My favourite book that I've recently read is Erica Van Horn's Living Locally. It's one that I've pushed into other people's hands since, e-mailed friends about, quoted randomly on Twitter. Essentially, it's a diary recounting beautiful daily banalities - the weather, walking the dog, conversations with neighbours.
But Van Horn is, to use the local parlance, a blow-in and her entries are tinged with that sense of unpeeling a new country, while also clearly belonging there and knowing its rhythms. In a way, it captures my favourite thing about being an immigrant — the feeling that you're both sides of the glass, looking in from the outside, but seeing your reflection as if you were at once in both scenes. As well, it captures that peculiar quirkiness that is rural anywhere, but particularly rural Ireland.
"Living Locally selects entries from a daily journal written over five years about rural life in and around a farming valley in Tipperary, to the north of the Knockmealdown Mountains. With needle-sharp observation and in plain words, Van Horn makes remarkable what might otherwise have gone unrecorded: the familiarity of neighbours, of animals and of weather, the regularity of the patterns of transaction on roads and in nearby villages and towns, and, from an outsider’s perspective, the unfamiliarity of speech and custom. What results is a human geography whose immediacy recalls earlier local and rural records and enquiries, such as the diary of Francis Kilvert in the Welsh Borders in the 1870s, or Cecil Torr’s recollections from his Dartmoor village, Small Talk at Wreyland. In common with these is a concern with both the colloquial and the vernacular, and the strangeness found in such a concentration of repetition and usage." - Colin Sackett
But this still isn't the full story. Because Van Horn is no movie-ready American dropped in a madcap Irish town. It took me a while to realize that she herself is splendidly at home in this place because she's a little madcap herself. And I mean that in the best possible way. So for all its outsideness this is also a story of utter belonging, even in moments of stunned or exhausted bemurement at the language or the weather or the government. There's a oneness with it. And that's the part I love the most.
A random entry from her book:
"January 6 - I went back to the library today to return the books I took out just before Christmas. When I walked in, I was greeted by the same elderly woman with whom I had had a chat that day. She was returning her books too. We had both been looking at the table of recent acquisitions. She told me that she found it terrifying to think of going through the Christmas period without a supply of reading material at hand. She had brought her elderly sister with her that day so that she could take out four books on her card and four books on her sister’s card. All of the books were for herself. Her sister was blind and deaf, and sat quietly nearby during this conversation. I asked if she could have just brought her sister’s library card and not her sister since the sister obviously couldn’t look at or read the books. She said it was good for her sister to get out. She said “She is listening to us now even though she can’t hear it.”
You can buy Living Locally here.
And you can visit Van Horn's own shop here.
You can follow her blog too.
You can see Erica Van Horn's home here in Image magazine. Also, the source of the pictures included above too: Photography by Mark Scott.