Add transporting books to your to-go bag!
Preparing For Whatever
I may have mentioned before that I have a dozen ex-sisters in law (long story). I’m still in touch with a few, including one who was recently discussing which books belong in her to-go bag. Here in the maritime Northwest, most people are very aware that The Big One could happen any time. After the horrendous quakes in Turkey and Syria, our Governor reminded us that we should all make like a scout and Be Prepared. That mostly means having a well-stocked to-go bag, which can be a backpack or small carryall of any kind. It’s supposed to hold essentials for a few days, from IDs, vital paperwork, food, water and medications to undies and extra socks. That’s already a pretty big pile to cram into a small bag, but as Karen so rightly said, “Waiting for disaster shouldn’t be tedious.”
That started me thinking about books I would definitely want to have on hand while waiting for a catastrophe to unfold. For me, the best choices would be books that make good doorways into another, more appealing, reality. When the tsunami whooshes and the ground shakes, escape literature would be perfect, right? Also, not to be a downer or anything, but as the crow flies, my island home is very, very close to Bangor Naval Station, a major US submarine base and a very likely target should anyone be feeling cross with Americans. We may not be Ground Zero but we’re probably only some fraction of a percent away, so why quibble?
Lovely Garden Books For Tough Times
Among the many books that transport me to pleasant places are garden books written by Margery Fish and Vita Sackville-West. Both were Englishwomen who came to gardening relatively late in life and both made remarkable gardens. If you’re traveling to England, East Lambrook Manor and Sissinghurst are still open to the public and still offer at least a bit of the personal qualities their makers gave to them. Since few of us can simply fly away when dire events occur, their books (still in print, at least in England) are a more reliable way to journey with these intrepid gardeners as they develop their own plant palettes and explore their way to success.
Gotta say that it never hurts to have an ancient stone wall or two for backdrop, as both gardens do, but both gardeners were also bold experimenters who didn’t mind making mistakes. Margery Fish in particular was funny and frank about her oopses and proved the claim that we learn more from error than from perfection (as if that actually existed). She taught me NOT to remove every tag from dead plants so you don’t just keep planting the same “good idea” things in places that aren’t actually optimal and having them die. She also did trials of grey and silver foliage plants and found that quite a few could grow happily in various kinds of shade despite the then-literature being adamant that they wouldn’t. Vita talked about the way a little color improved the famous White Garden (a heresy at the time). She also underlined ways that contrasts of form and a little pop of color could transform a stiff vignette. Good teachers both!
Whisked Away To Other Times & Places
Another set of books that are magically transporting for me have to do with magic in some form or other. Some of my favorites are intended for YA (Young Adult) readers, as well as some J-Fic written for tweens (roughly 8-12, depending on the kids). Some such books are dumb beyond belief but others are as well written and thoughtful as any SERIOUS adult book. (SERIOUS seems to be a euphemism for dire and depressing.) I’ve been reading Diana Wynne Jones’ books to my grandkids, who are currently enthralled by The House Of Many Ways, a very funny sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. Whimsical and wry, it would be an excellent book to read to young people (or anyone, really) by candlelight with the power off and no idea what might be coming next.
Tove Jansson’s delightful Moomintroll books were gateways to wonders of both the magical and natural worlds for me. As a child, finding the first English translation of Finn Family Moomintroll was better than birthdays and Christmas combined (much better, actually). As an adult, I especially treasure her Summer Book, written for adults at a time when she and her partner lived on Klovharu, a tiny island off the windy coast of Finland. Tove Jansson was a keen observer who was as taken with mosses as with trees, awake to weather shifts and fascinated by the ocean in all its moods. Though many people might find them start and barren, she found endless inspiration for her writing in her windswept, austere surroundings, where every green shoot was a treasure and the sea was both giver of great gifts and a frequent threat to life and home. Maybe that’s what makes her thoughtful, sometimes mysterious books such excellent reading when things change. Onward, right?
A DOZEN?! What’s wrong with those boys?!
Well, let’s be frank… Or maybe not. After all, some were from my ex’s side too, right?
The Margery Fish gardening books were the first ones I ever read as a novice gardener. I was enchanted and inspired by them, even though gardening on the other side of the world was never going to be the same as in England. However, her enthusiasm, experimentation, observations and sheer love of plants made me want to be a gardener. I still enjoy the books 40 years later! Later I discovered the Vita Sackville-West books and devoured them too. I visited both their gardens on a trip to England and that was a dream come true.
Deirdre, I’m so glad you got the chance to visit those amazing gardens. Even so many years after the original gardener have passed on, the gardens retain something of that personal flavor of exploration and wonder and the sheer delight of living with plants.
Thank you for the lovely book selections! Much appreciated as I have grandchildren and am always looking for good books for them. My fingers are crossed that neither Mother Earth nor man’s folly reaches you where you are.
Thanks, Barbara! Have you dicovered the Tea Dragon Society books? They are true treasures for kids and adults alike. I still have a few of those old Golden Books too, especially the stories by Margart Wise Brown with illustrations by Garth Williams and the P.L. Travers Mary Poppins books with the original illustrations (lots of nature bits in both).
I’m delighted that you’re a Tove Jansson fan too!
Margery Fish I did not know but I am now fixing that.
Chris, I hope you find as much pleasure in reading Margery Fish’s books as I do. Maybe start with We Made A Garden or An All The Year Garden