Posted in Books

Pulling Up the Drawbridge

tired of your world?
try on another’s skin
read a book

I used to read all the time, but it’s an ability I’ve largely lost. I dip in and out of this book or that, and it can take me a long time to finish anything. Today, though, I found out that books still have their place in the world, even in mine.

I’m upset just now about a lot of different things, some of which won’t be resolved any time soon. There’s nothing I can do but wait. I couldn’t concentrate on anything I was meant to be doing, so curled up on the sofa and read.

I was previously dipping into this book for minutes at a time, worried I wouldn’t finish by its library due date, but today wrapped it round me like a blanket and read all afternoon and evening: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

It was brilliant and I would recommend it whole-heartedly. It upset me a lot. πŸ˜€

I know that doesn’t sound so good, but I don’t regret reading it. It gives me a different understanding of what it must be for people to go through memory loss.

The main character talks about being treated like she’s back in school… I could relate to that, as the same thought flashed through my head during a meeting with a nurse. Being talked to like I was six was a very big reason I rebelled and refused to have anything more to do with her proposed anxiety treatment.

Yet anxiety is a horrible thing… I wonder why it should hit me so hard that I needed to pull up the drawbridge and hide inside a novel. I don’t think anything will change me, and maybe it’s not out of the ordinary… we all get overwhelmed at times. I wonder what life would be like if no one ever felt fear?

Whatever… I was surprised how quickly I went from only being able to concentrate for a few minutes to spending hours reading. People talk about how the internet and ‘information overload’ has changed the way we read, think and engage. Perhaps, but I don’t believe it’s a permanent change. If for any reason you mentally disengage yourself from your internet habit, you can still take up a book as though nothing else exists.

Have now begun Dark Eden by Chris Beckett.

‘Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph, went the trees all around us, pumping and pumping hot sap from under the ground.’

See you when I get back. πŸ™‚

Posted in Books, Photographs, Poetry and Verse

Topsy-Turvy Reading

Tinting nowhere near finished...

Decided I couldn’t carry on reading Doctor Syn on the High Seas as it was so bad! Even when you think “it’s short and I’ll soon finish,” you find that you would rather do something else than pick it up.

Cast it aside in favour of A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul… I never read the first helping. Mum got this paperback from a stall and gave it to me years ago, and there it was taking up space on the bookshelves, so I decided to give it a go.

My first thought was that it’s annoying in places, and sets your teeth on edge in others, but there are some good, funny and genuinely touching bits, and is a much better read than Doctor Syn. I can pick the bits I want to read and skip the rest.

I’m reading all the books I probably won’t keep, in an effort to free up space on the bookshelves — and that’s a bit topsy-turvy, as it means I’m reading the less desirable books over the ones I’m cherishing (and not yet reading!) Mum said I should go through the classicsΒ  I probably won’t read again. I suppose she means Aeschylus and Aristophanes. But I’m always referring to them! Seriously…

The next day I was still ricochetting through the Chicken Soup when Mum came home and handed me two digital photography manuals from the library. So far the first book (50 Fast Digital Photo Projects by Gregory Georges and Lauren Georges) hasn’t taught me anything new (I think it’s for absolute beginners), but it did inspire me to go upstairs and try tinting a monochromatic photo of our shed.

This shoogly shed from Argos was the one Mum thought we would have to live in if the credit crunch really bit. I suppose having a print of it to sell wouldn’t be such a bad idea. We could run off 50 copies, and if nobody wanted to buy them, we could use them to paper over the cracks in the walls of our new home. I nearly said ‘100 copies’ but I think 50 copies would quite comfortably cover them.

I eventually got cross with the Chicken Soup book because chicken soup is meant to be comforting, and this wasn’t. There is a lot of material about saying or showing your love to family members before they die, and those are in sections such as ‘love’ and ‘family’. I skipped more and more (mopping at my eyes), and when we arrived at a whole section called ‘Death and Dying’, I gave up.

I would rather listen to Dido, and tint monochromatic images of our shed.

And I try to pick out tunes, I hum a little,
a good cure for sleep, and the tears start,
I cry for the hard times come to the house,
no longer run like the great place of old.

