Follow the Yellow

Archive of ‘books’ category

ladybird books

 

I absolutely love Ladybird Books… but then, is there anyone who doesn’t? They whisk you back into your childhood in an instant – suddenly you’re there all over again, fascinated by ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, or, my personal favourite, ‘The Enormous Turnip’ – and don’t even get me started on ‘Puddle Lane’. Though in fact, I think part of the magic is that actually, they have the power to take you back even further than that, into another, imaginary childhood, where things are priced in shillings, magnets are unaccountably fascinating, lawns are green, policemen are friendly and helpful, and Peter and Jane go Shopping with Mother or have a jolly time with Pat the Dog. All this and the opportunity to hone your skills at reading such essential words as ‘dog’, ‘girl’ and ‘ball’. I think the other reason I love Ladybird Books is because they also remind me of the sheer, electric joy of learning to read, of devouring whole books by myself.

Someone has obviously caught onto the universal appeal of the Ladybird Book because you can now buy notebooks and mugs and fridge magnets and suchlike with vintage Ladybird illustrations (see here), as well as a book, Boys and Girls: A Ladybird Book of Childhood. I’m not usually a one for novelty mugs or indeed those just-for-the-sake-of-it gift books that people give each other for Christmas and then never look at again, but I have to admit that I can see the appeal of these. But what I really want for Christmas is a real-life Tiptoes the mischievous kitten.

bunnies are best for bad moods

I am feeling cross today. I am in a bit of a bad temper. There are various reasons for this, but it is perhaps partly just an accumulation of little things. It’s been a long week and I have a very sore throat, and someone has stolen my recycling box from my front garden, and I have had a disaster with the blanket I am knitting for my friends’ baby, and my kitchen door has fallen off its hinges and my hair is not looking good today. None of these are especially important, but they are the kinds of small things that do sometimes put one in a bad mood.

There are lots of things I would quite like to be doing this weekend but I am not going to do any of them. Here are some of the things I would like to be doing:

I would like to be going to see the new play Peacock Boy by Crystal Stewart. Described as ‘a grubby adult fairy tale of desperation and deception’ this combination of live action, music and puppetry is on at Contact Theatre this weekend.

I would like to be going to look at lovely new artist’s books and publications at the Liverpool Artist’s Book Fair at Wolstenholme Projects this weekend.

I would like to be going to ‘Night of the Owl’ at A Foundation tonight. This event will offer the chance to see and hear some of the first results of a collaboration between the Owl Project and musicians Leafcutter John, Kaffe Matthews and Thor Magnusson to develop a new range of wooden instruments for live performance. It will also include performances from Philip Jeck, Tim Lambert and Simon Whetham as well as short films from Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan. There is more here.

Instead I have been staying inside, nourishing myself with cups of cinnamon tea and a hot water bottle, and reading The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard for the hundredth time, which is always very cheering. Sometimes small things can also put you in a better mood, especially if they are things like small fluffy bunnies.

I have also been looking at some good things on the internet. I have been listening to lovely live birdsong here, which can only be a very cheerful sort of thing.

I have also been reading about this interesting new project from the excellent if:book London, which describes itself as ‘an experiment in close-reading’: seven women, including Laura Kipnis and Naomi Alderman are reading The Golden Notebook by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, and will be carrying out an ongoing online conversation in the margins. The project went live on 10 November and it will be interesting to see how it develops: project objectives are to enable a culture of collaborative learning, and to explore the possibilities of carrying out complex conversations ‘messy, non-linear and complicated’ via the platforms offered by the web. I’m embarassed to admit that I’ve never actually read The Golden Notebook though it’s been on my ‘to read’ list for a long time – this project makes me want to go out and get myself a copy so I can read along.

And for moments when I feel a bit less intellectual, I have also been looking at pictures of other people’s breakfasts (mmm, breakfasts) and oh yes, of course, looking at photographs of bunnies. An orange rabbit is the best antidote to a bad mood. You can also try looking at silly photographs of dogs and videos of cats doing ridiculous things, of course. If a cat getting excited about putting its head in a box doesn’t cheer you up, then I’m afraid nothing will. It’s a fact.

