Monday, 9 February 2015

The Lady in the Looking Glass

"People should not leave looking glasses hanging in their rooms any more than they should leave open cheque books or letters confessing some hideous crime." - Virginia Woolf 

I've been finding it really hard to focus on large amounts of reading at the moment, probably because it's so cold in my house that my brain just turns to mulch! So when I discovered this tiny book, at the princely sum of £3, I thought I'd give it a read.

Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite authors, I just love her writing style and the way her words flow so effortlessly. This little book contains five of her short stories, each one fizzing with thoughts, ideas, ramblings and musings. 

One of my favourites in this small collection is The Mark on The Wall, which shows the joys of what I can only describe as 'slow thinking'. The narrator pauses to notice a mark on the wall, a mark she can't take her eyes off. This leads to a chain of interconnected thoughts, as she ponders life and death and everything in between. Woolf's thoughts flit and fly at such a speed as she compares life to being 'blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour', all whilst sitting and staring at a mark on the wall. I love that Woolf conveys a mind so overflowing with ideas but so contained against a stuffy setting in a single room. Perhaps we should spend more time staring at marks on walls!

The title story of this short book is The Lady in the Looking Glass. I found this the most pertinent of all these stories, as it encompasses something I've been thinking about a lot recently. There are so many think pieces about 'selfie' culture floating around at the moment, and although first published in the late 1920s this story could easily be applied to our obsession with selfies and our online personas today. Does our reflection in the mirror validate ourselves or diminish us completely? Within the story, the image the woman presents to the world vanishes when she steps in front of the mirror. Her selfhood was simply made up of intriguing unopened letters, and exotic jewellery from her travels. Hopefully we are made up of more than our Instagram photos and Facebook likes... I'm sure Virginia Woolf would have something to say on the subject!

I don't want to get too deep and meaningful on a Monday... but if your after a short read that still has a lot of bite I'd really recommend this little collection of stories.

Have a lovely week! Xx

Monday, 2 February 2015

Ladybird by Design

Last weekend I visited the wonderful 'Ladybird by Design' exhibition thanks to a recommendation from Little Lewes. The display is being held at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, which is a beautiful example of 1930s art deco architecture and really makes you feel as though you're on a sophisticated ocean liner.

The exhibition takes a look back at the many designs created for the iconic Ladybird books. Although focusing on designs from the 1950s to 70s, I'm pretty sure no self-respecting Brit of any generation could escape childhood without reading one of these. Seeing the original illustrations up close was particularly interesting as they showed the amount of detail that went into each individual image. The paintings have lost none of their technicolour glory, with bright lollipop reds, yellows and greens befitting and Enid Blyton adventure. There's something quite modern about the simple and classic way each image and book was presented, and I'm sure many of today's children's book illustrators owe more than a little to the Ladybird artists.

Whilst Ladybird books hold a huge amount of nostalgia for many of us (I know my mum learnt to read on a strict diet of 'Peter and Jane'), what's perhaps most striking is just how 'of their time' they were. The books are so gender specific it seems almost comical. We have 'Shopping with Mother' and 'Learning with Mother' as well as 'Helping at Home' (with mother!). All whilst the men are depicted going out to work or showing their sons how to wash a car. Luckily for us we can look at these books as nostalgic artefacts of a very different time, happy in the knowledge that Ladybird no longer define their books by gender stereotypes.

When viewed altogether it's overwhelming to see just how many books and series were produced. Ladybird covered seemingly every topic from party games to countries of the world, founded in an honest and almost naive attempt to educate children on every subject imaginable. They printed each book on a single sheet of paper allowing them to produce books cheaply and efficiently at a time of paper rationing, creating beautifully designed books that were available to all.

'Ladybird by Design' is free and continues until 10th May. There is also a book available to coincide with the exhibition.