Sunday, 29 April 2012

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall - Roald Dahl

I was a bookworm as a child.  But I was also a telly addict. A total square eyes.  Obsessed.  Although, let's put that into perspective: in those days, TV was not the 24/7 multi-channel fest it is today.  TV during the day-time was mainly children's programmes for schools.  No breakfast TV, no day-time soaps.  And it shut down at mid-night.  To the national anthem, no less.

But the evenings and weekends.  Wow.  Play SchoolThe Magic Roundabout. Jackanory. Swap Shop. Grandstand. The Two Ronnies. The Generation Game.  The list goes on. Good and bad TV. When programmes were showing, I was watching.  A total addict.

I don't have a TV any more.

I do, however, have DVDs in abundance.  Equally relaxing.  Equally addictive.  At the moment, I'm addicted to Frasier.  Again.  Since my accident, I have watched the series three times.  The whole series.  From start to finish.  Eleven seasons in total.  Over and over.  And over.

It's actually scaring me now.  I can recite most of the dialogue.  I know what they wear and when.  How they move.  How they speak.  I recently bought some of the scripts of the show to read.  I can actually tell you which lines were omitted or changed when the episode was screened.  This is bad, isn't it??

But, in my defence, it's one of those TV series that was not only well acted, but was superbly well written.  Superb.  I laugh out loud watching it now as often as I did when I watched it back home on TV for the first time.  More, in fact.

And it's educational.  No really.  Frasier introduced me to Renata Tebaldi, the opera singer.  He improved my understanding of Freud.  And taught me about Opus One.  Which was particularly useful at my sister's wedding when the host opened a bottle he'd had for over ten years in honour of the newly-weds.  I knew what it was.  And that I should be impressed.  I was.  And it was wonderful.

In our school holidays, there used to be a TV programme in the mornings called Why don't you (just switch off your television set and find something much less boring to do instead).  I'd say, rather, switch off bad TV. Putting words together to be read or said is an art.  Frasier, MASH, The West Wing and others all prove that good writers are out there.  Don't settle.  You don't accept bad writing in books.  Don't accept it on the screen.  If it's bad, switch it off.  And find something much less boring to do instead...

Friday, 27 April 2012

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life - Somerset Maugham

My mum used to get really mad in the mornings before we went to school.  Both my sister and I would arrive at the breakfast table, armed with our books, and read over our cereal and toast.  She couldn't get a word out of us.  Poor woman! 

She would complain to all and sundry that her girls constantly had their heads stuck in books.  It was a valid complaint.  But there was a hint of pride in there too (or so I would like to believe). She came to books later in life.  And my dad is not a book man at all. Leaving them to wonder about the source of our obsession.

I have no explanation.  As far as I remember, I have always had a book in my hand.  And the obsession has never left me.  Or my sister, come to that.  I also have no excuse.  It's a wonderful obsession.  If a tad rude, at times.

In those early years, Enid Blyton was my heroine.  Brer RabbitThe Enchanted Wood. The Secret Seven.  The Naughtiest Girl in the School.

The Enchanted Wood series was my absolute favourite.  I dreamed of meeting Moon-Face, Silky, Saucepan; making toffee and eating those pop biscuits; the slippery slip, Dame Washalot, the lands on the cloud at the top of the Faraway Tree.  What an imagination.  What a refuge she gave us.

I still have some of those books, would you believe.  They still make me smile.  Not that I'm reading them today, you understand.  Honestly.

It's just that they still smell of my childhood.  With my name scrawled childishly inside the cover.  Books give you that.  So much more than just the story. 

I have tons of books. Filling my shelves, channelling a warm, cosy atmosphere into the home environment. So many people and experiences and history waiting to be discovered.  And to be remembered. I love the feel of a book in my hand, running the pages through my fingers to find my place, seeing how far I still have to go.  It's an entire experience in itself. Hence my reluctance in the face of Kindle and co.

I don't object.  I'm just digging in my heels for a while longer.  I can see the benefits, of course.  Especially having moved home so many times, travelled my share of air miles and, most particularly, now that my shoulder is out of order (if only temporarily).  I'm trying to be as gracious to new technology as possible.  Moving with the times.  If only in first gear. 

All the same, in contrast to my books, Kindle and the like strike me as a just a bit cold and uninviting in all their glory.  And just think, Kindle on the book shelf...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body - Richard Steele

It's amazing how much weight you can put on in three months.  So amazing I couldn't even write down the amount, never mind say it out loud.  It hurts even to think about it.  Of course, I firmly believe that my convalescence is responsible.  Being very obedient, I'm making an occupation of taking it easy, resting and putting my feet up.

