Book Review//England for All Seasons by Susan Allen Toth



Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I love the United Kingdom. It is my favorite place to travel to on vacation. I frequently get asked why we are returning there yet again when there is so much of the world yet to be explored. It is hard to explain. Some places just fit. Susan Allen Toth understands that.

I read her book My Love Affair With England earlier in the year and enjoyed it. England for All Seasons was just as enjoyable. Toth loves every bit of England (with a few excursions into Scotland and Wales) and her love comes through unabashedly. Her brief essays about everything from The Imperial War Museum to the sweet trolley to gardens she has visited are informative and affectionate. The facts about opening times and contact information at the end of the chapters are sometimes outdated now but that is only to be expected of a book written in 1997. Gardens are a great love of Toth's and there are quite a few chapters about different ones she has visited. I am not much a gardener but I still enjoyed these chapters and immediately dreamed of planning a tour around the countryside.

Toth is also a great book lover and I could relate to the following quote.

Because of books, I grew up believing that England was a magical country, inhabited by such fascinating characters as Dick Whittington's cat, Toad of Toad Hall, Sara Crewe, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, and Maggie Tulliver. For years I didn't bother to sort out its real geography.  Instead, on a vague mental map, I brushed in patchy fields with wandering hedgerows, windswept moors, rocky pastures on misty hills, lonely miles of jagged seacoast, and a labyrinth of gas-lit London streets. Starting with nursery-rhyme places, I soon added Ratty's great River, Chrisopher Robin's Forest, Bilbo's peaceful Shire, Doctor Doolittle's Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, and the mysterious London park where Mary Poppins once descended from the sky with an open umbrella. 

Well, exactly. Toth understands that not only is England a beautiful country in its own right but it is also a place of dreams and literary references that leave a person with the constant feeling of having walked into a storybook. Anyone who can head a chapter with these sentences is a person I understand.

Forget cashmere sweaters, skirt lengths of Harris tweed, Wedgewood teacups, and satiny black umbrellas. A book lover carries home souvenirs that look plainer, weigh more, but last a lot longer. 

I have always said that books are the ultimate souvenir. My daughter and I leave for Scotland tomorrow and I will be thinking of the above quote as I browse a few bookshops. I will leave you with one more quote from England for All Seasons. 

Sometimes I can shut my eyes and open them in memory on Regent Street or Birdcage Walk or the Victoria Embankment. I get flashes of red double-decker buses jammed together in traffic along Knightsbridge, pigeons fluttering in Trafalgar Square, emerald lawns in Regent's Park, crackling-new books--not available yet, if ever, in the U.S.--stacked near the cashier's desk at Hatchard's. At such moments, London seems very close, and I think I can almost imagine that wonderful, rainy, acrid smell...Cities are like people; who can ever satisfactorily explain why he or she loves one and not another? Venice, not Rome? Amsterdam, not Brussels? San Francisco, not New York? Above all, London, not someplace else? Crowded, chilly, increasingly expensive, grimy, touristy, demoralized London? Yes, above all London!

Interestingly, over three years ago before I ever read Toth's books, I wrote a post with the same title as one of her books. You can read my version of My Love Affair With England here. It is still one of my favorite posts I have ever written.

6 comments

  1. I hope that you love Scotland as much as London!

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    1. Well, Celia wants to move there so I think it was a success!

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  2. At such time as I get to visit England at last, I will try to remember to read these books first!

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    1. I hope you are able to go sometime. You would love it. It is hard to travel when you have little kids though. If you take them with you it is expensive and if you leave them behind it takes a lot of organization.

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