Oh for a blessed end to all our pain,
some godsend burning through the dark…

[The Oresteia by Aeschylus, translated by Robert Fagles]

Posted in Books

Reading for Pleasure

I wrote this a while back but didn’t have the energy to post it:

Wednesday 16 Jan 2008

Arose relatively early because a plumber was coming to mend the basin in the bathroom. He went away to fetch something, and we were drinking coffee and waiting for a phone call from the vet. I was reading Vinyl Cafe with a blanket over my knees. Mum suggested the vet might have emailed me, so I came up here to check. There were no emails, but I noticed today’s horoscope.

“Even though lots of exciting and important things are going on right now, you will be gifted with a nice chunk of free time in your day – maybe a meeting gets canceled or your flight gets delayed. This oasis of time is not something you should waste!”

I thought, “oh dear, I was sitting downstairs reading. I wasn’t getting on with things.”

The horoscope went on: “Be prepared for the lull with a good book, magazine or your journal. Savor the chance to get out of your routine and into a more reflective, intellectual course of thinking. You will get recharged by the practice.”

I was annoyed by all the ‘gets’ in that, but… AH HA! I’m glad they said reading is not a waste of time. I should fall out of the habit of thinking that it is. I got into feeling that way that at school and university… it was something to do with studying for exams. Reading for exams isn’t the same as reading for pleasure, and so I learned to feel guilty whenever I sat down with a book I was enjoying for its own sake.

Posted in Books, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Quizzes and Memes

Hungry for Books

I have seen this book meme around a few times and nobody was tagging me for it, mostly because they don’t know me. Today I thought I could do it anyway – and then I dropped in to visit Pacian at Space Cat Rocket Ship, and he tagged everybody who visited! So here’s my excuse.

1. One book that changed your life.

They probably all changed my life by degrees, influencing my thoughts or giving me fresh inspiration. I can’t think of a single book that changed my life more than any other. Nothing pushed me down a specific career path. I didn’t want to become a vet after reading If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot, nor did I decide to become a secret service agent and circus acrobat after reading E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith. Maybe I’m not all that impressionable, and found it easy to see past the glamour to the gore, hard work and sadness, or maybe I’ve always been more interested in writing than living…

2. One book that you’ve read more than once.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Slim, old, English. Amusing and sad. Must have read it four times or so.

3. One book that you’d want on a desert island.

Something fat and entertaining that I’ve never read before. Or the complete set of books by Jean M Auel. Or something that would tell me how to build a rudimentary shelter, or how to crack open coconuts without losing the juice. I would want a complete library on this desert island, as well as some blank journals in which to write about my experiences.

4. One book that made you laugh.

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols. It’s attractive, refreshing, funny, and very English. I suggested it to an informal Book Club. Most of the other members lived in America and said they went to their libraries and couldn’t obtain it, as it wasn’t available. Some of them tried to buy it and discovered it wasn’t cheap. So they gave up, which was disappointing – but one determined lady returned to her library and said she would like to read this book if they ordered it in – and they did! She took it home and read it, and so did her husband, and she said she’s glad she went to all the trouble as it was just their cup of tea.

The Book Club fizzled out quite quickly because nobody ever seemed to want to get a recommended book for this reason or that (I found a surprising number of the books in charity shops or on eBay, so it wasn’t that difficult) – but I still feel something important was accomplished… there’s a library out there that has a good book in stock because of this short-lived club and because of a member who wouldn’t give up.

5. One book that made you cry.

Jennie by Paul Gallico. Fantasy novel about cats. Very charming, detailed, interesting and sad.

6. One book you wish you had written.

The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown. Fantasy. I wasn’t expecting much from it as it had just fallen into my hands in a bundle of unwanted paperbacks… but it was imaginative and charming, and I’m not going to give it away!

7. One book you wish had never been written.

A few rather dark books I got rid of so quickly I can’t even remember what they were called or who wrote them. I do this with horror books, especially cruel or satanic ones.

8. One book you’re currently reading.

Only yesterday I finished Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (a slim science fiction novel which should be required reading for everyone. I wrote a little about it here). Have just started Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin. In the preface he says Mukiwa is intended as a memoir rather than an autobiography.

9. One book you have been meaning to read.

One I got recently which I’ve had my eye on for some time and still haven’t begun is The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan. It’s the first book of a fantasy trilogy.

I tag…. well I’ll opt out like Pacian and tag every visitor to this blog who hasn’t already done this particular meme. Aw, go on.

Lunch time….!

PS: Pacian pointed out he is reading more than one book at present. Actually, so am I, but I was too embarrassed to say. The other book I’m reading is beside my bed. It’s Paddington Marches On by Michael Bond.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was hosted by Blogigo.