Suffice it to say that I can no longer get into any of my clothes.  Well, I exaggerate: I can still get into one pair of trousers, one pair of jeans and one skirt (two at a push, but only on a very good day).  It's most depressing.  And indeed worrying:  I'll be back at work soon with nothing to wear.  Eeeew.

It doesn't help that one of the best ways for me to take it easy, rest and put up my feet is curling up in my favourite armchair with a cat on my knee, reading, drinking coffee and eating chocolate to good music.  Bliss.

Especially in a world of modern technology: groceries are delivered directly into my flat, cosmetics are flown in from the UK (the Boots (unrivalled) Natural Collection), cat litter and food are all on-line. I don't actually have to move anywhere to maintain the status quo. Which explains the size of my thighs.   

And then there's Amazon.  Ahhhh! Amazon.  I am a complete and utter addict.   I'm not fussy.  Well, I am actually.  Just not when it comes to Amazon.  It gives me the music, the books, the DVDs, and now the coffee and chocolate too!  What more could a girl need?

My latest acquisition was a pack of Cadbury's Wispa bars. Delivered to my very door.  Of course, they were without doubt the most expensive Wispa bars in the world, postage included.  But they made all the difference to my Guy de Maupassant short stories.  And were devoured in the space of the opening three. 

I've just discovered GdM.  On my reading list.  What an artist!  Vivid, pithy, perceptive, lively.  Dark.  Another realist.  Another must.  Like I say, I'm discovering.  I'm presently finishing a volume of 33 of his short stories and I'm told he wrote over 300.  But I'm loving them.  And short stories provide perfect intervals to break regularly for more coffee and chocolate.  Like I say, perfect.  My heart valves are closing as I write.  But I'll die happy...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Never read a book through merely because you have begun it - John Witherspoon

I used to believe it was sacrilegious to abandon a book before I'd finished it.  As if some great punishment would surely follow such discourtesy.  I am since learning otherwise.  I am now coming round to believe that it would be a sad waste to persist in the pages of a book which is taking you nowhere.  Even if highly recommended. 

This is a major step for me.  I'm one of those people who can worry what the passenger sitting 4 rows behind me on the bus thinks.  Yes, it is pathetic.  I mean, I can spend hours - literally hours - wondering if the woman in the bakery looked at me in that way because she doesn't like me, or just because she has indigestion. Pathetic.  I know. But I've given up trying to explain it.

And so this week I started, then stopped reading Chekhov. Is that shocking?  Can I hear cyber gasps of disbelief?  Chekhov, you say.  Sacrilege, indeed.  I can feel my anxiety levels rising... 

In my defence, I enjoyed his short story collection, A Russian Affair. Honestly.  And that inspired me to launch into his plays.  Indeed, I was so proud of myself.  Finally to be reading The Seagull, The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya.  But I didn't get beyond Ivanov and The Seagull.  I apologise to all Chekhov fans.  I just didn't feel it.  I even tried reading them aloud.  Nothing.  Nada.

I left the book lying around for a few days, because I just didn't want to admit defeat.  But I was defeated.  I had that strange, heaving feeling each time I sensed that I was in the vicinity of the book.  The feeling you get when you're in the same room as someone you don't like very much: you can tolerate the person, hold a conversation if you have to, but really the only thing on your mind is when you can get away and if you really ever have to see this person again.  It's just not a good feeling. 

And that's why you shouldn't force it.  The book sits quite comfortably on my shelf.  At the moment, we are simply not compatible.  The time may come.  Or not.  Let it go...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless - Josh Billings

I have one of the most basic mobile phones in the world.  Or perhaps I should say that I use my mobile phone in the most basic way possible.  No doubt the phone has great potential that I ignore. 

But I resolutely restrict my phone use to telephoning and sending text messages.  The basics.  Oh, and it's pink with a mirrored front, so I can (and do) check my appearance.  Like I said, the basics. 

I have a computer at home and in work. I therefore see no reason to use my phone for any internet or email purposes.  And I don't do social networking.

Yet, inspite of my seeming indifference, mobile phones are a wonderful thing, aren't they?  Undoubtedly useful in an emergency, of course.  But the text messages!  Take this as an example, received this week:

"Hi.  Hope you're feeling a bit brighter.  I've nearly finished The Women's Room. So feeling very lucky to have you as my friend.  Love you lots x".

Ahhhh!  Sweet, huh?  Doesn't that make you smile?  It made me smile.  And go all funny inside.  This from a friend who lives in another country, with whom I speak two or three times a year, and whom I see once a year at best.  A friend with whom I experienced some of the most amazing times of my life.  Someone I once thought I could never, ever be parted from.  And thanks to technology, from whom I never do feel too distant.

