The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
This beautiful book, published in 1949, is a wistful, melancholic yearning collection of thoughts on the country, by H.E. Bates no less, who was obviously strongly drawn to the rural life. One can see that in his novels of course, but here everything rings particularly true.
Inevitably with the war so recently ended there was a search for something real and familiar and unspoilt. One hears that in British music of the era: Elgar's 'Cello concerto is a perfect example (even if composed 20 years earlier as a response to the First World War). This book is perhaps a counterpart to those feelings of loss and change and sadness, but also a pantheistic sense of hope through nature.
With chapters ranging from "Clouded August thorn" and "Overture to summer" to "Wealden Beauty" and "The Garden on leave", you soon get the idea of the direction of the prose, although Bate's is careful to remind us, surveying a dereclic house he once longed to live in, of "the destructive element of our time."
These autobiographical ramblings take place largely in Kent and Sussex, and it was a perfect match to have John Minton - himself a pacifist of course - to illuminate the pages. Unusually, his line drawings are printed in what I will describe as "Yew Tree Green" and they are beautiful. The rhapsodic response to Bate's words and once again a little nod to Samuel Palmer, bring out the very best in Minton.
There are exquisite chapter headings, full page drawings and lovely title page decorations. The words and image are unusually well matched here and this is truly a cherished book, for I find myself so in tune with much of the book, and in complete admiration of the drawings, I couldn't be without it on my shelves.