The Rhythm of Selby by Marti Healy

I’m usually reluctant to accept unsolicited review copies; I like my blog to be as neutral and as reflective of my tastes as possible, and not a commercial concern. However, the lure of free books is sometimes difficult to resist, and when The Rhythm of Selby was offered to me, I clicked over to amazon, read the first few pages through the handy ‘look inside’ tool (isn’t that fantastic?) and decided I definitely wanted to read it. One thing you may not know about me is that I have a secret dream of being a Southern Belle and living in a dilapidated former Plantation house, surrounded by reminders of my former glory. I would be Scarlett O’Hara blended with Miss Havisham, dressed in faded silk, sitting on my porch from sunrise to sunset in a wicker rocking chair, shouting southern drawl edged abuse at passing schoolchildren while drinking bourbon from a hip flask. A girl can dream, right? So, when I saw that The Rhythm of Selby was all about celebrating the past, and the present, of the beautiful South Carolina town of Selby (a thinly veiled Aiken, where the author lives), I went weak at the knees. And I was not disappointed! Why am I moving to New York when I could live in Selby?!

Marti Healy has written a gloriously affectionate account of the delights of living in a small town with a rich history and a tight knit community. Ready for a fresh start in later life, Macy (Marti) leaves Illinois for Selby, and soon finds herself wrapped up in the warm arms of Selby’s inhabitants, whose uniquely Southern hospitality and pride in their hometown draws Macy into the heart of her new home. During her conversations with her new friends as they show her around the town and demonstrate the best the local area can provide, Macy discovers the history of the town’s former inhabitants and some surprising skeletons in closets. Intrigued by the stories of the Victorian founders of Selby, and the tragic death of one of their descendants in a recent train accident, Macy sets out to explore the links between the past and the present, and finds herself falling increasingly in love with Selby.

The Rhythm of Selby is a series of gently, warmly, and graciously written vignettes of daily life in a town that is small enough to ensure you’ll always bump into friends but big enough to always have a beautiful new place to explore and delight in. The people who live in Selby are wonderfully welcoming, and throw their lives and homes open to Macy, who is enthusiastically embraced from the moment she moves in. Selby is the kind of town where lifelong friendships are formed over the garden fence, where there is always somebody willing to help a neighbour, and the whole community comes together to celebrate the holidays as one big family. I loved reading about the traditions of life in the Southern states, about the interwoven lives of the present and past residents of Selby, and about the kind hearted locals who love to socialise and share their lives with each other. I also loved the attitude of Macy; she rejoices in each day in her new town, takes every opportunity to meet new people and explore new places, and appreciates and savours every new experience of Selby with all of her heart. Her enthusiasm is truly something to be admired.

Interspersed with the text are beautiful photographs showing views of Selby/Aiken that took my breath away; mist rising across woodland in the early morning, beautiful wrought iron gates belonging to impressive Victorian mansions, horses galloping across open fields. It’s a wonderful, generous book that celebrates the old fashioned values of hospitality, neighbourliness, friendship, community, and civic pride. It warmed my heart, and reminded me that there are still plenty of places in the world where love and kindness reign supreme, where people, places and things are treasured and treated with respect, and where people have time for each other. It also brought up many happy memories of my own home town, which isn’t nearly as romantic or beautiful or small as Selby, but is dear to me nonetheless.

