Sunday, 31 January 2016

Reading Week: Being Mortal, Bees, Meadowland and Gods in Ruins

Lady in the Mirror by Harold Dunbar

The In-Charge tells me that I'm not very good at taking time off.
He has always had the knack of pacing himself. He does a job and when he gets tired, he stops and does something else. Later on, he goes back to job A.
How enviable that is.
How sickening.

The thing is, my To Do List is endless, so I throw myself at things like a headless chicken, and if - for any reason - a gap opens up in my schedule, I gleefully try to squash in an extra, unscheduled job. Even then, I often end up feeling as if I've achieved nothing by nightfall.
'Never a moment to lose,' the In-Charge says. 'That's your problem. One of them,' he adds.
I didn't ask what the others were.

However, I've been tired recently.  The sort of tired that a good night's sleep isn't curing. There seems to have been a lot going on this last while, and on top of everything else I pulled a muscle in my right arm in November and it isn't getting better.
So I've taken a week off and spent it reading.
It's been bliss.

Reading Woman with Dog - Birbee

Perhaps it's my Protestant upbringing, but normally I find it impossible to read during daylight hours. Nagging voices in my head taunt me with laziness, list things I ought to be doing, threaten the devil itching to commandeer idle hands. I'd have to be ill in bed to read a book during the day, but - thank heavens - I'm never ill in bed. The trouble is, I'm so tired when I climb in at bedtime that I generally fall asleep after a few pages, so the pile of books beside my bed gets higher and higher. In fact, the In-Charge once asked me if I could please sort them out, as he couldn't vacuum round my side. I blush to confess there were 73 books in tottering stacks, but I have turned over a new leaf since then, and the heap is a good deal more modest.

Angelica, The Artist's Daughter Reading by Vanessa Bell

I started with Atul Gawande's slim volume, Being Mortal, thanks to Isobel who recommended it.
For such a serious book, it was amazingly easy to read, and I would urge everyone to get it.
Gawande, as a doctor, sees more clearly than most that as science has given us unprecedented quantity of life most of us have stopped considering its quality. He shows how easily, without our even realising it, the goal posts keep shifting. I found the book an eye-opener. It reaffirmed many things that I already think, opened my mind to possibilities I hadn't been aware of - especially in how we care for people, and made me realise how important it is that each of us choose how we spend the final stages of this one, special, unrepeatable life that we are given. 

Fairy Tales by Mary L Gow

Then I moved on to The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
It's an older book, that I'd picked off a swap shelf recently. In fact, I nearly put it back, but I'm glad I didn't. I loved it. I loved every bit of it. It's about a 14 year old girl in South Carolina in the mid '60s,  consumed by half memories of her mother who died when she was four, and the problems of living with an angry and unloving father. How she deals with these, with Rosaleen, her 'nanny' and everything else that happens, is recounted with humour, insight and an incredibly sure touch. It was funny, it was sad, it was a glimpse of life in a different place and era. Wonderful. 
I believe it was made into a movie, but I haven't seen it.

Painting by John Ennis

I have now moved on to the wonderful Kate Atkinson's most recent book, A God in Ruins. I happened to see it in Waterstones when I was in the UK last week. Oh Waterstones, where art thou? I miss you! Easons just isn't the same, I'm afraid. Anyway, I picked it up automatically - I love Kate Atkinson, but have only this week opened the cover. Imagine then my joy and delight to find that it is a sequel to her wonderful, absorbing, strange but seductive Life After Life which I read at the end of last year. Oh, the joy of being reunited with characters you thought you'd said goodbye to! I am still in the depths of the book, but once again I find myself under Ms Atkinson's spell.

Mrs Graafland-Marres by Robert Archibald Graafland

In between all these delights, I have been dipping in and out of Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel. On the face of it, you'd wonder how much one could write about a field, but from the first sentence I was hooked. Ironically, words cannot describe how beautifully this book is written - sometimes Stempel's prose is so aching beautiful that I have to go back and read the page all over again. Aside from that, his one-ness with the field is remarkable, as if it is just an extension of himself. I have been dipping in and out only because I want the book to last for as long as possible. The whole year would be nice - especially as it is written in monthly chapters - but there's no hope of that, I will have gobbled it up all too soon.

 A Favourite Author by Poul Friis Nybo

And, as the icing on the cake, I've been catching up with back issues of The English Garden which is, for my money, the best magazine out there. My mother gave me a subscription for my birthday a year or two ago, and I have enjoyed it so much, I've carried on. I came back from the UK armed with the last two editions and have been reading them - again in small bites - from cover to cover. 

 The Reader by Roberto Ploeg

I'm not quite sure how I'll switch out of this mode. It becomes quite moorish after a day or two. Especially when the wind is howling and rain is battering on the windows, as it's doing now.


  1. i too had a pile of books by the bed that i just kept 'meaning to read' until i too realised that Time has to be taken not made and most definitely not waited for

  2. I do get through them, eventually, but it takes time, and meanwhile someone has lent me something, or I've seen a gem in a charity shop or whatever... and the pile mounts. However, you are quite right - time does have to be taken, it doesn't just materialise! Hope you are able - or soon will be able - to take some for yourself, whether you spend it reading or not!


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