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Sunday 4 April 2010

The Lenten Read - It Ends

It is Easter Sunday, signifying the end of Lent, and while many are gorging on the vice they had denied themselves, I have spent much of this morning sitting in the sunshine with a book.

My reading forty pages a day is essentially a commitment to Time. One of the most regular complaints I hear from customers in the bookshop is that they don't have enough time to read. First of all, quantify "enough". Second, this is exactly why I do my Lenten Read, to give myself permission, in pop-psychology parlance, to ignore the many tasks screaming for attention and devote a guilt-free hour to a book.

The gamble in making a commitment to [fill in your Lenten pledge here] is not knowing what will be thrown at you by Life during those forty days. Life made things interesting for me by producing a stray puppy, and puppies take up Time and finding that hour to read became a real challenge until she went to her new home. I did choose to spend time with friends visiting from afar over completing the full forty pages every day, and had been careful to pick a book that was easy reading for the duration of their stay, but I caught up easily over a couple of days. Overall, I managed to do what I had set out to, finding the flexibility to fit in a dog and people, and without the rest of my life descending into complete chaos. Already I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year.

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Monday 8 March 2010

Beg, Borrow, Steal

Sometimes a book calls out to you in a voice as strong as a summer breeze. You lift it up, caress its inviting cover, turn it over and back as though to make sure it fits the grip of your hand and before you know where you are, it belongs to you. You leave the shop, and head for home knowing you have a treat in store. A million chores await, the list goes on and on in your head but wait a minute, a poem arrives on cue, a reminder that some things can wait and other can’t, some simple pleasures should not be denied. "You’ll be a long time dead," she said so long ago, and she is now and she was right and I dare not forget her words. You slip into your favour chair, kick off your shoes, and ignore the world for a while as you dip into Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. Joy of joys! Need I say more?

Leisure by W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

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Tuesday 23 February 2010

Holiday bliss

The four of us are sitting at a corner table in Marbella - that of the sea, the shops and the unexpected sunshine - in our hotel bar reading our books: P is deep into The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig with a cold cup of coffee in front of her; T is thoroughly enjoying Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell with the remains of a bottle of Coke being cleared away by the bar girl. G, with a very pleasant glass of rosé in hand, is on the second part of The Notebook, The Proof and The Third Lie by Agota Kristof, an intriguing novel that I may have to reread; and I am stuck into another Mankell, The Man from Beijing, that is so enjoyable. For once we aren't yacking away but are absorbed in our other worlds, the amiable chatter of our fellow residents burbling away in the background, the musak a gentle thrum of guitar. Oh but this is bliss!

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Friday 12 February 2010

Blooming holidays!

You’ve decided where to go, booked flights, organised hotels, packed and weighed your bags, sent the cat to longsuffering relatives, persuaded the dog to take up residence in a home with bars across the windows, and all you have to do is make sure you have something decent to read. Simple? No, definitely not!

To Pisa, Italy, I brought three books: one was ok, the second was awful, and the third I had read before (a ghastly mistake) so I set off for the largest bookstore in town. The English section comprised two sets of shelving in which Charles Dickens and Dan Brown featured among the usual chick-lit and dross of the lowest order; I chose the former and spent the remainder of my holiday with Hard Times tucked under my oxter (not a bad choice as it turned out. I can now visualise Miss Haversham at the table of her wedding feast and the genial Pip as he grew up with a cast of the strangest characters). Note to self: plan better next time.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, with five books in tow, none of which I could read on the flight as I was seated next to Bill for the long haul with whom I talked non-stop, laughed, watched the same movie, and left in Chicago with a nod of regret. No sooner landed than I headed for Borders that was full of luscious temptation that I didn’t resist; next was Barnes & Noble, another house of sin for the likes of me. More books to read but still I didn’t manage a single page due to (a) the time difference that had me in bed by eight; (b) so many relatives dying to catch up on old times; (c) the view from the back garden of humming birds flitting around the feeding table; (d) the wonderful dry heat that did me a power of good. I eventually managed to get stuck into Henning Mankell who kept me highly entertained with his grumpy detective, Wallander (who could do with a good holiday himself), and a bloody crime to be solved by fair means or foul.

My flight home was just as fortuitous with Harry, another of Chicago’s sons, for company who helped me carry my suitcase, bursting with unread books, to a waiting bus.

Next week I’m off to Marbella with three gals from the book club for seven days of fun, fun and more fun. We’ve agreed to take two books each to share after reading so basically that’s one book a day if all goes according to plan. It should be enough, but then again, what if none of them are any good??? Oh the trials and tribulations of being too far away from my favourite bookshops and that steady supply of literary surprises growing like sturdy trees beside my bed, on the sideboard, near the couch and strewn on the hall table.

Having a good book to read is like a security blanket for bibliophiles without which we’d turn into nasty, spiteful, frustrated bores longing for an English box of Cornflakes off which to read (as if we needed to know) the ingredients, nutritional value (ha!), country of origin, and other useless information. Reading is reading when it boils down to it and going mad in a world without books doesn’t bear thinking about.

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Wednesday 12 August 2009

Tempus Fugit

How many times have I heard someone say, Oh, I haven’t got the time to read! What’s implied is that those who do read have less important, less stressful lives so of course they have time to read. But we’ve all been allocated the standard twenty-four hour day, seven day week, complete with all the attendant trials and tribulations that life can throw at you. I don’t get any more time than anyone else; I just choose to spend some of that time with my head stuck in a book.

I get up early and read in bed with tea and toast before anyone else even thinks about rising. I take time out after a meal, let the digestive system work away, while I manage another chapter or even two. There’s always a book in my bag for when I’m stuck in a queue at the bank or the post office. I’ve even been known to whip out my latest read as I wait to pay for the groceries, all irritations swept away while I take myself into a world where sulky bar codes, loose change in bottomless purses and complaining voices vanish into background noise. Next? Next please??

And as my neighbours switch on their television for the evening soap opera, the familiar music piercing through our thin separating wall, I take up my book, once again, for an absorbing half hour.

As a result, my blood pressure is normal, I don’t suffer from stress, I travel the world without leaving home and I meet a multitude of different characters who entertain, inform and amuse me daily.

For something completely different, try reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s about Henry for whom time has no relevance as he switches back and forth through the ages catching up with Claire, the love of his life, who processes time same as the rest of us ordinary mortals. It’s a love story about coping with the vagaries of time travel while the characters learn to enjoy life, with all its attendant surprises, to the full.

Why not try and make time for yourself to discover the immense pleasures of reading. It may even save your life.

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