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Holiday Book Bonanaza ’09:
Reb Williams

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK)

Reb Williams has been writing for a living from the day she got paid in sherry and pies for an evening’s entertainment at the local Women’s Institute Christmas Party. Since then she’s worked for anyone who’ll give her money, from peers of the realm to bus drivers. Along the way she’s been a condom packer, orchestra-pit trombonist, voice-over artist, barbershop singer and the back end of a pantomime cow. Her most recent book is Grow Your Own Cows which is published by The Mund Publishing. 

This year, working on my own book about growing up in the Good Life, I revisited the book that was my family’s bible throughout the seventies – John Seymour’s Self Sufficiency. Although there’s an updated version still in print for today’s Grow Your Own-ers, the original has a particular power for those of us who, like my family, used Seymour’s template to shake up our own lives and quit the rat race. Written in a no-nonsense style, with a pinch of humour, the book tells it how it is to go back to the land. How can you resist a guru who tells you to always keep a cockerel with your chickens because “hens like having it off as much as we do”? Or in this quote from the 1973 edition:

“The trickle of dropouts coming from the cities into the countryside is increasing year by year. One can almost say now that it is becoming a small flood. Unfortunately these people don’t seem to have the slightest idea what to do when they get into the country…”

He was describing us. I’m sure of it.

I have so many favourite children’s books that it’s very hard to pick only one, but I’m tempted to choose a much misunderstood classic: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you or your kids have only ever watched the saccharine sweet TV show, you may well be put off ever picking up the Little House books, but I urge you to put those prejudices aside and give them a go. The original stories are fascinating, imagination-sparking tales that bring the past to life, and the real Laura is a far naughtier, more tomboyish, and tough heroine than you expect from a book written in the 1930s. Here is real self-sufficiency; the Ingalls family built their houses from whatever materials they could find on the Prairie, and if they didn’t produce enough food for the winter, they faced starvation. It puts modern life into sharp perspective.

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