'Weekend Book' Charms Its Way Back into Print

First published in 1924, The Weekend Book is an odd collection of recipes, poetry, tips for swimming with rubber blow-up toys and transcriptions of birdsongs on the piano. Londonder John Julius Norwich explains the charm of the book and why it has recently been re-issued.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Are you feeling frazzled by the pace of your weekend, the endless errands, chauffeuring children to swim meets, the laundry list of chores from grocery shopping to cleaning out the garage to, well, laundry? Days off weren't always like this.

Let's go back to 1924, the year a little volume called The Weekend Book was first published in Britain. There's a picture of a chess board on the inside flap. You then move onto chapters on poetry, sing-a-longs, bird watching, stargazing and even first aid, if you get injured by all this intense relaxation. The Weekend Book went out of print in 1955 but has just been reissued. John Julius Norwich wrote the new introduction. He's 76 years old and remembers seeing the book around when he was just a child in London.

Mr. JOHN JULIUS NORWICH (Writer): We had a copy in my parent's house. They had a lovely little house right on the sea in Sussex. And I remember seeing this rather striking binding. I must have been seven or eight years old. It seemed to have something for everybody.

ELLIOTT: It is quite an eclectic collection.

Mr. NORWICH: It is, isn't it?

ELLIOTT: There's this entire chapter on travels with a donkey?

Mr. NORWICH: Well, I know, yes. I mean it - it's very, very idiosyncratic. You know, I mean this was originally thought of by Francis Meynell. In those days there were no such things as paperbacks. And when they went on their walking holidays, which they loved to do, they had to have their rucksacks absolutely of incredibly heavy volumes. And you know, this was obviously so impractical. So they still didn't think of the idea of paperbacks but they did think of the idea of having one volume which would have everything they want it.

ELLIOTT: Like the section on poetry. There are three chapters on poems. They're titled Great Poems, Late Poems and Hate Poems.

Mr. NORWICH: Yes. Yes. The slight sort of dottiness of the whole project is part of what makes it so lovely.

ELLIOTT: What can you tell us about the original authors of The Weekend Book?

Mr. NORWICH: Well, I don't know very much about them, to tell you the truth. Francis Meynell, he was a man of letters I think you would probably describe him mostly as. In other words, he was literary critic. There are sort of articles by him around the place in every literary magazine. You know, there were the occasional poems. And he was of that sort of - in that generation in my childhood. There were lots of these people who would only be described as men of letters.

I don't whether that genre really exists much anymore, the people who just sort of write - write criticism and just the occasional sensitive little essay, you know, but don't - don't actually produce any great sort of volume of - of important work.

ELLIOTT: What is your favorite section in this book?

Mr. NORWICH: Well, I think my favorite section is always really the poetry because I love poetry. It's taught me one or two rather good cocktail recipes which I've - which I've used and found perfectly delicious.

ELLIOTT: Oh which ones?

Mr. NORWICH: And I can't remember now which they were, but they're there in the-in the book. One reason I can't remember is probably I had rather too many of them.

ELLIOTT: Well, that's okay because isn't there a section here in the first day...

Mr. NORWICH: As I say, it's a high recommendation.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, in the first aid section I think it tells you what to do on the morning after.

Mr. NORWICH: Exactly.

ELLIOTT: And even recommends a dose of olive oil before you have the cocktail.

Mr. NORWICH: That's true, enormously important, useful information all the way through. And you never know what you're going to find in it until you - until you - until you look. But the contents have changed. One thing that's new, I think, is the transcription of Bird Song on the piano. I mean I wonder whether - whether it's really possible to transcribe Bird Song on the piano. I've tried to play some of the things that they write. They sound very pretty on the piano but I'm not sure that I would be able to identify a bird from them. But that doesn't matter. I mean that makes it all the more fun and all the more - I mean a lot - a lot of the information is perfectly useless but I've always loved useless information, so that's all right too by me.

ELLIOTT: Here's something that I think everyone could probably use still today. It's from the law and how you break it section. It's of bathing. There is one crime which every bather who has forgotten, deliberately or by accident, his bathing costume is in danger of committing at one time or another, though he may not be so unfortunate as to get in trouble for it. Whatever openly outrages public decency and is injurious to public morals as a misdemeanor, that means you're body, dear reader, any public exposure of the naked person is an indictable nuisance.

Mr. NORWICH: Well, there - there you are, you see. You got it straight from the shoulder haven't you?

ELLIOTT: The updates, as this book was updated over time...

Mr. NORWICH: Yes, several times.

ELLIOTT: ...it might have reflected some change in the times, but it never really included technology did it?

Mr. NORWICH: I don't think it would have been right in a way to have done that, because the whole point of this is it's a very old-fashioned exercise. And I think once you start trying to bring it to the cutting edge of modern life, that's really not what it's all about. And I think you spoil it.

ELLIOTT: I thank you for speaking with us and I think I'll leave you with this quote from The Weekend Book in the games section. If you can't volley, wear velvet socks.

Mr. NORWICH: There's a wonderful precept to take home with people this evening and to think about.

ELLIOTT: John Julius Norwich joined us from London. Thanks so much for speaking with us and have a...

Mr. NORWICH: Not a bit. It was a great pleasure to do so.

ELLIOTT: Have a great weekend.

Mr. NORWICH: Many, many thanks. You too.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News I'm Debbie Elliott.

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