The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Tree Wisdom by Jacqueline Memory Paterson

I bought this book with some book vouchers that I was given as a graduation present. I like to get a book that feels like a gift with vouchers. I love vouchers!
At the time, a few years ago, I still had my caravan on a farm in Wales but realised there were only some of the trees surrounding it that I could identify, even though I had spent 10 years living alongside them. The gaps in my knowledge prompted me to buy this book.
I already had a pocket tree guide, but wanted to know more, about how each trees personality has been perceived and what they have been and are used for. This was the perfect choice.
I read the book straight off at the time and I remember whole chunks of it still. About how you still find lots of Yew trees in graveyards because they were associated with the afterlife, and how the Apple tree is the tree of love in many cultures (if you cut an apple in half there is a heart shape inside).
I still dip into the book, to remind myself of something I've read, or to use it as reference. Each chapter is dedicated to a tree type that complies with the ancient Ogham alphabet and has information on identification and where it is usually found, as well as uses and legends.
I was picking Hawthorn flowers recently on the Organic farm that I work on in Devon, to be dried for use in skin and heart remedies, so the book was brought down again from the shelf to re-read the relevant chapter. I remembered Hawthorn was one of the trees that fascinated me the most and is said to be held high in the affections of those who love the countryside. It always likes to grow near people, and in England it is the staple of most of our hedgerows because it is not greedy with the soil, so other plants grow around it happily. It was called the bread and cheese tree, because in the past, when people travelled the countryside looking for work, they could stave off hunger by chewing on its leaves. It is also known as The May tree because this is the month that it flowers (see my recent May Roundup post) and for this reason was a fertility symbol too and used as decoration during weddings.
Anyway, this book has been a treasure to me for a few years now and anyone who has an interest in trees and their folklore will find it a valuable addition to their book shelves. The cover illustration is beautiful too, making this book a lovely gift.
Just for the record, my caravan was surronded by a huge Ash tree down by the lake, several Alder trees, a Sycamore, some Hazel trees (when the mice broke into and squatted in my van one winter, they used my oven glove as a cosy warm place to sleep and the evidence left was a stash of empty hazel nut shells...the critters), Hawthorn, Holly and a Rowan tree. I almost forgot about the Larch tree too. I hope they are all still there.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Girls by Lori Lansens

This book was lent to me by my friends mum as an unusual read. I had seen a BBC documentary about Lori and Reba Schappell some years ago and so I was interested to give this book a try.
This novel is a fictional account of the lives of Rosie and Ruby Darlen, who are writing down their unusual life. They are the oldest living Craniopagus conjoined twins, so they are joined by the head and unable to be separated because of a shared essential vein. Other than that they are totally seperate people, different bodies, different brains, different personalities. Rosie wants to be a writer and so it is her voice that we hear for the first third of the book, telling their story through her eyes. She believes that their unusual story should be told, about how their mother abandoned them at birth, and how they were adopted by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, a kind and loving couple with no children of their own. Rosie tells us about their condition (Ruby has 2 club feet so has to be carried by her sister), their childhood on a Canadian farm, their closeness as sisters, and their relationship to their adoptive parents and their own story.
Ruby is coerced by her sister to include her own parts for the joint biography, and here the book takes on a new dimension, not just because we have a new voice, but there are some things that Rosie has chosen not to tell us. The sisters will not read each others writings until the book is complete.
It took me a little while to get my head around the fact that this book is fictional because I felt like I was reading a true story. It is very easy to read and I was engrossed quite quickly. It was when Ruby's voice came into it that realised I was completely attached to these sisters and I cared a lot about them. Each of them wheedle their way into your imagination with their stories, and their humourous encounters with other people. Some of their descriptions of peoples reactions had me laughing out loud. I was equally touched by their relationship to their kind and wise adoptive parents who bring them up in a world of love.
There are quite a few pre-emptive sections to warn you of something sad to come, and when it did I cried my eyes out. I can still get a lump in my throat when I think of it now. But this is in no way a depressing or self-indulgent story. It is inspiring, moving, funny and entertaining. It is about the closeness of families and a unique sisterly bond, and about being different. There is also a lot to say about identity, dependence and independence.
I really enjoyed reading this book and it surprised me by how attached I became to Rosie and Ruby. There were a few times along the way I had to remind myself that the were conjoined. Towards the end of the book Rosie says,
'It's easy for Nick (a friend) to say it doesn't matter if my story is ever read. He says, "Just that you wrote it Rosie, let that be enough." But I want more. So much more. I want this collection of words to transform themselves into visions of Ruby and me. I want to be remembered like long-ago friends.'
Lori Lansens certainly manages this with a skillfully written book that brings the twins to life.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

May Roundup

Apologies for my brief absence. I was working on the Devon Farm that I went to last year and we spent some time each day picking Hawthorn flowers (as in the picture, courtesy of the Wild About Britain website), to be dried and used for heart and skin remedies. We had fantastic weather and it was a great way to spend the mornings, in the sunshine gently gathering these lovely flowers. Also known as The May, this tree is perfect for my months roundup. Back to the books...
Read - 1 and three quarters of a book
Completed - 2 books...
Emma by Jane Austen
The Blue Fox by Sjon
Currently Reading - The Girls by Lori Lansens
TBR Pile - now at 81 (according to Good Reads) with one book added during May...
Water a book of short stories, part of the Ox-Tales series produced for Oxfam
Challenges - finished Emma by Jane Austen
Wishlist Additions -
Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
Babettes Feast by Karen Blixen
Discoveries -
The wonderful Almeida Theatre in London
Events -
Ruined at the Almeida Theatre, one of the best plays I have seen.
Kursk at the Everyman in Liverpool, totally brilliant, original and moving.
Also my 2nd Blogiversary!
June is already underway, as I try to integrate into ordinary city life after an idyllic week working on the farm in the sunshine.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye