Sunday, April 4, 2021

Radical Manoeuvres in the Dark

Yesterday, I did something radical. 

I was tidying up the big spare room which used to be my son’s room, and is now my office and early morning retreat space. In here, as well as laptop, desk, Edwardian walnut wardrobe and dresser that don't really fit but I can’t seem to get rid of, is a pile of books. 

I’m an early morning reader. My favourite start to the day used to be bringing a cup of tea back to the guest bed and reading for an hour or so before having to start the day proper. Mabel would come and join me, purring and kneading like a wind up toy. All would be cosy and calm. 

The to-be-read pile sat on the bedside table and was never less than 4 deep. On the shelf underneath, there would be another 5 or so. I enjoyed that. I liked knowing there was something to read, the visible sign of my love of books and how much they mattered to me. 

On the dressing table would be the pile of books I’d read that month. 

Yesterday, tidying my way around the house, I stopped in front of these piles. The Read pile has remained static since February, the To-Be-Read since January. And all of a sudden, I felt oppressed by both of them. 

Obligated by what I was supposed to be reading at a time when my concentration doesn’t even extend to Twitter, and mocked by the paucity of what I had managed to read. 

I took the Read pile downstairs and carefully put them on the shelves (alphabetical order, naturally; I haven't completely lost my senses) and sat with the To-Be-Read for a little while longer. Did I really think I was going to make it through a history of Orkney, the saucier side of the Victorians or the autobiography of a woman unfortunate enough to marry Philip Roth? How about that novel about the cafe in Japan, or Hamnet, or the one about Death’s assistant?


Reader, I put them away. 

They haven’t gone away but they are tidied away, back onto the shelves. There is space on the table that I’ve filled with red anemones from the garden. I breathe more easily, no longer feel defined by the that pile.

Still can’t concentrate on a blasted thing, mind. Maybe I'll try poetry. 

This is the time to be slow, 
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes. 
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light. 
If you remain generous, 
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise, 
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning. 
John O'Donohue 


  1. I know exactly what you mean. I've cast aside several to-be-reads lately and I had a big declutter of the children's books along with one or two of mine last week. They have gone on to new homes. Like you say, I am breathing more easily. I don't have any inclination to read anything dismal at the moment. Or ever to be honest! I am enjoying Mary Oliver's Dog Songs though. Hope you have a lovely day.

    1. Well done - welcome to freedom! Never read any Mary Oliver, will have to give her a try. I was put off poetry for years after being forced to study Thomas Hardy's poems for A Level, maybe it's time for a revisit. Just not Hardy.
      Have yourself a grand day too


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Of the Before and the After

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