1. Pete wrote at Sep 6, 2006 at 21:56:
Ah Paddington, those were the days πŸ˜€

2. Diddums wrote at Sep 7, 2006 at 09:24:
Only just realized Paddington had a wheelie bag too. My kind of bear.

Posted in Books, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Health Issues, Hearing Loss, Political and Social Issues, Rants, Technology and Software, TV and Films

Escape from One Brave New World to Another

Escapism, for me, is reading books. A good book makes everything whole again. I find fantasy is the most evocative genre, the one that takes me furthest away from the things I hope to escape. Good triumphs, magic exists and loose ends are rare. People enjoy their work, value their way of life and possess depth of character, understanding, and a low tolerance of injustice.

I miss the characters and their worlds when the last pages have been reached. I feel as though they still exist somewhere out there, and it won’t matter what happens to me here because I’ll always be able to go home to them. Maybe I will stay for a while in Bag End with the Bagginses and Gandalf, or with Badger, Mole or Ratty in their comfortable burrows. I won’t go anywhere near Toad – he makes me tired. I would rather hobnob with the weasels, especially those friendly with Badger. I could go wombling on Wimbledon Common with Tomsk and Wellington, looking in particular for sweetie papers to wallpaper their home. Better still, I could hibernate for the winter in Moominvalley – I always fancied the idea of a nourishing bowl of pine needles just before curling up to dream away the ice and the snow.

Do I prefer the sleepy stories to the adventures? It’s possible. Maybe I like the contrast; the sense of giving respite to characters who have been out in the cold for weeks on end. Or maybe it’s something deeper.

I’ve always been a sleepy kind of person, and have never been able to understand where people get the energy to do the things that they do. Where did Napoleon get his energy, for instance – or Alexander the Great? Too often I’ve lain in bed in the morning (instead of beginning the day’s chores) wondering about such people. Is there something wrong with me that I have never desired to leap up at cock’s crow to add to my little empire? Why do I never feel the impulse to go travelling, exploring, or to conquer Mount Everest? Why would I rather read about volcanoes than stare down into their smoking craters? Why are my favourite passages about people having rabbit stew for supper before turning in for a nice long snooze?

I’m sure there are various reasons. For instance, I sometimes wonder how The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy classics would have turned out if Frodo (or other fantasy figures) had been deaf? How about Gollum? “Sssorry, master, you’ll have to repeat that as poor old Smeagol don’t hear so good these daysss, gollum.” The thought of all the communication difficulties with innkeepers, magicians, trolls and the like, met while hiking along the road to defeat evil, makes me want to curl up in a ball and close my eyes.

Even more depressingly, I still wonder if Mum is right when she suggests I have an underactive thyroid. Maybe that’s always been part of the problem. That’s also why I don’t entirely believe in the concept of laziness – if you dig deep down, deeper than you expect, you may well find all kinds of unavoidable reasons why someone drags along and refuses to get involved with whatever’s going on.

Or perhaps my sleepiness kicks in because ‘modern civilization’ is so intensely regimented and boring that all the fun has gone out of it. Strange things happen but they make me more tired rather than less – people are criticized if they so much as put the words “Oh, shut up!” into the mouth of an Angry Beaver. It doesn’t matter what you do in this climate – either it’s something you’ve been kindly allowed to do (repeatedly) for limited amounts of money or it’s something someone somewhere will hate and despise you for, such as wearing white ankle socks or keeping cats.

There are so many parts of the world (even locally) that we never get to see in our lifetimes because they are the grounds of some reclusive ogre in his castle. Every so often they throw everything together into museums, trusts, collections, gardens or national parks and let everyone in (for a fee) to sigh ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’. They tell us with satisfaction it all belongs to us now and we can come and stare at trees, canyons, animals, old ships, musty houses or junk in glass cases for as long as we like, just so long as we get out before closing time, and provided we don’t get too close, feed the exhibits or touch things with our grubby fingers.

Doesn’t that seem a mite sanitized? You can’t say “hey, I visited the Grand Canyon” or “we went on safari and bothered a group of elephants” or “I found a marvellous whale skeleton that’s bigger than my house”… everybody else has visited/done/seen everything too, and will just look at you as though you’ve presented them with a hot and sticky bunch of daisies.

I don’t even like ‘discovering’ a wonderful blog post only to find the writer has already drawn an admiring crowd of other readers. They got there before me – how dare they! And if I can’t run shouting to everybody “look what I found”, then what’s the use? I can discard that unworthy feeling after a while, but it still leaps on me unawares every so often.

Have you ever noticed that the world has shrunk, and nothing and nobody is beyond your reach? We can dredge the Titanic off the sea bed without killing ourselves in the attempt, and nobody falls off the edge of the world any more. It used to be that you would send someone a carefully worded letter and if you haven’t heard from them after a couple of years, you start to wonder if maybe they died and nobody told you. Now, if you dash off an impulsive email and the recipient has not responded in the next five minutes, you get very angry and think “what did I do to offend the old blackguard? I sent a friendly ‘howdy doody’ across hundreds of miles of land and sea and this is all the thanks I get!” It doesn’t do much to lower your blood pressure.

Finally you discover that everything you do, whether it’s leaving your TV on standby, allowing your tap to drip, or cooking Scottish cod on your gas hob, is a threat to the entire planet. It gets so that they ask you to vote for a cast iron cooking pot on the grounds that it marked the start of the Industrial Revolution, which is a good thing, isn’t it? But then you think “that’s when people lost their jobs and their skills, and that’s also when we began to destroy the world”… and that squat black cauldron suddenly becomes the linchpin of evil. Not so suddenly, perhaps – there could be an underlying psychological reason why it was associated with witches and black magic.

Having embarked on all this industry and technology (how I love my emails and my blog) it becomes very difficult to quit without making enormous sacrifices, including (probably) our own lives. As slaves to the machines, computers and other systems that have been put in place for us and which only seem to fully benefit a select few, what is there to live for? Oh, right – books! Books that make everything fresh, whole, and exciting again. Especially books that allow you to put your head under the blanket and hide for a little while – not just from Sauron, the Weasels of the Wild Wood, the Groke’s frozen loneliness and the rising dark, but also from factories and other places of brain-deadening occupations, politicians, committees, intolerance, inequality, injustice – and pollution.

Where do people get the energy to maintain this way of life? I’m not just talking nuclear, solar or wind power here, I’m talking people power. I have always wondered.

Edit Feb 2008: Some comments I received to this post on Blogigo:

1. drifting wrote at May 18, 2006 at 10:38:
What a wonderful post. I love the way you wrote it coming around in a circle. I share your love of books as escapes from reality. I much prefer to live in the world of fantasy where there is justice and true love and honour, etc, etc. And you (or your mother) may be right about an underactive thyroid. I’ve never had the energy that everyone else seems to have – just watching them or thinking about what they do exhausts me. I did have an underactive thyroid (may still do) and with treatment it apparently ‘returned’ to normal levels but that was some time ago before I got fed up with doctors and checkups, and now continue my slow life. I believe in relaxation and activity in small doses.

2. Diddums wrote at May 18, 2006 at 20:52:

I don’t like the sound of checkups and pills forever more either. I can imagine myself making the same choice you did. I suppose I should go in for some tests, though, and see if the suspicion is correct… sigh.

3. Pacian wrote at May 18, 2006 at 22:28:
I can sympathise with preferring the nice scenes in a fantasy sanctuary to the brash adventuring, albeit perhaps for different reasons. It’s always scenes like that that make it feel real to me. If I was in some weird alternate world, I imagine I could take great pleasure in little things like having a home and a window to look out of.

I read something, on a blog not too long ago, that stuck with me. Someone wrote that when you find out more and more about people, you discover that everyone feels that they’re hanging on by their fingertips to a life that moves too fast and is too hard. All our media and stories tell us that happiness is doing loads of stuff and exerting yourself in certain ways, but I don’t actually think that this is true for everybody, or even most people.

4. Diddums wrote at May 19, 2006 at 00:53:
That’s a good point – they do add depth to the book; a little perspective and a chance to study the surroundings. People can sit around and talk to each other a bit more, too – and usually they meet somebody new, or hear something in the way of stray gossip…

I go off some characters if they turn out to be somebody really important – royal personage or such. They get trapped in their new roles and responsibilities at the end of the book, and that never feels quite right to me. Maybe it’s that lack of energy getting in the way again!

5. kateblogs wrote at May 20, 2006 at 16:03:
What a wonderful post, you sum up the modern world so well. There are a lot of great things about the 21st century, ease of communication for example. Oh, and of course electicity and medical treatment. However, sometimes I do envy people in the past. They did have new places to discover and explore, new theories to prove or disprove, and their lives don’t seem to have been as regimented as ours. Certainty is good, but I think we all need a little adventure too.