In case you too are having a bad mood day and the bunnies haven’t done the trick, there’s some videos of a particularly entertaining cat called Maru doing that very thing here. I feel better already.

handmade nation

…along with the news of a very welcome election result, last week brought a message from America of a different sort to my door – an exciting parcel wrapped in brown paper.

Inside was a copy of a brand new book, Handmade Nation, sent to me all the way from Boston by lovely Meighan.

Meighan is the curator/author of the beautiful blog my love for you is a stampede of horses, where right now amongst many other things, you can find pictures from studio visits, images from artists’ sketchbooks, meercat brooches, a q&a with artist christian rex van minnen and temporary unicorn tattoos, plus new work from a huge range of emerging artists.


Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design
investigates today’s new wave of craft – a vibrant movement of artists, crafters and designers working with both traditional and nontraditional media to create highly innovative work that’s a world away from the traditions of floral embroidery and cross-stitch samplers. Authors Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerel have travelled 19,000 miles across the US to document this new craft revolution, which fuses traditional handcraft techniques with radical thinking, punk and anti-capitalist culture and the DIY ethos, and frequently crosses the boundary between craft and contemporary art. The book will also be accompanied by a documentary film of the same name due for release in 2009.

This beautifully-presented and inspiring book brings together profiles of 24 artists, designers and makers working with everything from embroidery to rug-hooking, shoe-making and paper-cutting, documenting their work, inspirations and methodologies as well as their work environments and processes. The profiles are accompanied by an interesting and thought-provoking selection of texts which explore the ‘handmade’ phenomenon in more detail, focussing on some of the related cultural and political issues. Essayists include Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Callie Janoff of the rather fabulously named Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of Craftivism.com and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty. Particularly interesting is the essay by Garth Johnson of extremecraft.com, ‘Down the Tubes: In Search of Internet Craft,’ which highlights the role of the online crafting community, emphasising the importance of the web both as a tool to market and sell products via sites like Etsy.com and as a platform to share ideas, network and collaborate.

With lovely illustrations and lettering by Kate Bingaman-Burt (including a beautiful timeline mapping the rise of craft’s new wave that evokes Sara Fannelli’s artist timeline at Tate Modern) Handmade Nation is a fascinating snapshot of the contemporary craft phenomenon in the US. The book also provides a valuable context for the movement, touching on the political ideologies at its heart; however, I would have been interested to read more critical writing unpacking some of these ideas in greater depth, investigating the potentially revolutionary agendas of craft’s new wave, and positing what the possible futures of the handmade movement might be. Altogether though, there’s no doubt that Handmade Nation is a hugely enjoyable read, packed with ideas and inspirations. Here’s to the continued rise of DIY, art, craft and design!

For more information about Handmade Nation check out the blog and the official website. There’s also a q&a with Faythe Levine on my love for you is a stampede of horses, and an interview with both authors in NYLON here. There are lots of other people jumping on the ‘craft’ bandwagon at the moment, most recently India Knight in last week’s Sunday Times with this article on ‘credit crunch chic’.

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Whilst I was checking out the Princeton Architectural Press website, I also spotted this new book, A Year of Mornings. The book documents another interesting blog-based projects, 3191, which has a good story behind it. On the morning of December 7, 2006, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes each took a digital photo of everyday objects randomly arranged on their kitchen tables and, unbeknownst to one another, uploaded them to Flickr. Noticing a surprising similarity between their images, they decided to continue to document their respective mornings by posting one photo to a shared blog each weekday for a year – 3191, their site is named after the distance in miles between their homes in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. This new book brings together a range of images from the original Year of Mornings project, but Maria and Stephanie have already embarked on a new collaborative photographic project, entitled A Year of Evenings, which you can see here.

november

It’s November, and my autumn literature festival odyssey is now at an end. It’s been a good one. I have heard so many interesting and inspiring writers read over the last month or two that I have accumulated a huge list of new books to check out, starting with Claire Wigfall’s short stories, Sallie Day’s Palace of Strange Girls, Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual For Swallowing, and Anne Donovan’s Being Emily to name but a few. I have been to all kinds of great events, ranging from the Northern Poetry Slam to David Gaffney’s rather marvellous Destroy Powerpoint, to the very appropriately spooky Halloween launch for Comma Press’s New Uncanny anthology, and of course, the Manchester Blog Awards.