I think if we all valued the places we lived in and the people we live amongst as much as Macy and her neighbours do in Selby, then the world would truly be a better place. Life today has become increasingly isolated, with many people never speaking to their neighbours and rarely bothering to shop in local stores or take part in community activities. In cities this is a particular problem, and this eradication of civic pride and community living really saddens me. I grew up in a busy and over populated London suburb; there are streets and streets jam packed with houses, roads far too busy for children to play out on, and a high street that struggles to compete with out of town shopping malls and the bright lights of the West End. However, I truly feel a part of that community. I don’t live there any more, but by virtue of attending church there and having many friends in the town, it’s still a big part of my life. Every street corner holds a precious memory, and many faces I see, even now, are familiar. Walking past my childhood home, the flood of memories come rushing back; long hot summers spent playing in the sports fields behind our garden with the neighbourhood children, getting stuck in one of the big trees in the park that I climbed and having to send a stranger to find my dad to come and rescue me, going cycling with my best friend and getting lost for hours amongst the back streets, rescuing a family of ducks from a weir in the river, running full speed down the main road in pursuit of our dog who managed to free himself from his lead, gossiping my way to school with friends, heedless of the time, as we heard the school bell sound in the distance…then I pass my school, just ten minutes from my house; what wonderful memories I have of those days! The wonderful smell of floor polish and pencil sharpenings, the hours of side splitting laughter with friends, the joy of discovering favourite topics that fed my imagination, the ingenious excuses to escape sports lessons, the triumph of receiving end of year awards…then there are the memories of cinema trips, lazy days in the park, parties at friends’ houses, my first real job in the local library, the terror of learning to drive, the day my housemates and I dressed up in a giant bee costume and ran up and down our road to the delight of passers by, the week where it snowed so much the whole street came out and had a snow fight…these experiences are so linked with the places they took part in that I can never remember them without thinking about where they happened. As such, every street has taken on a glow of joy that I still delight in whenever I visit. We can take for granted the often dreary streets where we live, but The Rhythm of Selby has inspired me to see the beauty in the memory infused pavements I have walked all of my life.

A little piece of my heart will always belong in my home town, and I love that whenever I go back, I can’t walk down the street without having to smile and wave at someone I know. I’m proud to have grown up there. So I understood Marti Healy’s feelings about Aiken, and that rush of warmth and nostalgia that always comes over me whenever I think about my home town came flowing out of the pages of The Rhythm of Selby. I loved it, and I know you’ll love it too. It’s perfect to curl up with on a long afternoon, with a cup of tea and a quilt; such a cosy and heart warming read that will inspire you to appreciate where you live a little more, and also make you long to be a Southern Belle, drinking iced tea (or bourbon) on the porch!

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22 comments

  1. *giggles* I did not know about this Southern Belle ambition of yours! You should come visit Louisiana sometime, and I could take you to an old plantation. There is a really lovely one not too far from my hometown.

    Also, the phrase “Southern belle” always reminds me of this thing my little sister used to do where she would lean back and forth like a bell ringing and intone “Diiiiiiiing dooooooooong” in her most ridiculous Southern accent. :p

    1. I am coming to Louisiana, Jenny! Expect a knock on your door!

      That’s hilarious! I want a ridiculous Southern accent! Perhaps I will feign one, and see if anyone can tell…

  2. You are a wonderful romantic, Rachel, with what I call a “hometown heart”. How do I know? Well, from your review of The Rhythm of Selby and your endearing remembrances of your childhood neighborhood – and because I am one two.

    I think I’ll splash some bourbon in my tea and go sit out on the porch (now, where did I put the bug spray?) . . .

    PS If you haven’t already seen a charming movie called You’ve Got Mail, try to watch it. It is set in NY City and a chick flick, for sure, but gives a sense of neighborhoods within a big city as well.

    1. Oh thank you Penny! I could tell you have a hometown heart – you always write such beautiful posts about your local area and your friendships. :)

      Ha! Yes – if I were to sit out at home I’d be eaten alive by gnats – not quite the Southern Belle dream!

      We are kindred spirits indeed – You’ve Got Mail is my favourite film of all time. I know every word and the soundtrack is my favourite album! I long to be Kathleen Kelly with my adorable book shop and gorgeous apartment and a naughty online flirtation with a fellow book lover that develops into love! I can’t wait to do a You’ve Got Mail tour of New York. :)

  3. I grew up in the town whose station is the stop before yours along the Dartford Loop. My best memories are of the (to me beautiful) public library – I pratically lived there! When I was seven I was run over, crossing the road reading a book on the way back. That’s about it, as far as happy memories go (mother always ill and so on) – about the library, I mean.

    The key to your blissful memories of your home town seems to be the loving security you had at home. And I think goodness and happiness are reflective: you were obviously a lovely child enjoying life and people respond to that, just as they do today.

    I hope you get the opportunity to take up Jenny’s offer to travel to the Deep South. I can already imagine a blog entry like the Jane Austen and Me one!

    I recently discovered artist Maira Kalman’s work (she has both blog and web site). You might like her take on American history. Just for fun.

    http://kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/

    1. What a coincidence Chrissy! Isn’t it a small world?! I know it well…many of my school friends lived there. Goodness me- run over while reading a book! I’m sorry you didn’t have more happy memories. But I am sure you are making up for it now.

