The house was set in an orchard and we lived there with my grandparents. I shared the bedroom with my brother, and so my personal space was restricted. My three objects were a ukulele, a blackboard (and chalk) I carried everywhere so I could draw, and a white ‘comforter’ covered in tiny roses. I heaped the comforter over my head whenever I wanted privacy—mostly to tell stories to an imaginary friend or to negotiate encounters with some of the peculiar people who turned up at my grandmother’s house. (One of these was a very old lady, dressed in voluminous black, who carried an ear trumpet: I’ve not seen anyone like her since!) It hadn’t occurred to me, until I heard ME answer the same question with descriptions of his pets (a canary, a budgie and a white mouse) how clearly the objects represented fundamental traits.
Almost by definition, the books loved in childhood are slow books: we love to hear them over and over; and when we’re grownups may return to them not only to read to our own children, but for reassurance. Poems and stories kept in memory, fairy-tales, and bed time stories are part of this repertoire: I still love to be read to and I know I’m not alone in saying that being read to by my husband was part of how I fell in love.
Books about childhood, or rooted in childhood, can be powerful. A Slow Book choice in this category would be the Swedish-Finnish author, Tove Jansson’s, The Summer Book. Focused on the relationship between six year old Sophia and her grandmother, the story unfolds over a number of summers spent on a Finnish island. The limits of the landscape and volatility of the weather add to the clarity of a portrayal of the girl and her family following the death of the child’s mother. Images of old age; childhood fears; life and death and the sea; and especially the passionate nature of Sophia make for a book that is both pure and unsentimental. I’ve read it three times. I know that child—I miss her.