Since the blog awards, I have been enjoying reading the many and varied responses to the event, as well as to the shortlisted and award-winning blogs themselves. One or two have been less than complimentary, like this one from Manhattanchester, who dismissed the whole sorry affair as ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’ and characterised the blog readings as ‘flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting’ mumbles ‘about coffee and home appliances’:

They chose the wrong winners… evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!

…I have to admit, though, that actually I don’t mind much being considered whimsical or trite. In fact, dare I say it, I actually quite like it. I quite like domestic appliances too – they’re quite harmless really, sometimes quite useful for cooking and that kind of thing. I think it’s OK to write about domestic appliances if the mood takes you.

Anyway, other responses have been much more positive, emphasising the exciting possibilities of the critical mass of blogging activity in and around Manchester. I like this one from Adrian Slatcher on the Mancunian Way, which identifies the blog’s potential to act as a ‘genuine platform for new writing:’

What was noticeable last night is that there’s hardly a hair’s breadth anymore between the blog writer and the writer. Follow the Yellow Brick Road or Chicken and Pies could easily be the first chapter of an autobiographical novel…

I’m intrigued by the idea of a blog functioning like an autobiographical (or perhaps even not-so-autobiographical) novel. After all, I think even if you try to be quite honest, there’s something about the nature of this medium which necessitates you to assume a certain voice, a certain character, to tiptoe over into the territory of fiction. I think the ‘character’ or ‘voice’ of this blog is not dissimilar to me as I am ‘in real life’, but is quite a lot more perky. I feel quite jaunty and frivolous when I write this blog, as if I am a peripheral character in a Nancy Mitford novel. There’s a touch of the lashings-of-ginger-beers too I suspect – that’s the bit of me that grew up on Enid Blyton and likes words like ‘marvellous’ and ‘lovely’ and has probably read I Capture the Castle one too many times.

I have to admit, though, that for me, the whole blog awards experience has been quite odd. I was genuinely very surprised to be shortlisted, and especially surprised to win. It was quite a shock to the system to realise that there are actual ‘readers’ out there – I don’t think I had really thought about readers before, having always assumed that very few people would be interested in listening to me happily rambling about things like baked potatoes or tights and sparrows. But suddenly lots of my friends are reading my blog, and the link even got sent around my office. It’s made me feel rather self-conscious: I realise that this blog has been largely a place for me to indulge myself, to play and experiment, rather than a particularly thought-out project. I started it mainly just because, not having much time to dedicate to writing at the moment, I hoped it would keep me going, even if just by forcing me to write the occasional small something-or-other. There’s never been a clear plan in mind: it feels entirely different from a polished piece of finished ‘proper’ writing.

Thinking about it though, maybe that’s part of what makes this medium interesting. It’s inherently organic, and there’s always space to play or to move in unexpected directions – to write about stuff you see out of the window, or on the bus, or to post a picture of your shoes if you feel like it – in a way that you would never feel free do in a more formal context. It’s a good way to break down your own barriers, to banish the fear that every piece of writing has to be ‘perfect’ in some way. And in the end, in spite of all the strangeness, winning the blog award has been an enormous encouragement – just to keep on playing, if nothing else. Perhaps not everything we write has to be carefully considered. Perhaps all these unimportant, frivolous (even trite or whimsical!) words can come together and start to mean something more. Perhaps it’s in precisely these kinds of fluid, open spaces, where you feel you can just meander about anything, just like I’m doing now, where sometimes things can happen.

So with all this in mind, in spite of the oddness, I’m going to keep going and see where this takes me. Isn’t it the whole point about yellow brick roads that they can lead you to good places, after all?