fingerpost. As it happens, I still haven’t finished My Heart is My Own (John Guy), having paused for breath round about the time of the Earl of Bothwell’s marriage to the queen. If anyone had poor judgment in husbands, it was Mary Stuart, though to be fair the first one (the French Dauphin) was not her decision.

The Other TBR Pile…

TBR Pile Desk

Even more reading here!

The recently instituted Desk TBR Pile is largely composed of library books and new additions (OK, I know there aren’t supposed to be any new additions, but it just sort of happens to me). I am looking forward to reading Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven, passed on to me by a friend. I started reading it on the Luas on the way home and was immediately taken with the story, though I decided it could wait its turn while I finished something else. The library book of the moment is a collection of pieces, Mrs Griffin Sends her Love by Miss Read (Dora Saint) that I spotted recently and picked up in a fit of nostalgia. My mum first introduced me to Miss Read’s chronicles of the fictional English villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green, when I was a teenager, so I was pleased to discover this collection. Dora Saint’s daughter Jill has written the foreword to the book, published in 2013 to mark her mother’s centenary year. The onset of winter is an apt time to be reading these short pieces, as it reminds me how hard life would have been in rural England (and Ireland) a comparatively few years ago. Thank heavens for indoor plumbing!

I probably should return to one of my TBR Piles now… How is yours getting on these days?  

Culture Night: Owt for Nowt?

Brocure Cover

Our passport to culture!

Last Friday evening saw yours truly, accompanied by The Bookworm heading into Dublin’s city centre for some more Culture Night activity. As usual, we had been studying the brochure and marking possible activities. We had decided to more or less stick to the ‘Trinity and South Georgian Quarter’ to be handy for the Luas. In no particular order (as if memory serves me), here is our final tally of venues visited: The Arts Council, Merrion Square; the Pepper Canister Church; the National Gallery of Ireland; and the Science Gallery. We listened to musical offerings at the NGI and Pepper Canister and then explored differing ways of seeing at the Science Gallery. I am not sure whether tea and cake at the NGI counts as a cultural activity, but it was very tasty all the same. We were disappointed that three of our book marked events were cancelled, but it was not clear whether this had any connection to the bus strike or not. Particularly, we felt the loss of the light show at the Royal College of Surgeons as we had planned to round off our night seeing the 3D display before jumping on the Luas to head home.

On the morning after the night before, I scrolled though plenty of tweets from happy, satisfied Culture Night goers and event organisers. However, poet Colin Dardis made the reasonable point that ‘If you loved the free events at #CutlureNight remember to support your local artist and pay for their work during the rest of the year!’ Art practitioners and writers clearly all need to eat and welcome paying punters. One commenter, The Fingal Pimpernel went a stage further and declared ‘Great as I think #CultureNight is it shows up how stingy fuckers will turn up in huge crowds for free but won’t pay their way other 364 days’. I’m not sure whether the latter comment was intended to be genuine or tongue in cheek (such is the peril of Twitter) but as a dedicated Culture Night-er, I felt vaguely miffed at being apparently included under this tag. Confession: I admit to a liking for free stuff to do; after all, what parent doesn’t welcome the opportunity to do interesting (even educational) activities with kids that doesn’t break the bank. Having said that, I am not averse to paying for events etc and I frequently do so during the rest of the year. As a member of the book trade, I try to do my bit by attending (paid) events to hear my favourite writers. Now, I can’t be sure how many other Culture Night visitors fall into that category, but inevitably you are going to get folks who always want something for nowt and will never pay for anything. To some extent, I suppose such people fulfill a function on occasions such as Culture Night, by performing the role of ‘warm bodies’ to help to give the event its air of success.

Nevertheless, I  feel that complaining about ‘stingy f****s’ misses a couple of the great aspects of Culture Night. One of the big attractions for me, (and judging by the queues, I am not alone in this) is the opportunity to view places usually closed to the public. It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, in a way that another great festival, Open House, also offers. In other words, many people are just plain nosy, rather than miserly in their Culture Night activities. For example, one of the biggest queues I saw on the night was to tour Iveagh House, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is usually a queue of similar length to have a tour of Freemasons’ Hall; to the extent that it took us about four years of dedicated event queue monitoring to nab an Open House tour in a quiet-ish moment last year. One of my regular Culture Night/Open House goals is to add another previously unexplored building to my repertoire.

