Winter days = Book days

The short days/long nights combo has finally arrived, allowing me to accumulate a stack of books without too much guilt. I look forward each evening to my post-prandial cup of tea, and the luxury of dipping into my pile, perhaps scanning and flipping, perhaps choosing one to settle in with and forget my surroundings.

I don’t read a lot of fiction during the spring and summer. I don’t dare. If I start one that suits me, I can’t put it down. No will power at all. Everything stops while I devour the chapters. I’m not a speedy reader, either, so we’re talking a couple of days, not a couple of hours.

So the winter then, is when I really dig into reading with gusto.  I’m pretty eclectic, but with a definite bias to farming/homesteading type books, some foodie stuff, light happy ending old fashioned fiction, and a fair amount of children’s literature.  I like a classic whodunnit, and will happily re-read favourites.

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Here then, is the pile I had going last week.

The Awakening of Miss Prim – this was recommended to me by a colleague, and I thought it would fit the bill for bedtime reading.  Indeed it ticked all the boxes:  light, wholesome, happy ending (ish), and slightly boring (so it can lull me).  It turns out to be one of those books that is philosophy dressed up as a novel.  I suspect the author has set herself up for a sequel, but I won’t be following Miss Prim into the next chapter of her life.  It did however, work admirably as a bedside book, and sent me off to sleep very quickly.

L.M. Montgomery – this is a short biography of the famous author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, by a well known Canadian writer.  I haven’t started it properly yet, but have dipped into it enough to know that I will enjoy the writing.  I am something of a LMM fanatic, owning all of her books, including her 5 volumes of journals which were edited and published posthumously.  I have read 2 other biographies, and look forward to this one.  If you’ve never heard of her, see if your library has Anne of Green Gables, her first book. It’s usually in the children’s section, though the author did not intend it as a children’s book.  Give it a go, and trust me, it’s better than the Wikipedia blurb implies.

A Flannel Shirt and Liberty – This one had to wait till I was finished Restoration Agriculture, so I’ve only just started it.  The subtitle is:  “British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914”, which pretty much describes the book.  It is a collection of articles and excerpts written by these women about their experiences and opportunities, edited by a history professor at the University of Alberta.  My maternal great grandmothers were just such women, which is why I picked up the book.  Though I have some family anecdotes and pictures, it is hard to imagine how they felt about their changes in circumstance, and this book is helping – most of the excerpts are from journals and letters from women who came out to the West and wrote home.  Well educated, genteel, accustomed to maids and cooks and washerwomen, and with few other skills besides embroidery, watercolour and music, these women were in a difficult place in England at the time – gold rushes world wide and emigration to the colonies meant that there were a million more women in Great Britain than men in that time period, and since “gentlewomen” were raised solely to be suitable wives, and most definitely not to work at menial tasks and jobs, many of them were likely to become spinsters living off the beneficence of male relatives or worse, become destitute.  Societies sprang up to chaperone these women to the colonies, where they might find opportunities of their own.  Both my great grandmothers came out with a sibling to stay with relatives on the Prairies, and it is clear that the idea was that they were to do their best to find someone to marry.  Which they obviously did, since here I am…The book is fascinating and my current mealtime reading.

Restoration Agriculture – Fabulous book.  I had seen a couple of YouTube videos of the author, Mark Shepard, speaking about what he calls “broad acre permaculture”, so I was somewhat prepared for the material in the book.  Mark writes very much as he speaks.  He’s forthright, down to earth, slightly impatient with people who worry about the grey areas – he’s all about doing.  Since his whole notion of restoration agriculture involves planting a LOT of trees, he’s got a point – they take a long time to grow, and the sooner they’re planted, the better.  It is not, on the other hand, a recipe book for how to create a permaculture farm – he describes all the elements, he describes what he’s done, and then he wants you to go out and get started planting, get trained, get educated from the resources in your area.  Agroforestry, silvopasturing, permaculture – they’re all part of what he calls restoration agriculture.  If you don’t have time to read, go listen to him on one of the podcasts he’s done for Permaculture Voices, or one of the many YouTube videos he’s featured in.

