For years, I thought it was just me. Everyone else I knew seemed to read a book from start to finish, and then move on to the next one. If asked them ‘what are you reading?’ the answer would be quite simple – one title. Students, of course, would be reading a lot of books for essays, but their leisure reading seemed always to be done one book at a time.
I have never managed this! I have always read a lot, although the nature of what I read depends on how I am feeling and what I am doing by way of work. The more tired and stressed I am, the less likely I am to read anything very demanding, and you know things are bad when I can only manage magazines. Usually, though, I read books. Plural. It’s not that I have a grasshopper brain – I can become engrossed in things for hours, missing meals, completely losing track of time. But when it comes to reading, I find it very hard to have only one book on the go.
‘But don’t you lose track?’ I have been asked. I can honestly say I don’t. Within a paragraph I’m right back in the heart of whatever I was reading. It’s only a problem if for some reason it’s weeks or months before I return to a book, but that rarely happens. I usually have at least two, sometimes as many as four or five ‘leisure’ books on the go at once – plus ones that I am reading for research purposes in ‘work time’. I like to have a range of different genres, or subject matter, so that when I sit down to read I can match the book to my mood or how much concentration I can muster. It’s such a treat to be able to make a cuppa and retreat to my reading chair on the sunny landing, or curl up on the sofa, or settle into bed, ask myself ‘which book shall I read now?’ and know I have an inviting selection to choose from.
Recently, I have found I don’t want to read fiction at all. Even my beloved whodunits are failing to entice me – I now have three new ones by favourite authors waiting to be read, and I can’t quite bring myself to open them. I don’t know why – I can only suppose that our current circumstances are so surreal that my brain recoils from engaging with further imaginary universes just now.
At the moment, I am reading the following books for ‘leisure’:
On the Red Hill, by Mike Parker. An intriguing blend of place writing, memoir and queer history, this is set in the hills of mid Wales, in a landscape that’s very familiar to me. Lyrical nonfiction with a large element of social history, I’m finding it totally beguiling (and Mike Parker has written a history of the Ordnance Survey, which I must read next – regular readers may remember my map obsession!).
Walled Gardens, by Jules Hudson. I have coveted this beautifully illustrated and pleasingly square book for ages, and when I was having a melancholy phase recently my partner thought she would cheer me up by contacting the author and requesting a signed copy. I was very moved – both by her loving gesture, and also by Jules Hudson taking the time and trouble to pen such thoughtful words from one writer to another. The book is not only a guide to walled gardens in the care of the National Trust, but also an overview of garden history and a considered exploration of the social history which provides a wider context.
Ghostland: in Search of a Haunted Country, by Edward Parnell. Nonfiction again, this is a quirky but effective weaving together of ghost story, place writing, gothic and memoir which defies categorisation. I met Edward last year at an event at the National Centre for Writing, and on the strength of that and Ghostland I am about to start a 12-week creative nonfiction course for which he is the tutor.
Writing this post has made me think that it might perhaps be worth, every couple of months, writing about what I am currently reading, with a short review of each book. Occasionally the books I read are a chance discovery, but the majority have been recommended by someone else, and it’s good to be able to pass it on!
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