Friday, August 09, 2013


a dark and rainy day in August...

...and yet there are golden sunflowers blooming in my heart.  Because the most charming author and artist (of all time? perhaps! as I've said here before, she is simply off the charts!), Susan Branch, has just published her new book.  And I, along with her thousands of other blog readers, had the unique experience of being able to follow along with her as she wrote and illustrated it over the last year.  Then we all pre-ordered it from her website, months ago, well knowing it would be wonderful, and a few days ago, received it a month earlier than expected.  What's better than a greatly-anticipated book sitting in one's mailbox, I ask you!  (Well, reading it, for starters...)  Here it is, A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (Vineyard Stories 2013):

Signed copies are available at her web store, and she is also about to embark on a cross-country book signing tour, in independent bookshops ranging from New England to California.

But the book, the book!  I've already read it twice.  It's a 260-page handwritten travel diary, a love letter really, to the people, places, and things that make life sweet, for her and for all of us.  A departure from her earlier books, which were mostly recipes, with bits of autobiography tucked in around them, this one is much more personal.  Because she's written the story of her own romance - with her husband, and with a place, rural England.  From the back cover of the book:  "NY to Southampton via Queen Mary 2 for serendipity, discovery, gardens, history, pubs, tearooms, recipes, footpaths, Queen's Jubilee, Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter."  What more do you need to know?  Well, she and her true love Joe celebrated their 25th anniversary by going on the trip of a lifetime - an ocean liner passage leading to two months in England to visit the homes and landscapes of her heroes. Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst, Beatrix Potter's Hill Top, and Jane Austen's Chawton foremost among them.  The first section of the book tells the story of Susan and Joe's initial meeting and romance, and the remainder fast-forwards to their anniversary trip last summer.  The book is filled with beautiful photographs and the meticulous hand-lettering and cheerful watercolors (and even a few recipes) that Susan is justly famous for.  Every page has her own words, quotations from other authors, travel advice, special little details - it's all totally delightful.  I know I must sound like I am gushing, but that seems to be what Susan inspires in people.  She has a way of touching upon what lies deep in our heart of hearts.  As I wrote in a comment on her lovely blog (really, you must visit it), she wears her heart on her sleeve, and reminds us that life is too fleeting not to do just that.  Let yourself love what you love, follow your dreams with diligence and persistence, and your life will surely unfurl like those sunflowers I mentioned earlier.

In short, though I usually hesitate to offer advice, here is a bit anyway: should you tire, in books, of ironic distance, post-postmoderism, ugliness and fear, etc., lay all that aside, pick up A Fine Romance, and let yourself believe.  It's like coming home again, at dusk, to a warm kitchen where a beloved friend waits for you.  With tea and cake, and even hankies, should you be in need of them.  This is where we truly live, and sweet it is.

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