What we are reading

  • By Charles Edmons

What We Are Reading

A look at the literature we are, and what we should be, reading

Recollections by Johnny Cash, edited by daughter Tara Cash Schwoebel

I have reviewed a lot of books in my career, but from first sight this felt like a privilege. A guilty peek through someone’s private diary. Only this isn’t someone, this is Johnny Cash.

In 1995 Johnny Cash’s daughter, Tara, gave her father a book of 365 questions, one for every day of the year, all about his experiences of being a child and growing up. Tara asked her father to fill out the questions for her, and one year later on her birthday a loving father handed back the completed book in casual, relaxed handwriting full of warm familiarity.

Before you even start to read this book it is strikingly artisan, a pleasant mixture of type, hand writing, photography and scribbled line drawings giving an incredibly personal feeling to the book, as if you are in the house with the two protagonists. The spiral bound mat card covered book looks and feels as hand made as it reads, a real joy in a fast paced digital society. The very fact that this book is entirely made of exchanges between a loving father and daughter makes the entire experience exactly that, you do not read this book, you experience it.

The book is a reproduction of the original hand written book given to Tara’s father in 1995, with the introduction truly setting the tone for what is to come:
“I hope you will enjoy getting to know this boy, who became my father, as much as I did”

Opening with:

“Dad, share your life with me…”

Johnny Cash is extremely and refreshingly honest with his daughter through out the book:

“I have never voted”

Also talking about being picked on for being very skinny.

When asked how he chose his first career in the US Airforce he explains simply, and honestly:

“I needed a job”

When asked “Who was your first girlfriend” a question that could have been quite awkward, J.R simply replies:

“Louise Nichols, but, she didn’t know it.”

Humor flows freely through out the reader’s experience with recantations such as one regarding his birth:

“The doctor came several hours late, and gave my mother two aspirin”

When asked for a childhood photograph of himself, not owning one, J.R drew a rather amusing yet somewhat heart warming line drawing of his childhood self, not the only J.R drawing to be featured I might add.

Some more personal and awkward questions that a child would perhaps not be able to see the awkwardness of, J.R simply responds with a question mark “?”. Such as the amusing line of questions regarding what he would do for a ‘special valentine’.

At times, for the older readers among us, the book takes us back to a simpler era of playing make-believe in the fields, sharing bicycles and making toys out of sticks. J.R explains how his favourite time of year was always the summer time, when he would go swimming (even skinny dipping), and fishing, and there was “no school”. J.R explains how where he grew up boys’ names were usually just two initials, “mine was J.R”. His first address he explained was before they has Zip (Post) Codes, instead letters just had to be sent to: “Rout 1, Box 144, Road 3”. 

Regardless of your age or gender reading this book is like talking to your own dad, the central London office of The International is a very diverse space, yet regardless of ethnicity or upbringing, laughter followed by eyes welling up with tears could be seen on the faces of even the most macho of bearded men, we ended up with people putting their names on a list of who got to read it next. 

Some of Tara’s more wild lines of questioning could bring a smile to any reader’s face including questions about trying to adopt wild animals. Only matched by equally amusing responses from her father, when asked what the first food he had learned to ‘cook’ was, J.R replies “Gravy”, a response that seemed particularly liked by our staff from the north of England.

Some of the books quotes such as;“Every haircut is a bad experience” have caught on in every day office conversation among the book’s readers.

When asked about his childhood teddy, J.R’s answer, that he never had one provoked an uncontrollable, presumably unintentional and definitely very loud; “What, NEVER?!” from one silent reader at his desk.

If I had to sum up this book in one word or phrase it would definitely be “Heart Warming”.

If you are a Johnny Cash fan, this book is not even an option for you, you are reading this! Even if you are not a die hard fan of any description, this book, as a literacy piece, is still a definite must read.

If you see people laughing, crying or shouting “What, NEVER?!” on the tube, please do not be alarmed, they are probably reading ‘Recollections’, and so should you.


C.Edmons@theinternational.org.uk