Monday, September 07, 2009


Culling books and potatoes

This morning I finished reading Ronald Blythe's new collection of essays, The Bookman's Tale (Canterbury Press 2009). The quote on the cover from a TLS review of his work reads: "...wonderfully crafted rural writing in which a true spirituality and keen observation holds hands with a sharp and kindly wit." Something to aspire to, in life and art. One of my favorite pieces in the book is entitled "The Bookshelf Cull" and I wish I could quote the entire thing. Bits must suffice. Many bits.

On the dangers of attempting to thin out: "Should you carry a dozen volumes from one shelf to another, you will most likely be carrying hundreds before you finish. Sequences will be thrown out; titles will have to be regrouped; subjects will demand respect." (p.42)

On deciding what to keep and what to pass along: "First, a large box for the chuck-outs, the space-makers. Then the mighty pause. What Christian hand could dispense with a 1901 history of the Quakers, spider and all? And might I not need four different editions of Emma?" (ibid)

On the embarrassment of lent books: "Long-borrowed volumes cry 'Thief!' They form a penitential pile, and will be returned to their own country." (ibid)

On the inherent difficulty of rearranging: "On and on I go, staggering up and down stairs, cuddling to me the treasures and the once-read and the ten-times-read, the gifts, the nice pick-ups, the inheritances..., the ceaselessly bought, the rarely abandoned - which is why the cardboard box is only a quarter full." (p.43)

Lovely bookishness aside, some real joys in this book are found in his use of language. His metaphors and turns of phrase shine on the pages, throughout:

"...the south wind in the poplars.... often rises to a roar and is sumptuous. It is as if the village is in full sail." (p.81)

"At five to eight exactly, the sun jumps into view like a smartly flicked coin." (p.92) (Wow!!! I wish I had written that! Instead, I come up with something such as, "The sun rose.")

"Outside, the rain-clouds race; inside, the papers strew the room. Half a shelf of books has given up all propriety and lies like abandoned ethics all over the study floor." (p.94).

I could go on and on. In fact I find I have. And I will continue to do so. Another set of joys within these essays is based on the inevitable cycles of rural life and season. And thus I happily read about Blythe blackberrying, and picking apples, and digging potatoes, as I do the very same things myself, this time of year. We picked six more quarts of blackberries yesterday, out of the mammoth patch in the woods nearby. And the last of the potatoes, Red Norland and Kennebec, came out of the garden over the weekend:

Digging potatoes reminds me of hunting for Easter eggs. We brought in the red and yellow onions as well, although I left in the ground the ones whose tops were still green enough to lead me to believe they will continue to plump up. The harvest is a satisfying sight, and I am thinking fondly of the winter soups and stews that these will become part of:

I also think longingly of clean dry root cellars of the past. While Ronald Blythe thinks of attics:

"My head is like an attic, full of things that might come in handy. You never know. People tell me how astonished they are at what it holds. They don't know that there is a cupboard full of questions." (p.111)

Just checked in after 3 idyllic weeks--along the Wales-Cheshire-Shropshire border on the Llangollen Canal, then in Blythe-type country on a hedge-rowed farm lane. Home to an unfrosted garden, but no more berries. Just now a sparrow is hopping across the lawn outside my window, almost indistinguishable from the scudding leaves. We hope you'll blog again this month--miss your evocative postings. Pat F in Brooklin
Hi Pat - thanks for the note - I'm still here but have been wrapped up in the this and that of life. I'm cleaning out the garden for winter, and wondering if today is finally the day the carrots need to come out of the ground. Glad to hear about your trip, it sounds lovely. I'm sure you did some book-hunting on those country lanes...?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?