How Not to Be Wrong – subtitled “The power of mathematical thinking”.  I got this one for my younger teen, and ended up dipping into it myself.  It’s really about how all that math we learned in school that we think we’ve never used, is really all around us.  How using it intentionally can be powerful.  I read a couple of the anecdotes and the foreword.    I always read forewords and prefaces.  Probably why it takes me so long to get through a book.  That said, I haven’t done much more in this book, because it disappeared upstairs.  Which was the plan.  As long as I get it back before the due date…

How To Grow Perennial Vegetables – I got it after I started Restoration agriculture, because I was wondering what besides rhubarb, asparagus, nuts and grapes would be perennial that normal ordinary folk eat – and it turns out, quite a few things.  The book also includes a bunch of things I’ve never heard of, but in the main is full of actual possibilities.  I also realized once I’d read the foreword, that I knew who Martin Crawford is – he IS the agroforestry guy in the UK, and has written more than just the book in my stack.  His forest garden is quite well known in permaculture circles.  This was not so much a reading book as a browsing book and it went back and forth with me to work for a few days till I’d got through it.  I will probably get it out again after Christmas.

The Third Plate – this is also my third attempt at this book, and a failed one at that.  Dan Barber is probably known to many – he’s a famous American chef in the New York area, who has embraced the locavore trend and sustainable agriculture.  He also has numerous articles in papers and magazines, and you can find him on YouTube as well.  The reason I keep trying with this book is because he wrote an article just before the book came out in which he described a recent epiphany he’d experienced wherein he’d suddenly realized that sustainability was more than just eating the whole animal (a popular sustainability mantra), but also included the food and energy that goes into the creature and the farm it comes from.  I was interested in that thought and wanted to learn more about his perspective on it, but it turns out that The Third Plate is not really about that at all, or if it is, then he’s gone in a direction I’m not ready to absorb just at the moment, interesting though it is on the dust jacket.  The book reads as though he’s trying to channel Michael Pollan in style and format and it just doesn’t feel right in this voice.  I’m trying hard to get past this evidence of my superficial nature, but I think this one is going to get put aside till after Christmas as well.

Easy Upgrades Kitchens – this came home on a whim after a late night conversation with hubby about our future plans.  I love looking at pictures of beautiful kitchens.  I am never going to have a kitchen like any of them – I’m too messy, the word easy in the title is relative, and while I am not happy with many many aspects of my existing kitchen, I also don’t really know what I do want.  The book has given me one or two ideas though, which was kind of what I was hoping it would do.  The problem is that I’m inclined to want a recipe book solution – I want to be able to point to a picture and say “that’s what I want”.  But most of the kitchens in the book would occupy most of the first floor of my house, and “bumping” out a wall, as the featured homeowners seem to do as part of their “easy” upgrades isn’t an option.   Still, they are lovely…maybe my house would qualify for a This Old House makeover…

Delia’s Happy Christmas – now THIS is a recipe book.  I have avoided Delia (Smith) for years – when I first heard of her through her TV show, her cooking style seemed fussy and apparently used every cooking pot in the kitchen.  That was years ago, and perhaps my cooking has improved or something, because this book didn’t look intimidating at all, quite the contrary in fact (though her idea of casual holiday meals to pull together between Christmas and New Year’s involving oysters, pheasant and venison are just a tad out of my league).  In fact, it is from this book that my 16 yr old daughter pulled her recipe for hors d’oeuvres for a fundraiser she was involved in – puff pastry tarts, half with goat cheese, red onion and thyme, the other with pancetta, a slice of olive and a sage leaf.  They were delicious.  And amazing.  And simple!  She made them again for us to eat for supper one night (a whole dinner of puff pastry is delicious but not terribly good for the digestion, as it turns out, still totally worth it).  There are other easy and delicious recipes that also don’t use pheasant or oysters or every pot in the house, and her writing style is very easy to read.  A lovely book.