Words work, you see.  You don't need to write a novel or poetry to impress or touch somebody.  You think of them, you wish them well, you love them: you text them.  Instant communication at its best.  Words work.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

I was born with a reading list I will never finish - Maud Casey

In 2009, I bought the Rough Guide to Classic Novels by Simon Mason (no relation that I know of).  I was a woman on a mission.  I would go through and read anything on the list I hadn't already read.  I am still on that mission.  Well, Rome wasn't built in a day.  And I'm not a quick reader. On top of which, this guide underlined quite dramatically that I was not particularly well read.  I mean, I hadn't heard of half of the authors, never mind read them. What had I been doing over the years when I thought I'd been reading extensively?

But then I stopped and launched forth.  The experience is on-going.  And joyous! I've discovered authors, broadened my reading horizons and extended my library.  I am very proud.

I am, however, not doing this alone.  Oh no.  This pain I was going to share. Consequently, I bought a second copy of Mr Mason's book, and sent it to a very dear friend of mine along with one of the books he cited (one I'd already read, of course), encouraging her to join me on my journey.  And she did.  Bless.  We don't read the same books at the same time - which possibly could have been more fun, like a cyber book society - but all the same, we exchange experiences and check up on one another's progress.  The spirit of competition remains as effective as ever.

My favourite part of all this so far has been discovering Edith Wharton and Ivan Turgenev.  I'd heard of EW previously, but from a great distance.  I read The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, followed by Ethan Frome.  Stunning.  I was hooked.  It was like Jane Austen, but dark and then darker still. As a realist, happy endings can leave me cold.  Unless I'm hormonal.  But even EW's reality was brutal.  Still, there was an amazing dignity maintained by the brutalised.

IT - or indeed, IST (Ivan Sergeevich) - writes beautiful prose.  I have only read A First Love and Fathers and Sons, so I can't claim any expertise.  It's just a delight to read him.  And don't we read to be delighted?  He depicts love, the romance of youth and the pursuit of relationships masterfully.  And not just love and lust between the sexes either.  Fathers and Sons examines -  yes, that's right - fathers and sons:  family dynamics, the idealistic almost arrogant youths, the adoring parents, the frowning uncle gazing on from another generation.  Even the "minor" characters enjoy a moment of glory each time they appear.  I've decided to stray from the list and investigate IST further.  My Amazon basket is already full of his works.  All IST gifts are, of course, welcome... :0)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Read in order to live - Gustave Flaubert

I've been confined at home recently due to a rather unfortunate, but no less spectacular accident.  I fell.  And I caused more damage to myself than if I'd been hoisted onto a 10-storey building, swung around and thrown back down, bouncing off every single balcony on the way.  

Consequently, I'm making easy work of the pile of books I've acquired over the past couple of years, books that haven't as yet had even the smallest crease deface their covers.  Not that I crease my books.  But that's another story.

When you're suffering, you really don't want to work hard wading through words. You need something to soothe your aching limbs, to ease your cares and to give you something to laugh and cry about other than yourself.  These did just that:

The first two were The Help and The Descendants.  I'd actually already seen The Help on film. Didn't they stay faithful to Kathryn Stockett's words?  Such an awful environment depicted so beautifully through laughter, love and hope.  I cried. Again.

As for The Descendants, I really couldn't believe that it was written by a woman. Honestly. I in no way mean to be derogatory. I was totally convinced that I was inside a man's head. Maybe that's how all women imagine men think. Hmmm. It was Mr Clooney's head too. Sigh. I'm curious to see the film now to see if Mr C lives up to his character, Matt King.  And I'm rarely curious to see the film of the book.

Next I learned about the (secret) life of bees in Sue Monk Kidd's book of that name.  A nice, easy - and informative - read.  Bees are amazing. Really. And jolly nice too, by all accounts. They've been coming into my flat frequently of late and I'm learning to chat them back outside. Instead of squealing hysterically and trying to beat them to a pulp. Maybe they come back because of my chatter? How will I ever know... Of course, the bees aren't the sole purpose of the book.  They provide more of a backdrop on which the story is told. But the rejection, acceptance and unlikely relationships never stray far from the bee's life.

Finally, I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But then, I'm not the only one, am I? I love the title in itself. I'm one of those who can buy a book just for the title.  And I love fiction through letters.  Remember Dangerous Liaisons? 84 Charing Cross Road? My novel would always have been written through letters.  Would have? I've been too lazy to get down to it.  And yet, how difficult could it be.  Seriously? Well, reading just these great books, I know it can't be easy.  Just delightful.