Of the four books I've read so far this month three have been non-fiction. I'm so pleased about this as one of the things I wanted to do this year was read more factual books. I started out well at the beginning of the year, tailed off a bit, but am now firmly back on track. Exactly a quarter of the books I've read this year have been non-fiction. I'd like to up that to a third really, but we'll see how it goes. Anyway, I'm going to do quickie reviews of said three books from this month. First up, Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill by Gervase Phinn.
For Gervase Phinn growing old is not about a leisurely walk to the pub for a game of dominoes or snoozing in his favourite armchair. As this sparkling collection of his very best humorous writing shows, he may be 'out of the woods' but he is certainly not 'over the hill'.
Looking back over more than sixty years of family life, teaching, inspecting schools, writing and public speaking, Gervase never fails to unearth humour, character, warmth and wisdom from the most diverse of experiences, whether they be growing up in Rotherham with the most un-Yorkshirelike of names or describing why loud mobile phone users get his goat.
Brimming with nostalgia, gently mocking life's absurdities, never shy of an opinion, this is Gervase Phinn at his wittiest, twinkly-eyed best.
I couldn't have put it better myself. *g* At some stage I ought to start another one of my lists and it should be entitled, 'Books that will make you laugh when you need cheering up'. They would include books by Bill Bryson and Clive James but also this author, Gervase Phinn. He's written quite a number of books up to now, charting his life from childhood to old age in the Yorkshire Dales. He was a teacher who became a school's inspector and then turned his hand to writing autobiogrpahical books and poetry, very, very successfully; I think his books are probably well known world-wide as well as in the UK. This particular book is mostly an anthology of bits taken from his previous books. I've only read a couple of those so can't judge how much this is the case but judging from a few Amazon comments there isn't a lot of new stuff in it. That didn't matter to me - I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and laughed happily all the way through. There were stories of hardship that brought a lump to my throat, I hate to hear of abused or neglected children, it's my 'thing' and I find it hard to cope with. But that's life and it's not all beer and skittles and no-one knows that better than Gervase Phinn. I thought this was a gem of a book and heartily recommend it if you've not already read all of his previous books.
Next, A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse by Elizabeth Luard.
In an old farmhouse on the slopes of a mountain lying between Tregaron and Aberystwyth, Elisabeth Luard brings the produce of the land into her kitchen and turns it into delicious food. This book is her response to the changes she sees in her garden and the surrounding countryside throughout the seasons, with distinctive recipes at the end of each month's chapter. It is the story of a year spent planting and picking in the garden, roaming the countryside with her grandchildren and introducing them to the pleasures of rural living.
I got this from the library but am thinking seriously of getting my own copy as it was a delightful book. It includes not just some excellent recipes but also a monthly narrative on seasonal food, what's available from her garden and also in the hedgerows. We hear about her neighbours, life in an isolated Welsh farmhouse, and also her grandchildren who come to stay a lot. It must be idyllic for them to run wild around the area but also to have such a lovely grandmother who cooks with them and takes them on foraging trips. It helped that I know Wales a bit and could picture the author's wonderful descriptions of the landscape around the house, it's a beautiful country and not far from us so we go quite a lot.
Elizabeth Luard has a number of books available including autobiographical titles and other cookery books that mainly concentrate on European cuisine... French, Spanish, Italian and so forth. I may see if the library has any of those as, by the sound of it, she's led a very interesting, if not always easy, life.
Lastly, Travels with Macy by Bruce Fogle.
Travels with Macy is so named because of John Steinback's book, Travels with Charley. Part of the reason for this trip was because Fogle wanted to retrace Steinbeck's steps around the USA in the 1960s. But also, him being a Canadian, albeit one who has livedin the UK for 30 years, he wanted to find out if he was completely Anglicised or whether he was still a North American at heart.
The trip is undertaken in a GMC, a vintage camper van to us in the UK, and this becomes the author's home, with Macy, for the next ten weeks as he heads from Maine into Ontario, around The Lakes and across the northern states of the USA to Washington State, Oregon and so on.
I have to confess here that I've not read Travels with Charley, so it's hard for me to compare the two books, but I gather Steinbeck was disappointed with much that he saw and discovered. The same could definitely not be said of Mr. Fogle. His taste for adventure and for meeting new people shines out of this book. The dog, Macy, is completely adorbale and was admired and petted all around America. America itself is the America that my husband and I came across on our travels. By that I mean the wonderful landscapes and warm and welcoming people. People who were interested in us and where we came from, what we thought of the USA, and to help us make the most of our holidays. The author thought he was going to find an insular people but found completely the reverse - an openess and kindness in strangers that he'd not expected. I could say I was surprised too, but it would be a lie. We didn't have quite his experiences over there but time and again we struck up conversations with complete strangers and enjoyed them so much we remember them to this day. What he did appeals to me, I must say, but I don't think I could be away from my daughters and grandkids for months on end like that. Apparently around 3 million Americans have sold their houses and live permanently in what they call RVs and we call camper vans. While I couldn't be without a permanent home to go to, I do understand completely why they've done it, especially in the USA and Canada where I would imagine you never run out of places to go and things to see. Wonderful, wonderful book, I plan on buying my own copy of both the author's travelogues and am hoping there will be more from him.