Thursday, 27 June 2013

Traditional Crafts: The Rural Industries of England & Wales

The Rural Industries of England & Wales III: Decorative Crafts and Rural Potteries.
 This is a handsome hardback book I bought to add to my collection of traditional craft books, which has a preference for books from the seventies; there was a great number of wonderful crafts books produced in that decade.  It was the lovely cover design that attracted me.   This edition was published in 1978, but the original edition was from 1927.

The chapters are on: Decorative Crafts and Their Place In Village Life; Lace-Making, Home Crafts and Industries, Rural Potteries, Lapidary Workers.

I will be featuring many other traditional craft books.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson

On hearing so many good things about D.E. Stevenson's books, and being keen on a certain type of vintage fiction, I felt it was past time for me to begin reading some of her books and borrowed this one from the library (but with a less romantic cover).  Right away I liked her style of writing and knew 'The House of the Deer', from 1971, would be one I would enjoy reading, especially with it being set in the Highlands of Scotland, which I love. 
 Gerald Burleigh-Brown is coerced, by his boss and brother-in-law Sir Walter MacCallum, to take his place and spend a holiday in an old house in the wilds of Scotland with some good friends of his and participate in the deer culling in the deer forest there.  There is much description of deer stalking, which I momentarily thought might put me off, but this is a very good story with elements of mystery, gentle romance, and adventure, and I believe it would appeal equally to men and women.  There are some rather exciting scenes in the second half of the book involving a small gang of dangerous criminals, but I'm giving nothing away to spoil the plot.
Here is an interesting detailed description of the house itself:
"Gerald looked at the old house with interest.  It was on the side of a hill near a burn and was built of rough grey stone.  The windows were on different levels and were of different sizes and shapes:  some were large and square, others were small and oblong.  Those facing west were built into a kind of bow, like half a tower.  Above that the half-tower became a whole tower with windows facing in three directions.  The roof, which was made of slate, was steep and uneven; gables jutted out at all angles and twisted chimneys sprouted in unexpected places.  The pepper-pot turrets, which had been added "just for fun", gave the place a rakish appearance.   "I've never seen anything like it before!" Gerald exclaimed.  "No, and you never will," declared Mac, smiling.
The House of the Deer was unique inside as well as outside.  There was one large room which ran through the centre of the house on the ground floor and had windows facing east and west.  It was used as a sitting-room at one end and as a dining-room at the other.  This was the old part of the house, as could be seen from the thickness of the walls.  The windows were set in deep embrasures which were filled with cushioned window-seats.  Halfway down one side of the room there was a huge stone fireplace with a wrought-iron grate for burning logs.  The furniture consisted of large chairs upholstered in brown leather (which probably had been new in Victorian times) and large bookcases containing books about fishing and shooting and the habits of deer.  There was a work-basket, bulging with grey woolen stockings, on one chair and a pile of papers on another."
The characters and their interactions seemed very real, and I look forward to reading more stories by D.E. Stevenson.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Brasses and Brass Rubbing

This is a handsome little hardcover book with a beautiful cover image of medieval brasses of a knight and lady. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Albion: The Origins of The English Imagination by Peter Ackroyd


'Albion' by Peter Ackroyd, is one of my favourite books.  It is utterly fascinating and when I read it a few years ago, I remember enjoying it and taking my time, slowing down my reading pace to deeply take everything in more fully, to absorb the bountiful prose relating to the miscellaneous subjects contained within.   This is a handsome book which successfully sets out to take the reader on a journey through the cultural history of England, beginning with the Anglo-Saxons and continuing through time, though not in an orderly, chronological manner, but in the manner of a delightful miscellany of topics and times.  This is a book in which one time-travels over the centuries and dips into a vast range of topics; including language, literature, religion, painting, theatre and music hall, music, architecture, philosophy, etc...

Bede, Beowulf, King Arthur, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, Hogarth, Turner, Purcell, Vaughan Williams, poetry, Romantics, Old English, London, Victoriana, Gothic style, trees, stone, cathedrals, ruins, gardens...the list goes on and on in the massive range of this book.  Open the pages anywhere and you will find interesting facts, fused with Peter Ackroyd's great talent for compiling and elaborating on history.  He never writes a dull, dry history book, his volumes are filled with fascination and imagination,  history is brought to life due to his method of going below the surface to reveal the facts and facets of everyday life in an entrancing way.

I found this section, in in the chapter, 'Among The Ruins,' to be illuminating:
"It is no paradox, therefore, that the culture of nineteenth-century England, which witnessed the development of an entirely new metropolitan civilisation, should itself have been similarly preoccupied with 'ancient times.'  It is none the less curious that the Victorian age of innovation should also be the age of restoration, that a fervent belief in progress should be accompanied by a deep need for revival, and that a period of unprecedented industrial and commercial expansion should also be a period of unremitting nostalgia...The close association with medievalism also provided an image of organic unity, of a civilisation established upon firm religious and cultural principles, in a period when every aspect of society was being called into doubt."
I can identify with this very much so, for as things in the world generally get more insane, aggressive, shallow, godless, high-tech, ugly, unnatural, etc..., I retreat into old books, art, good music, faith; the real and beautiful things that make one feel comforted, enlightened and inspired.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the cultural history of past times.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Folklore of East Anglia

My Folklore and Interesting Book Covers series:
I've been collecting the Folklore of the British Isles series of books, which were published in the seventies.  These are worth picking up when you come across one, the cover art and illustrations inside are very good and mysterious.  Indeed I have quite a lot of folklore books and they are always fascinating to read.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Alan Garner: Fantastical Adventures

These books above are, unfortunately, the only books I have by Alan Garner, the great and legendary fantasy writer.  The first one I read was The Owl Service, from 1967, which is set in Wales and incorporated the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogian  beginning with a mysterious scrabbling sound in a dusty attic and the discovery of old dinner plates found there, decorated with an intriguing owl pattern.  This book is strange, but rather bewitching in a way, I also watched the 1969 film of it as well.

 I didn't grow to really appreciate Alan Garner's writing until the summer before last, when I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  This wonderful and exciting book completely captivated me and I found it hard to put down.   It was written in 1960, and concerns brother and sister Colin and Susan, who come to the countryside for a few months whilst their parents are abroad. On their rambles they very soon get caught up in a terrifying adventure with evil goblins, a good wizard, elves and so on.  They have some harrowing experiences which are even scarier because they are running about exploring in an unfamiliar landscape, with a freedom that children rarely have today. 
"Once over the ridge,  they found themselves in a dell, bracken and boulder filled, and edged with rocks, in which were cracks, and fissures, and small caves; and before them a high-vaulted beech wood marched steeply down into the dusk.  The air was still and heavy, as though waiting for thunder; the only sound the concentrated whine of mosquitoes; and the thick sweet smell of bracken and flies was everywhere.  'I...I don't like this place, Colin,' said Susan:  'I feel that we're being watched.'  Colin did not laugh at her as he might normally have done.  He, too, had that feeling between the shoulder-blades, and he could have easily have imagined that something was moving among the shadows of the rocks; something that managed to keep out of sight.  So he gladly turned to climb back to the path."
After reading this one, I immediately had to buy the book that continues the story:  'The Moon of Gomrath.'  
"They hurried now.  Whether the change was in themselves or in the wood, Colin and Susan felt it.  The Edge had suddenly become, not quite malevolent, but alien, unsafe.  And they longed to be clear of the trees:  for either the light, or nerves, or both, seemed to be playing still further tricks on them.  They kept imagining that there was white movement among the tree tops-nothing clear, but suggested, and elusive."
 I read little of fantasy type books but there are some I've enjoyed very much and I intend to add more Alan Garner titles to my library in the future ( indeed I've just bought a copy of Elidor which is also a Lions edition, like the last two).  He weaves many threads into his stories, using fantasy, mythology, Celtic legends, history, and uses the landscape in such a way that makes it extremely important. The landscape is a dominant character; it's hills and stones and trees and wildness are the backdrop to everything.  Many of his books are listed as children/young adult fiction, but with all good writings of that genre, the stories are for anyone of any age who enjoys a good tale.  
Alan Garner portrait by Andrew Tift

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Barbara Pym Books

Better late than never, as here we are at the end of Barbara Pym Reading Week.  I first read Barbara Pym several years ago, have now read six or seven of them, and have always have rather mixed feelings over her stories.  I like some of them, but others not as well;  but they are still all well written.  I like the village settings and the more eccentric characters that sometimes pop up here and there, but along with the gentle humour, there is often an underlying melancholy tone throughout the stories, which can leave one with a slight sadness after reading them.  I remember two books that left me with a sadness being 'The Sweet Dove Died' and 'Less Than Angels.'  Another element is the subtle mocking of the characters, as if showing them to be rather silly or even pathetic, which can be mildly unnerving.  So one can begin reading the stories, feeling them to be light, fun, not-too-serious fiction, but soon knowing that there is much more depth and cunning behind the characters and storyline.

The week before last I read 'A Few Green Leaves' which I enjoyed, and this week 'A Glass Of Blessings.'  Both titles were interesting, but the last having a rather exasperating main character, Wilmet, who despite being self-assured, superior and highly observant and critical about others, was rather dim, passive, aimless and utterly self-centred, being blind about what was happening to those closest to her. I felt that she often wanted to be good and useful, indeed she did care about others to a small extent sometimes,  but generally expected to be led by the hand to do anything. This story did have quite a lot of funny lines in it, which I wish I had jotted down before I returned it to the library!

I possess four titles in my library (Crampton Hodnet, Some Tame Gazelle, Jane and Prudence, Less Than Angels);  1980s E. P. Dutton editions with attractively patterned covers and I must say that I was appalled at the covers of the new editions that have been recently republished.  They are cute, but tend to make the books look like just one more of the gang of dreaded "chick-lit" which I can't abide.  I can say the same for the new covers for Mary Stewart's books too.  It's worth seeking out the older printings for better cover designs.