Culture Brochure

Deciding on our culture route!

Another great aspect of Culture Night is that institutions and charities not directly involved in the business of culture open up and invite visitors to learn something new. For example, Concern Worldwide, The Mendicity Institution, Amnesty International and Focus Ireland were all giving talks and raising awareness of their work. Add to that various community groups such as the Irish Polish Society and the Afghan Community of Ireland and you can see that there is much more to Culture Night than an open invitation to free loaders. It is also worth pointing out that many of the places open, such as the national cultural institutions would be free to visit anyway (though donations are requested). There is the additional pleasure of visiting cultural venues after hours, which can only be good for encouraging people to take the time to browse the exhibits. Visiting places out of hours feels like a delicious treat to be savoured.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people who visit places during this events will follow up new discoveries and pay for events or buy a piece of art in the future. All in all, I think that the Culture Night is a positive initiative one which should have a productive knock-on effect over the years. Or maybe that is just my wishful thinking. I admit though, that it is going to be hard to calculate the benefits in terms of hard cash to various arts organisations, practitioners and writers.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question…

 

 

 

A Library Digression

Early Harborne Libary

An old print of Harborne Library

With all of the debate about the future of libraries going on after huge service cuts in Britain, (though Ed Vaizey says it’s not as bad as we think it is!) I have been casting my mind back to my own experiences of public libraries. First as a child and later, as a parent, I have always taken libraries for granted. I cannot remember a time when I did not have a library ticket for a library, often for more if you count academic libraries. As any reader of this blog knows, I regularly sneak library reads into my TBR Pile schedule. At present, I hold tickets for Dublin City and DLR County Council libraries, which gives me oodles of possibilities. I also often take advantage of the new (ish) online Libraries Ireland portal for reserving books at no extra cost. In short, I love libraries, whether in Britain or Ireland, and still use them a great deal. It’s a pity that Ed Vaizey has no real grasp of what libraries can and do mean to many people.

My library love affair began many years ago, growing up in Birmingham. My mum registered me at our local library when I was pre-school age; and in turn, our daughter had her own library ticket before she could even read, from Hereford library. I grew up with a library routine that saw us exchanging our books every Saturday morning. As teenager, I used to take my younger sisters for the regular Saturday library trip, borrowing endless (or so it seemed to me) Topsy and Tim adventures every week. Amongst my own reading then was Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and Georgette Heyer. I was a big fan of RJ Unstead’s history books and Henry Treece’s adventures of ancient Britain. And let’s not forget my teenage swashbuckling hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel rescuing the innocent (and of course les aristos were always simply misunderstood) from Mademoiselle Guillotine. I do occasionally ponder on how many books I would never have read, had I not had ready access to a library. We always had books for Christmas and birthdays, but with four children, there was always going to be a limit on book buying. As I grew older, I saved up pocket money to buy paperbacks, but they were more than likely books by authors whom I had first discovered in the library.

Harborne Libary

Harborne Library

The earliest library I remember was an old building, a former Masonic Hall, in Harborne High Street. The library steps were where I remember waiting to see Father Christmas drive past in his sleigh one chilly December evening (no November appearances in those days). The children’s section was a treasure trove of books, up an imposing flight of stairs with a curving banister. Funnily enough, it looked much larger when I was a child. Also upstairs was the Reading Room, a mysterious chamber only accessible to grownups. Alas, I discovered on a recent visit that it no longer exists so I never managed to penetrate its solemn interior. The adult section was downstairs, all dark wood shelving and creaking floors. At that time, library cards were still just the brown cardboard variety. I think we had four cards each (I seem to recall that children’s cards were blue) so that was all the books you could borrow. When you took out a book, the librarian took the coloured slip from a pocket inside the front cover and tucked it inside one of your library tickets, which was then filed until your return visit. The plastic bar-coded cards simply don’t have the same magic about them.

