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!