The Almanac

Book review

My in-tray is wobbling at me dangerously. I have an article to write, invoices to send and a small pile of books to review. But I’m so excited about this one that it’s jumping the queue. Lia Leendertz’s much anticipated Almanac has arrived, and I’m delighted to have got my hands on a copy.

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At the outset I should confess to a vested interest as one of the supporters for this crowd-funded book. Full title The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2018, it’s an old idea given a new twist for the Instagram age.

And therein lies the essential conundrum – or perhaps the unique selling point – of this book. In these days of iPhones and free wifi, when there’s seemingly an app for everything, why a printed almanac? Is it anything more than affectation to be lugging a physical book of tables around, when so much information is available online? I can only speak for myself, but there’s a simplicity to having your reference material on paper. As an experience, it’s slower, more reflective, and less prone to interruption and distraction. Does this mean I’ll be abandoning my phone? Chance would be a fine thing. But it’s good to have another reason to take a screen break.

The Almanac is a smallish book, smaller than A5 and satisfyingly plump. Not so fat that it makes it unwieldy, or heavy, just weighty enough to convey a sense of substance and authority, while the watercolour illustrations adorning the chunky cover board (there’s a crab, and a sheep and a worm and a slug, pumpkins, nasturtiums and phases of the moon) seem to say “there’s Good Stuff in here. But we’ll not be taking ourselves too seriously.” The supporters’ edition boasts oxblood red endpapers, a ribbon marker and an embossed title on the front cover, all decently casebound with a contrasting gold stitching visible in the spine and, while the standard edition omits these flourishes, it’s still a handsome little volume. I fear, in my home at least, it won’t be allowed the luxury of sitting around on display – there’s too much of daily interest to leave the book primly on a shelf, and it will have to fend for itself in the depths of my everyday bag.

Each month begins with an opening spread featuring a seasonal illustration, and a list of notable dates for that month. This is followed by an introductory page that sets the scene, with anecdotes, ephemera and Lia’s personal reflections on the month. Tabulated information, interspersed with illustrations by Emma Dibben and more of Lia’s observations, is presented for each month, arranged into sections on the sky, the weather, the sea, the garden, kitchen, festivities, recipes and nature.

In the few days since the book arrived, I’ve already extended my repertoire of cocktails, and earmarked recipes for bramble babka, parkin (might need some dairy-free tweaking) and quince and hazelnut mincemeat; I’ve learned that the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah is inextricably linked to the planting of trees, and put into my diary dates for wassailing and Imbolc. I’m aspiring to grow enough of our own food to produce a glut of anything other than blackberries and nasturtiums, and looking forward to gazing into the December sky at murmurations of starlings.

This beautifully written and handsomely produced guide to seasonal living and eating prompts us to step outside our busy built environment and take notice of the movement of the sky, the sea and the earth. If you have a yearning to slow down and connect with the world about you, this book is for you.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2018 by Lia Leendertz is published by Unbound and is currently on sale at Amazon for £3.99.