Quinton Library

Quinton Library

When we moved house to a different suburb of Birmingham, we also moved to a new library. Quinton library was awaiting re-development. In consequence, we spent time choosing books in a dingy temporary building while all the exciting work went on next door. What finally emerged from the rubble was a shiny new library and community centre with more glass than walls and big comfortable sofas. In my memory, the overriding impression is that of a large space filled with books and bright orange furniture, but I may be mistaken about the colour. In sum, I remember it as very 70s in its bright and breezy welcoming style. All apart from the head librarian, who was a very scary woman and not at all welcoming in manner (well, not to children anyway). The mystery was that she didn’t look as though she ought to be terrifying, not being an archetypical ancient custodian of the books, but a comparatively young woman. She obviously didn’t really want to be lending the books, or at least not to children!

Despite the best efforts of the intimidating head librarian, I loved going to the library and devoured my regular quota of books. For quite a few years, I cherished a dream of becoming a librarian after leaving school. When I was younger, I even created my own library cards and made tickets to stick in my own books. In the fifth form, I went along to a careers advice talk and was sure of my vocation to be a librarian. At some point however, I abandoned that dream and settled for being a lifelong library user instead.

I suppose I should get back to the TBR Pile now…

Picture Credits: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/ – with thanks

Book Shelves on the Move: A Reading Renaissance?

Book Shelves

A Fresh Reading Start?

The Landing Book Shelves (the actual shelves that is, as opposed to the blog) have had a bit of a shake-up in recent weeks, because of some building work involving window replacement. The upshot is that one set of shelves is no longer on the landing, but in the hall. As other shelves have similarly moved around somewhat, many books are now in different locations and a certain amount of confusion and mixing of genres has arisen. On the other hand, this has been a great opportunity to re-discover overlooked titles and authors. It has also had the slightly depressing result of making me realise just how many books in the house (let alone on The Landing Book Shelves) remain un-read. I shy away from doing a serious count (as Cathy at 747 Books has bravely done) because I don’t want to lower my literary morale any further. Although I am now beginning to consider re-naming the blog ‘The Household Book Shelves’ since that is a more realistic picture of the challenge ahead. At this rate I may have to ban myself from going to the library.

More Book Shelves

Plenty of Penguins

In the spirit of a spring renaissance I have therefore decided to take a positive view of the un-read books and to try see them all as so much bookish potential, rather than as a task to be completed. I think that if I persist in treating them as items to be ticked off a list, then I might as well give up the whole enterprise, since it will no longer be any pleasure. With that in mind, I have been enjoying myself by making mental note of a few random titles that had previously slipped off my radar. So far, I have accumulated about half a dozen novels, belonging to either me or He Who Put The Shelves Up, that have been floating around for a while. Some of them, such as The Llangollen Ladies (Mary Gordon) and The Children of the Archbishop (Norman Collins) are Trinity Book Sale purchases from a couple of years ago. Perhaps it is no bad thing that we missed this year’s event due to a change in dates. The half-price Saturday could be a very tempting affair indeed and consequently, inestimably dangerous to the state of the TBR Pile.

A Small Book Shelf

Mainly Children’s Books

Therefore, the next few posts will I hope, feature some true examples unearthed from the TBR Pile because of the new shelf arrangements. It has been quite nice to discover books that have languished un-noticed for months (or even years). It has even been nice to do some very necessary dusting of books and shelves as everything was put back in place. Now, at least I have clean books to read! I have even been toying with the idea of creating a proper catalogue as an excuse to practice my very rusty data base skills. I have come as far as naming a file in this worthy enterprise and that’s about all.

I am not sure yet which title will feature in the next post, but I am leaning towards political skulduggery in the sixteenth century so I have a couple of options to consider. Drop by again soon if you want to see what pops up on The Landing Book Shelves.