 

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Thimble Summer

This may be my all time favourite book for summer reading.

I was given a copy when I was 8, just before we moved to this farm.  It was an old book then, and years later as a parent I was worried my kids wouldn’t relate to it well.  However, we did it as a read aloud a few years ago, and though they were about 10 and 13 at the time, they loved it as much as I did.  I still re-read it occasionally.  With all the heat most of  southern Canada and the US are experiencing right now,  I was reminded me of the opening to the book.  The heroine, Garnet,  is about 9 or 10 in rural Wisconsin in the ’30’s.  The story follows her life on the family farm over a summer.   Here are some excerpts from the first chapter:

Garnet thought this must be the hottest day that had ever been in the world….It was like being inside of a drum.  The sky like a bright skin was stretched tight above the valley, and the earth too, was tight and hard with heat.  Later, when it was dark, there would be a noise of thunder, as though a great hand beat upon the drum….After supper each night her father came out of the house and looked up at the sky, then down at his fields of corn and oats.  “No, ” he would say, shaking his head, “no rain tonight.”

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Citronella Hauser came down the steps of her house flapping a dish towel like a fan.  She was a fat little girl, with red cheeks and thick yellow bangs.  “Land!” she called to Garnet.  “Isn’t it hot!” Where you going?”

“For the mail,” said Garnet.  “We might go swimming,” she added thoughtfully.

But no. Citronella had to help her mother with the ironing.  “A fine thing to have to do on a day like this,” she said rather crossly.  “I bet you I’ll melt all over the kitchen floor like a pound and a half of butter.”

Garnet giggled at this picture and started on her way….

“Days like this,” remarked Citronella, “make me wish I could find a waterfall somewhere.  One that poured lemonade instead of water.  I’d sit under it all day with my mouth open.”

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After she had helped with the dishes, Garnet and Jay put on their bathing suits and went down to the river.  They had to go down a road, through a pasture, and across half a dozen sand bars before they came to a place that was deep enough to swim in.  This was a dark, quiet pool by a little island; trees hung over it and roots trailed in it.  Three turtles slid from a log as the children approached, making three slowly widening circles on the still surface.

“It looks like tea,” said Garnet, up to her neck in brownish lukewarm water.

“Feels like it too,” said Jay.

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Garnet said goodnight and tiptoed up the stairs to her room under the eaves.  It was so hot there that the candle in its holder had swooned till it was bent double…It was too hot even for a sheet.  She lay there, wet with perspiration, feeling the heat like heavy blankets and listening to the soft thunder, the empty  thunder, that brought no rain….Late in the night Garnet woke up with a strange feeling that something was about to happen.  She lay quite still, listening….slowly, one by one, as if someone were dropping pennies on the roof, came the raindrops.  Garnet held her breath:  the sound paused.  “Don’t stop!” she whispered.  A noise of wind stirred in the leaves, and then the rain burst strong and loud upon the world…

Doesn’t that whet your whistle?   Thimble Summer is by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1938, and a Newbery Medal winner.  After this opening, the story gets better and better – this kid has adventures, the kind that just happen to a person: she climbs trees, gets dirty, gets stuck places, flies into such a temper with her brother that she runs away.  At the same time, she is responsible (well, for a nine year old), helpful, more or less obedient, loyal  and loving.  Threaded throughout the fabric of the tale is the flow of farm life which provides fascinating glimpses into farming practices of the 1930’s, something I didn’t notice as a child reader, but find most interesting now.  Go find the book at your local library (it probably has air conditioning by the way), or buy it online, and give it a go.  Even if you don’t have kids.

I know there’s not a lot of spare time for reading at this time of year, but I think most of us fit in a chapter or two with a cup of tea or before bed.  So what pages are you turning this summer?