You’ll have noticed there has been a heavy focus on Christmas and festive reads for the past few weeks and there are still quite a few Christmas themed posts to come. Today’s review might look like a departure from that and I suppose it is. However, this book would make an excellent Christmas gift if you are looking for something that little bit different.
About the book
‘I blame the pencil. I hadn’t meant to do it. I wasn’t thinking. It just happened that way.’
In March 2020, as lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey published a sketch on social media with a plan to keep posting a drawing a day from his family home in Austin, Texas, until life returned to normal. One hundred and fifty pencil stubs later, he was still drawing.
Carey’s hand moved with world events, chronicling pandemic and politics. It reached into the past, taking inspiration from history, and escaped grim reality through flights of vivid imagination and studies of the natural world. The drawings became a way of charting time, of moving forward, and maintaining connection at a time of isolation.
This remarkable collection of words and drawings from the acclaimed author of Little and The Swallowed Man charts a tumultuous year in pencil, finding beauty amid the horror of extraordinary times.
I thoroughly enjoyed leafing through this book and I do feel that it is a book which needs to be enjoyed in its physical form. In the pieces of writing interspersed throughout the book, the author refers to his illustrations by number and it makes sense to be able to turn to the relevant drawing at the appropriate point.
There is almost a strange sense of nostalgia when reading this book, looking back at what has happened over the part 20 months or so. Although, as the author acknowledges, it most certainly is not over. Many of the drawings will evoke memories, such as the goats in a Welsh town or the everyday wildlife which so many people rediscovered during their short walks outside. The literary heroes of lockdown made me laugh such as Lady MacBeth, “who knew how to keep her hands clean”. There’s a common lived experience which will resonate with many of us. A few of the drawings bring a lump to the throat as we remember the passing of notable figures such as Captain Tom Moore, Olivia de Havilland, Christopher Plummer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Other significant events are marked such as Joe Biden’s election, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a winter storm in Texas, the impeachment of Donald Trump.
This book is an unusual way of chronicling a most remarkable time in our recent history. When Edward Carey casually said he’d do a drawing each day until this was all over, he would have had no idea of just how many drawings that would mean! Or how many of his beloved Tombow B pencils – the Goldilocks pencils – he would go through. The illustrations are excellent and many inspired me to go and find out more about the person or creature depicted. The writing was equally compelling and though I have to confess that I haven’t read anything by this author before, I now intend to rectify that.
B: A Year In Plagues & Pencils is a unique book which will be relatable to so many people. I certainly appreciated the talent of the author both with his words and his illustrations. The hardback edition of the book would make a beautiful addition to any book shelf as a Christmas gift but you may just want to buy an extra copy and savour it yourself.
My thanks to Katrina Power for arranging for a copy of this book to be sent to me for review. B: A Year in Plagues & Pencils is published by Gallic Books
and is available now from all good bookshops.
About the Author
Edward Carey was born in Norfolk, England. He is a novelist, visual artist, playwright and director. He is the author of four novels, including Little, which was a Times and Sunday Times book of the year, and the YA series The Iremonger Trilogy. Edward lives in the United States and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.