Eileen Carnell sent me an email. I asked her if I could use it on my blog. Eileen and I wrote several books together. (Here we are at a reading of Retiring with Attitude at Leatherhead Library in Autumn of 2014).
A response to your blog of the 10th January: Best Books for … the Long Haul
On Saturday morning there was no possibility of taking a walk. There were chores to do and indoor exercises to undertake but I thought that while I drank my decaff I’d read just for a few minutes. About two hours on, and 71 pages later, I put down my birthday copy of Hamnet*. I was captivated, transported back to 1596, my brain conveyed to a different landscape. I was immersed, time stopped, the outer world no longer existed. This is how I love to read – it feeds my spirit, provides sheer joy, escapism and a sense of well-being. As such Hamnet is a brilliant book to read during lockdown and the terrible connection between the plague of that time and Covid makes it even more timely.
I’m not a fan of cartoons. Comics were banned in our family when I was growing up so I never really learned how to read them, not knowing which bit of writing to read first or which part of the picture to look at**. But a second birthday gift this year changed my mind about such reading formats. This is Couch Fiction with its great sub-title A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy. This book is witty, droll and delightful. Phillipa Perry *** is the psychotherapist in question. Flo Perry, her daughter provided the illustrations.
This book works on two levels. It tell the story of a psychotherapeutic encounter through pictures, speech and thought bubbles. Then beneath each page of the interactions between the two characters there are notes which demystify the encounter providing an easy read of the theory, for example, it highlights if the therapist is moving too fast, her use of hunches, any clumsy interventions and how the person being helped may react, and for students of the process there is some useful stuff on transference and attachment theories. So this is familiar territory for me but a great light but satisfying reminder – a perfect gift for me.
The Best of Me
And speaking of the joy of the familiar and ideal presents I will never tire of reading David Sedaris. In particular his short story about the mouse entitled Nuit of the Living Dead is fantastic. This book The Best of Mewas one of my Christmas presents. Reading what makes me laugh out loud is such a tonic and really does raise my spirits – a treat to come for anyone who hasn’t read it – so witty, so subversive. I was lucky to have heard him reading this story aloud at The British Library a couple of years ago.
I love being read to so Talking Books are a joy to me, especially to send me off to sleep during these troubled times. Instead of watching the news at ten I settle down to listen to stories. Re-reading is also something I enjoy and I’ll never tire of Sissy Spacek reading Scout’s account of her first day at school with that wonderful Southern accent of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve also listened this month to Elizabeth is Missing, How to be Both, The Accidental Tourist (again) and Jane Eyre – hence my opening sentence ****.
Some beginnings are embedded in my brain and while reading I’m looking out for beautiful descriptions and passages that I wish I’d written. I love examining openings, not just of books themselves, but of paragraphs and new chapters. It can often take me a while to read a book because I spend ages re-reading sentences to analyse their construction. I love names too and often make a note of them to steal later for my own novella – swopping first names of some with different surnames – Gregory Page-Turner and Saffron Milford are examples of ones I plan to introduce soon – he a church warden, she a novelist.
I’ve also got waiting for me from Christmas and birthday:
Raynor Winn, The Wild Silence
Sarah Moss, Summerwater
Monica Connell, Gathering Carrageen
Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain
Mark Billingham, Cry Baby
Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
Jacqueline Winspear, Birds of a Feather
And with a book token given to me by my brother-in-law for Christmas I am going to order the second and third in the series of Ian Rankin’s Rebus thrillers.
I’m confident I have enough reading material to keep me going for ages. Who knows when I’ll get my second vaccination or when lockdown will end but I hope I’ll have one or two books left to take on board a train or ferry to Scotland or Ireland again. Roll on Summer.
* Hamnet and Hamlet were used in Shakespeare’s day interchangeably. This remarkable book is written by Maggie O’Farrell (2020).
** An exception to this rule was Posy Simmonds in The Guardian
*** Her husband is the more famous artist Grayson Perry.
**** Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma Healey, Elizabeth is Missing
Ali Smith, How to be Both
Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
From Eileen Carnell
Related posts on Bookword
Best Books for … the Long Haul (January 2021)
Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 (September 2020)
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (February 2015)
How to be both by Ali Smith (March 2015)
The Accidental Tourist (again) by Anne Tyler (October 2015)