Sunday, November 22, 2015

How The Heather Looks - Joan Bodger

I've heard about this book a few times, it's come up on my Amazon recommends list more than once, and it's been at the back of my mind to read it for a while, so I was delighted when it turned up in the last round of a postal book group. Unfortunately I got monumentally stuck on it and it's taken me a good 3 weeks to finally read all of its 225 pages. With a bit of effort (though to be fair there really hasn't been the opportunity) I should have done it in a day.

'How The Heather Looks' is 'a joyous journey to the British sources of children's books' it was first published in 1965 and is the account of the Bodger families summer in Britain (they're American) hunting for the locations immortalised in their favourite children's books. It seems to have quickly gone out of print, but to have made a deep enough impression on those who knew it to not have been quite forgotten and to have been ripe for rediscovery when it finally made it back into print.

It's 1958 and the Bodger's have come into some money, enough that they can make a long dreamed of trip over to the UK. Both Joan and John had British mothers, and both had happy memories of (I presume pre war trips) to England, something they want to share with their own children (Ian, almost 9, and Lucy, 2). The books they are seeking to fall into are family favourites shared between the generations, but I must admit few of them are particularly familiar to me, even if none are precisely unknown either.

There are a few reasons I struggled to get to grips with this book, the first being how overwhelmingly American I found the Bodger's, it's a neat illustration of the point Joan makes about how subtly foreign the UK is to her family despite their connections to it. Still the sense remains that this is a book written primarily for a different audience. It would also help if the books were favourites but for whatever reasons none of them were, not even 'Swallows and Amazons' or 'The Wind in the Willows'. 'Mistress Masham's Repose' is also discussed, and it would have been a favourite but I only read it for the first time this year.

There is also my perennial problem with non fiction - however well it's written, however engaging (and this is an engaging book) without a plot to keep me turning the page I'm very much out of sight out of mind. As interesting as I found 'How The Heather Looks' I'm now really craving an all out page turner that I can't put down.


  1. I keep imagining dragging a two-year old around looking for semi-fictional landscapes. Braver than me!

    1. And me, though this one seems quite amenable. It's for a whole summer though!

  2. This book sounds charming and how good it is back in print.

  3. It is charming, and worth picking up if you ever come across it, at least for a second look!