Penguin Postcards for ‘A Month of Letters’

Penguin Postcards Box

100 cards to choose from…

Longstanding readers of The Landing will know that February is the time for my contribution to the Month of Letters Challenge (#LetterMo). American writer Mary Robinette Kowal runs the letter writing challenge and you can check out the Month of Letters website for details if you want to jump on board. I have always loved both writing and receiving letters and I am also a great hoarder of letters. I have stopped throwing old letters out in a fit of spring-cleaning, as I have discovered that that way lies regret. I used to have a French pen friend when I was at school (though I don’t think the relationship lasted for long) and I wish I still had the letters. The Bookworm recently asked if she could read some of the letters between me and my school friends (just think, we actually used to write to each other in the summer holidays, how quaint was that!) The nice thing is that I have letters going back for many years, from people with whom I am still in contact. What will people do in the future when they want to have a burst of nostalgia? Comb through their email archive I suppose. Methinks it hardly sounds like an enticing prospect. It did occur to me that I should have my own mini challenge to re-read an old letter on every day of the month, but I think after all that I will just stick to writing to people in February. Maybe I will save re-reading letters for the dark, chilly November evenings by the fireside.

This year, by way of a change I have decided to write postcards for everyone, from my lovely box of Penguin book jacket postcards. My original aim was to try to match a person to a book postcard, but I’m not sure how realistic that will be to manage. So far, I think I have done reasonably well matching two friends who like gardening and cooking respectively, with an appropriate choice of book title. I also despatched an art-themed postcard to a creative artist friend, so far so good. Ideally, I would like to match each recipient with a favourite author, book, genre or topic as far as possible. However, I have been through the box a few times now and I have discovered that some book titles might be difficult to place with a home. I suggest Scootering: a Penguin Handbook or Common Sense about Smoking: a Penguin Special as uncommon choices for uncommon readers. On the fiction front while Orange PenguinsA Severed Head (Iris Murdoch) and Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh) are fine as books, would you choose to send them as a postcard design unless you were sure of a good reception?

Penguin Postcards Selection

I’ll never use all of them…

I will write an update on my progress with the book title/matching process in a few days. Meanwhile I might delve into depths of The Landing and see what I have unread in the way of collected letters. I think I may have mentioned before that I enjoy reading other people’s letters…all above board, of course…

Romans on The Landing: Ecce Romani

Today’s post is about a studious little side-project to my TBR Pile endeavours, though I am not sure whether it will be a long-lasting one or not. I have begun to tackle a cherished ambition to have a go at learning Latin, a language that I never studied at school. My impetus for this ambition fulfilment is that The Bookworm is taking Latin classes so I thought that I would keep her company. Now, to be absolutely clear about this, she is in her second year of Latin study, so it has taken me long enough to screw my courage to the sticking place and get on with a spot of conjugating. So, without even a thought of New Year resolutions, I have acquired a new Reading Challenge.

Ecce Romani

Four to go…

I am working from Ecce Romani: A Latin Reading Course, which was passed on to us by a friend, so I need not feel too guilty if this doesn’t work out. At least I won’t have spent a fortune on my texts. The edition I have is an older version rather than the more recently updated one, but I don’t think it will make much difference. After all, the language can hardly change, can it? The Scottish Classics Group wrote the series, originally published in 1971 (Oliver and Boyd, an imprint of the Longman Group). Longman reprinted the series many times, the edition I have being the seventeenth impression (2000). I am sure that many people must have memories, both good and bad, of studying along with Marcus, Sextus, Cornelia and Flavia. It reminds me of the Peter and Jane reading books from my school days.

I have Ecce Romani books one to four to work through and then I will see where to go from there (assuming I make it that far). Alongside, I thought that I might dip into the Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge School Classics Project) series from time to time, as this is the text used by The Bookworm. Cambridge also has online activities to tie in with the books, which might be handy for vocabulary testing. Finally, if I feel truly brave I will tackle some poetry from the poetry anthology called Carpe Viam (The Classical Association of Ireland, 1993, 1998). I am not sure whether I will get as far as the Latin poetry any time soon but I do have good intentions.

Cambridge Latin

How far will I get?

On with the next chapter of my challenge…