Monday, May 31, 2021

May Reading

Calloo calay, oh ball-free day! It was a happy moment when I realised that all but the Europa Football league had drawn to a close and the telly need no longer be slave to FIFA timetables. Or whoever the hell it is has the job of setting the timetable. We have enjoyed nearly a week free of "YESSS!" or "what were you thinking?" or "call that offside?" and, my favourite, "bloody bloody VAR, goddamn it, I don't, but, arrgh, hmp *insert sound of stamping*"

Given that N's team had been knocked out of the aforementioned Europa, he has no interest in watching it, so we have had blissful evenings where we knock off work, grab a drink together and then sit, in silence, reading. I've been feeling over-noised just recently, so it's been nice to have no screen, no external noise just the sound of pages turning and, on a series of evenings, me snorting with laughter. 

David Sedaris is the cause of the laughter. Have you read his books? I cannot recommend another author so highly adept at making you snort, draw in breath, tear up a little and then snort again, all in the space of a page. I tore through the 3 I have and added his back catalogue to my birthday list. 

I finally tackled Hamnet after putting it off for a couple of months. I was too raw to deal with more grief until last Monday when I screwed my courage to the sticking place and opened the cover. 

Well, it is entirely worth the plaudits it gained and the only surprise is that it didn't win more awards. This is Maggie O'Farrell's masterpiece, a work that brings a hidden woman to light, gives her autonomy and balance in a misunderstood relationship, gives grief and love centre stage, all the while weaving a world so removed from ours, it could be another place entirely. And yet those themes are so universal and endless, so familiar to every one of us, that the 16th Century past blurs with our own world. Nothing jars. Every word, every comma is perfectly placed and it is breathtaking. 

"Her husband takes her arm as they reach the gate; she turns to look at him and it is as if she has never seen him before, so odd and distorted and old do his features seem. Is it their long separation, is it grief, is it all the tears? she wonders, as she regards him. Who is this person next to her, claiming her arm, holding it to him? ...

She is hollowed out, her edges blurred and insubstantial. She might disintergrate, break apart like a raindrop hitting a leaf. She cannot leave this place, she cannot pass thorugh this gate. She cannot leave him here."

 I was glad I'd read Sedaris after her, and Gilead before. Gilead is always an exercise in slow reading. You simply cannot let your eyes race ahead, but allow them to linger over the page, slowing you down and settling into this exercise in a life lived quietly. It's wonderful. 

Susan Hill and I disagreed on a lot of her thoughts on books, but the name-dropping alone was worth it, even if her non-alphabetizing of books makes me tense. Osman's Thursday Murder Club was great, a lot of fun to read with characters that made me grin. MacCarthy's Bar an entertaining blunder around Irish bars in search of roots I think a lot of us wish we had. 

The Lost Garden's of Heligan...umm...not the best bit of writing I picked up in May but I did enjoy the development of this tourism megalith, now only overshadowed by the Eden Project. Say what you like about Smit (and I imagine many have), the guy has vision. And brass neck by the yard.

All in all, that was a greater number of books than I suspected. My concentration still wanders very easily and I'm more likely to put one aside after only a handful of pages. I read more magazines than I did as they have short articles that I can be done with in 2 minutes. As with all things, it's a case of the right book unlocking you, drawing you in and insisting you Pay Attention or you'll miss something extraordinary. 

So for that, Robinson, O'Farrell and Sedaris, I salute you.

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