      I did have a lovely time growing up, and I think having a warm and safe home to go to makes all the difference. I feel so sad for children who don’t have that security.

      Oh I do too, Chrissy! I can imagine myself on a porch in deepest Louisiana!

      I love that blog! I just spent a happy time perusing it – thank you! I also feel educated, which is always a good thing!

    1. It really is, Iris! I don’t know…I really liked it for showing me how different life is in the South to mine here in England. I don’t think it necessarily reflects everyone’s experience of their home town but then it doesn’t try to. Personally I found it really inspiring – if you like the description of small town life in South Carolina, then you could try and bring some of what makes it so special to your own town! Be the change you want to see etc! :)

  4. Rachel I do love how you not only relate the books you read to your memories and thoughts but draw us all in along with you – its marvellous!

    I would never have thought of reading this book and now have felt its chalm bypassed from you. It sounds a delight and might make a good, less dramatic though, partner of prose for Peyton Place in a way.

    1. Oh thank you Simon, you’re very kind! I think this is a great book for showing a side of America you don’t often read about nowadays and might indeed be something to contrast Peyton Place with. There’s no gossip or drama in Selby, that’s for sure!

  5. Hello “Book Snob”!

    My name is Marti Healy, and I am the author or “The Rythm of Selby.” Wow! Thank you for your wonderful words about the book. We seem to certainly be “sisters at heart” with our love of small towns. Please accept this as my personal invitation to you to come visit me in Aiken (Selby), South Carolina. I would love to show you around the many places talked about in the book. Most of them, the people, and experiences are at least based on reality. And you’d be most welcome. I am a contributing columnist for the local paper, and my columns formed the basis of the book. Again, thank you, and your followers, for your kind consideration. I’ve a new book out, and would be happy to send you one, if you’d be interested. It’s called “The Secret Child” and is also set in the midlands of South Carolina — but in 1855, and it involves gypsies and fairies and such. Great fun! Plus, my first book was a collection of short essays called “The God-Dog Connection.” That title pretty much tells it all. Let me know if you’d like either title sent to you. Hugs, Marti Healy

    1. Hi Marti! What an honour to have you come by! It was a pleasure to write a positive review of such a lovely book. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful reading experience! Oh my goodness – I’d LOVE to come and have a tour of Aiken! That would be wonderful, if I can manage it.

      Your new book sounds fantastic – I’ll send you an email!

  6. Ooo, it sounds delightful. I, too, grew up wanting to BE Scarlett O’Hara. :) Funny to me that you want to speak with a southern accent — at my house we all want to speak with a British accent. :) Alas, our Texas-twang is not quite the genteel sound of the deep south, but it definitely “marks” us all.
    Thanks for the review.

    1. Ha! Why do so many of us dream of being Scarlett O’Hara, I wonder, when really, she has such an unhappy life?! I know – so many people tell me that – but I’d willingly trade my accent for a nice Southern drawl!!

  7. Rachel, how exciting is it that Marti Healy wrote to you? But I should think any author would be delighted by the wonderful reviews you write (apart from the author of the previous book you reviewed of course! :) )

    This one really sounds great and just my type of book, too. I must try to get a hold of it!

    But you could never be like Miss Havisham – not even half and half with Scarlett!

    1. I know Penny! I was thrilled to see Marti’s name pop up! Oh you’re so kind – though yes, Juliet Nicholson perhaps wouldn’t be rushing to befriend me!

      I think you’d love this Penny – very Whipple esque in many ways and a fascinating insight into a totally different but incredibly charming culture.

      Oh thanks! Maybe not now…but fast forward fifty years and I reckon I could fit the bill! ;)

  8. You’ve made me want to read this book, it sounds wonderful. I appreciate what you said at the beginning about not wanting your blog to be commercial but for the blog to reflect your tastes and interests.

  9. Faded silks and drinking from a hip flask!

    ‘Quick…fetch my smelling salts…lord have mercy, child!’ My vision of you as an English Rose has been obliterated in one fell swoop!

    R, who has golfed several times in North and South Carolina, waxes lyrical about plantations. I read your hilarious description of a secret desire to him and he said ‘She knows what she’s doing!’ He has been charmed, Rachel.

    1. Hahahaha! I’m not the innocent English girl I seem, Darlene! ;)

      That is so funny – I’m glad someone understands my secret longing! Though obviously I’d need to undergo a serious personality and accent transplant in order to really live my dream!

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