Prather’s Pick: A handmade book
I found “Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams” by author-illustrator Susan Branch at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries one Friday, and then I had trouble putting it down all weekend long.
I’m not a stranger to Branch’s books. Her first book, “Heart of the Home,” was a recipe book — but no ordinary recipe book. It is a handmade book, handwritten and illustrated with charming watercolor pictures.
I have two of her books in my library, both gifts from my sister Darlene. The books are taken, at least in part, from “Heart of the Home.” One is “Love,” a little keepsake book that has recipes like strawberry cheesecake with chocolate crust, charming quotes, illustrations, poems and ideas for Valentine’s Day.
The other is a larger book, also taken from “Heart of the Home,” that is written in a similar way to “Love,” except that it has recipes such as pumpkin cheesecake and other information centering around fall.
The striking thing about all of Branch’s books is that, besides being illustrated with watercolor pictures, they are handwritten! Imagine that! “Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams” is 368 pages, all in hand-printed words. The print is similar to that used by elementary teachers. Probably because of the weight of the paper, the book is a little heavier than most.
“Martha’s Vineyard” is one in a trilogy of books that are based on Branch’s diaries, thus true life stories. In this book she writes about the time that she was 34 years old, separated from her husband and needing to “run away from home” by herself.
California was her home, and she wanted to see what it was like to live in a place where there were seasons so she ran away to the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. It was to be for just three months, to experience winter, spring, and summer.
So in early March she boarded a plane for Boston, took a bus to Wood’s Hole, and caught the ferry to the Island. Once there, she took a taxi to Edgartown and registered at the Kelly House.
On her second day on the Island, Branch bought a used car rather than rent one, and then she began looking through the “For Rent” ads in the newspaper. When the real estate woman took her to look at a rental, Branch “accidentally” bought a house.
In an interesting side story Branch recalls seeing the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in the first days that she stayed at the Kelly House. John Belushi had died. Since he had a connection to Martha’s Vineyard, the cast of the show had come to the island for the funeral. They had coffee in the dining room where Branch was seated. This is an example of some of the interesting stories from Branch’s diary.
And so the book continues, with watercolor drawings, photos, quotes from famous people like Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott, lines from song lyrics, and even a recipe or two, all interspersed in the text. The reader learns about the remodeling of her cottage, her kitties, the sights and scenes of the island seasons, visits from friends and family, and how she started writing her cookbook and got it published. There is a surprise at the end.
This book just makes me feel good all over. I have ordered one for myself.
“Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams” is published by Spring Street Publishing. It costs $28.95 in hardcover. You can also find the book at the Craig Branch of the Moffat County Libraries.
Branch has also revised “Heart of the Home” to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of her first book. It will be available July 2016. Besides that, there are two more books in her “you-are-there” trilogy.
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