Unfinished: The Journal of Beatrix Potter transcribed by Leslie Linder

Yet another library oddity – a collection of Potter’s journals, which were originally written in code, transcribed by Linder. Unfortunately although the cracking of the code was interesting, the journal entries themselves had value only for dipping in and out of. Potter had kept a private diary for her own purposes, and as such this was not written from prosperity, but instead just a collection of very human comments.

I do want to see if I can hunt out the Beatrix Potter collection at the V&A next time I am in London though. Linder donated much of it as part of his fascination with Potter.


Travels with My Sketchbook – Chris Riddell

As I ordinarily take my young son to the library, we always turn first to the children’s section so he can pick his books out to look through whilst I browse. As a Gaiman fan, I was therefore drawn to Riddle’s doodled journal, and borrowed it for me.

His daily doodles inspired me to pick up a new sketchpad, and they are often humerus and light. His role as Children’s Laureate was presented as both hard work and a dream come true as he trotted around the country giving talks and drawing on library and bookshop walls. Then there are bits and pieces from special events, or from projects going into publication which were absolute gifts. My favourites were generally illustrated quotes and poems.

Given its prominent placement in the library, I expected this to be very much a children’s book. It isn’t: it covers his children’s material, yes, but also current affairs commentary and his weekly Observer cartoon. Much as it stretches and humanises the Mediterranean crisis, the below is not an image that should be in a book in the junior (not even teenage) section of the library. There are many (every 3-4 pages) of these images humanising or mocking current affairs. I am glad they are there, they put his life into context against the events of 2015-16, but they change the tone of the book.

So don’t give this to your children, but do get it for yourself and share it with them as appropriate.

A View from the Foothills – Chris Mullin

When the media was flooded with discussions about Lord Mandelson’s autobiography and speculating about what would be in Blair’s, I decided to read a more junior minister’s diaries, already published. A View from the Foothills contains the diaries kept by Chris Mullin from the first time he became a junior minister until the last time he was shuffled out of the cabinet.

Mullin was a part of the New Labour machine who was positioned to be part of many discussions with cabinet members and Blair, without being so close to the powerful parts that he found it necessary to adapt the truth as much as others may do. His role as the Home Affairs  Select Committee chair (when not in government) gave insights into how MPs acted on controversial topics, and as a constituency MP he has to cope with his local Labour party and tries to help constituents who fall the wrong side of the government machinery.

Throughout this, the book retains a sense of humour, with a high note being when he was confronted by a Daily Mail reader who tells him what is wrong with the world, and who’s fault it is. Mullin cuts short his complaints by completing his  final “I blame…” with “Anyone but yourself”. These humorous notes are not always appreciated by Mullin’s colleagues, but make the book a lighter read.