Rural Memoirs

I am happiest when exploring, and I have always been enraptured by the countryside, no matter which region I am visiting. In my reading life, I am drawn to rural memoirs, and have made my way through quite a few of them in the past. However, a lot of these are recent publications, or volumes which my library has on its nature shelves. I wanted to try and marry my love of forgotten books, with the rather niche genre of rural memoirs. After stumbling across a wonderful shelf on Goodreads, I have created a list of ten lesser known books which I very much want to get to, and soon.

1. Speak to the Earth: Pages from a Farmwife’s Journal by Rachel Peden (1974)

‘A farmwife for 45 years, Rachel Peden believed that the family farm’s best crop is a “harvest of the spirit.” In Speak to the Earth, she looks at life — domestic and wild, human and critter — through the eyes of someone who witnesses nine seasons of the year rather than the typical four. Peden views the farm as “a place of opportunity simultaneous with obligation, an immaculate fitting-together of plant and animal life.” Each year yields an abundance of small, priceless observations, and through her writings, Peden encourages readers to appreciate both the simple pleasures in life as well as the more profound qualities embodied in family and neighbors, mallards and ladybugs, possums and pigs, and the irresistible characteristics of old houses, local history, and changing times.’

2. When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journey of Staying Put by Vivian Swift (2008)

‘Following a lifetime of trekking across the globe, Vivian Swift, a freelance designer who racked up 23 temporary addresses in 20 years, finally dropped her well-worn futon mattress and rucksack in a small town on the edge of the Long Island Sound. She spent the next decade quietly taking stock of her life, her immediate surroundings, and, finally, what it means to call a place a home.

The result is When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Filled with watercolors of beautiful local landscapes, seasonal activities, and small, overlooked pleasures of easy living, each chapter chronicles the perks of remaining at home, including recipes, hobbies, and prized possessions of the small town lifestyle. At once gorgeously rendered and wholly original, this delightful and masterfully observed year of staying put conjures everything from youthful yearnings and romantic travels to lumpy, homemade sweaters and the gradations of March mud.’

3. The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet (1961)

‘This is a biography and astonishing adventure story of a woman who, left a widow in 1927, packed her five children onto a 25-foot boat and cruised the coastal waters of British Columbia, summer after summer.Muriel Wylie Blanchet acted single-handedly as skipper, navigator, engineer and, of course, mum, as she saw her crew through encounters with tides, fog, storms, rapids, cougars and bears. She sharpened in her children a special interest in Haida culture and in nature itself. In this book, she left us with a sensitive and compelling account of their journeys.’

4. The Happy Season by Mireille Burnand Cooper (1952)

‘From Kirkus Reviews: “A childhood summer in Sepey, Switzerland, has a mild, gentle recall of sunny time and comfortable family life. Papa, an artist, and Mama, the six sons and the two girls, make their return to the house that is the center of a three family reunion and this is the blissfully remembered record of the small incidents that loomed large in young Mireille’s life as she and her twin, Rita, struggled for recognition in the face of competition from Franz, Marcel, Rene, Tony and the boy twins, David and Daniel. There were relatives and visitors, godparents, games, the rats’ room (and polecats), storms and bathing parties, local celebrations and Sunday customs; there were expeditions to a neighboring castle, to a nearby farm and in the adult world, a bit of romance, a glimpse of death, and the comforting security of a safe home life. Relaxed and relaxing, this is pastel tinted nostalgia.”‘

5. The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey (1967)

‘Month by month chronicle of a woman’s life in Connecticut. Nature observations.

The shape of a year is written for those who enjoy gardening. You are allowed to glimpse daily moments in Jean Hersey’s life. Recipes are given. Grape juice is made, forsythias are forced and patchwork pillows are sewn. How to make maple peppermint tea, what to do with boiled day lilies and how you should winterize your perennials is included in this personal cycle of life.’

6. A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor (1993)

‘The sparkling memoir of an idyllic, bohemian childhood in an enchanted Tuscan castle between the wars.

When Kinta Beevor was five, her father, the painter Aubrey Waterfield, bought the sixteenth-century Fortezza della Brunella in the Tuscan village of Aulla. There her parents were part of a vibrant artistic community that included Aldous Huxley, Bernard Berenson, and D. H. Lawrence. Meanwhile, Kinta and her brother explored the glorious countryside, participated in the region’s many seasonal rites and rituals, and came to know and love the charming, resilient Italian people. With the coming of World War II the family had to leave Aulla; years later, though, Kinta would return to witness the courage and skill of the Tuscan people as they rebuilt their lives. Lyrical and witty, A Tuscan Childhood is alive with the timeless splendour of Italy.’

7. Long Ago When I Was Young by E. Nesbit (1966)

‘An autobiographical account by the author of “The Railway Children” and other children’s books, in which she describes a childhood spent sometimes within the security of her family and sometimes apart from them in schools she detested.’

8. On Island Time by Hilary Stewart (1998)

‘This book is for anyone who dreams of living on an island. Writer and artist Hilary Stewart recounts the tale of buying property on Quadra Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, and her determined search for the ideal house design. Through drawings and anecdotes, she shares her delight in discovering the small wonders of the natural world while exploring the nearby beaches, forests, and lakes, gathering seaweeds, mushrooms, plants and berries. Hilary Stewart also offers glimpses of some of the people and events that make up island life: learning local ways and history, attending Native peoples’ ceremonies, observing the water dowser, helping to discover unknown petroglyphs, circumnavigating Quadra Island on a boat, canoeing quiet lakes, coping with wild winter storms, taking part in the annual eagle count – and drumming up the full moon around a fire near the beach.’

9. A Croft in the Hills by Katharine Stewart (1996)

A Croft in the Hills captures life on a Scottish hill croft 50 years ago. A couple and their young daughter, fresh from life in the town, struggle to get the work done and make ends meet in an environment that is, at times, hard and unforgiving.’

10. The Outermost House by Henry Beston (1928)

‘A chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in a seaside cottage, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he “could not go.”

Instead, he sat down to try and capture in words the wonders of the magical landscape he found himself in thrall to: the migrations of seabirds, the rhythms of the tide, the windblown dunes, and the scatter of stars in the changing sky. Beston argued that, “The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.” Seventy-five years after they were first published, Beston’s words are more true than ever.’

Are you a fan of the rural memoir? Have you read any of these books?

9 thoughts on “Rural Memoirs

  1. Thanks, such a useful list! As always 🙂 I feel drawn to explore 2, 8 and 10. I’m not entirely new to rural environments/descriptions in writing, but I guess I never thought of it as a genre, but it makes perfect sense. Just to add on to the list, I have only recently entered the world of Willa Cather and have loved being immersed in her “My Àntonia”.

  2. The only one I have read is The Outermost House. I enjoyed it. It is slow and descriptive writing about a beautiful place. I grew up going to the Cape for vacations so I have a soft spot for it which might have increased my enjoyment.

  3. I have The Outermost House on my list of books to read. For many years, I was fascinated with memoirs about people who had moved and started over somewhere else, often in rural areas. Some that I read were The Egg and I; Spanish Lessons; The Olive Farm; Still Life with Chickens; Country Matters; And I Shall Have Some Peace There.

  4. I love rural memoirs too and haven’t read any of these, so thank you! Have you read any of Adrian Bell’s, he’s a would-be poet in London and takes up farming in Suffolk? They’re very good.

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