Sunday Read

It rained on Sunday. I could hear the pitter patter on the window as I woke up. Although we have finally succumbed to the cold and turned the heating on, the boiler had not yet fired when I first became aware that my sleep was concluded. My bedroom was cold but I was snuggly warm under my duvet. The pitter patter of the rain on the window was comforting.

When my need for coffee became greater than my need to rest I wandered downstairs. A great advantage of parenting teenagers is the peace and quiet of the early mornings at weekends. I had time to appreciate the contents of a freshly set coffee pot, and to browse the news sites, before I was required to act with any sort of coherency.

The rain looked to have set in for the day. I decided to leave the family to cope as they so often claim they can. I retreated to my library with my coffee, selected a book that I have been saving for just such an occasion, settled in my armchair and gave myself up to the pleasures of another world.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors. I admire the way that she can write historical, contemporary and futuristic fiction with such depth and believability. On Sunday I read a book that had been favourably reviewed on the sites that I turn to when considering purchasing a book. ‘Cat’s Eye’ did not disappoint.

The book tells the story of the life of a painter. From the perspective of middle age, she looks back and tries to make sense of the moments and memories. From the first chapter I was gripped: ‘Time is not a line but a dimension… like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.’

The narrator reminisces about a life that is so different to mine, yet I could empathise with many of her thoughts. From the third chapter: ‘… everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.’

The plot covers the narrator’s relationships with her childhood peers and the adults who took care of them. The author manages to convey so many thoughts and feelings that I recognised from my own nine year old or thirteen year old self. She captures the insular fear and the impotence of youth, but also the irrelevance of adults. They exist but are not understood or considered. They are an alien species to be wary of.

I gain pleasure from thinking back over my life. If I am lucky and can maintain my good health then I will now be a mere half way through the time that I can reasonably ask to spend on this earth. I hope that there are many more memories to be made, but the one’s that have gone are precious to me. My own childhood and that of my children are my treasure, that I take out and polish with some regularity.

A book such as ‘Cat’s Eye’ reminds me that these memories have a tendency to be rose tinted. I remember a happy childhood, and I consider that I had one, but there were also times when I felt belittled or sidelined by my peers. There were times of rejection and loneliness, when I did not act the part required of me. Children are, too often, power hungry and ruthless in their play. I was never a leader; never cool.

Yet still, it is the friends from my youth that I seek out at every opportunity. I enjoy and value their company for the shared life we have led, that I look back on with fondness. In this book the narrator returned to her home town a success and was preoccupied with the thought of encountering a frenemy. Despite, or perhaps because of, the damage that the early acquaintance had inflicted she was constantly distracted by this possible rencounter. She recognised her flaws and sought answers from her history.

I enjoy many different genres but feel particularly satisfied with a book when I feel that I have got inside the head of a character and gained an understanding. People fascinate me.

On Sunday I spent much of my day avoiding social interaction. I put out food, prepared dinner, but did not seek out company. I was immersed in the world that I held between the pages of my book. Such escapism can be satisfying and enlightening but, for me, should be rationed. I find books so hard to put down. I need to know what happens to the new friends I have encountered between the pages; I feel bereft when I have read their story and must consign them to memory.

‘Cat’s Eye’ is not one of the books that I will rave about to those who will listen, but I would still recommend it. I will not start another book until I have had time to digest the many thoughts and feelings that it evoked. Reading it filled a day, and it was a day well spent.

Cover of "Cat's Eye"


The joy of books

Yesterday I went out for lunch with some ladies from the village I live in. This is a rare event for me as I am not usually one of the ‘ladies who lunch’. It was good to have the opportunity to chat as I hadn’t seen most of them for several months since I left our Book Group. I had been a member for several years and thought long and hard about my decision to leave. However, life moves on and I needed some time out to sort through the issues in my head and reset my priorities. This is an ongoing process but I am feeling more settled now than I have in some time. Leaving the group was the right decision but it was still good to catch up with a few of the members yesterday. They are a lovely, friendly group of ladies with some strong and interesting views. I enjoyed the conversation we shared over our meal.

One of my greatest pleasures is to read a good book. I enjoy a good film but I love books. I generally prefer fiction to fact, although I do read some history, science and media books. I dislike autobiographies and memoirs, particularly when they promote a modern day celebrity or spin a yarn as truth which is subsequently discredited. My antipathy towards this genre has been challenged by the works of Doris Lessing and Roald Dahl as their memoirs told such interesting stories that they could have been fiction. They did not come across as promoting themselves but rather as telling an interesting tale. Their stories were well written; development of the plot mattered more than the main characters.

When a book that I have enjoyed is made into a film I often avoid watching the adaptation. I do not wish the wonderful images in my head to be spoilt by someone else’s interpretation. I become particularly annoyed when a perfectly good ending is changed, or when a key storyline is ignored. The film of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ was an example of this. It seemed so weak when the book had been so powerful.

There have been adaptations that I have enjoyed, such as ‘The Remains of the Day’. There have also been films that stand up well even if they do not follow every thread and nuance in the book on which they are based, such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The sheer length of these films allowed much of the key character and plot development to be covered. I still don’t understand why the film changed the detail of Sauruman’s demise but I enjoyed the films despite discrepancies with the book

Adaptations of books for television often give scope for more detailed coverage although the budget may constrain the quality of the finished product. I enjoyed the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ right up until the end (why did they have to kiss!?!) and found ‘Cranford’ more engaging than I had the book on my first reading. Having watched the television series I reread the book and enjoyed it more.

My film and television viewing is via DVD so I will generally be watching something well after others have seen it. Last year I bought my son the George R.R. Martin books from the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series. My son raved about these books so I decided to get him the television adaptation ‘A Game of Thrones’. I ended up reading the first book on which series one is based at much the same time as watching the show. This was not ideal but I was still impressed with both. I found the television series rather too graphic with it’s nudity and sex scenes but it follows the book closely and is well acted so I put up with my discomfort. With the DVD box set of series two due to go on sale next month I am now reading the second book.

Having read a good book I enjoy discussing it with others which is why I joined a Book Group. Over the years the group introduced me to some excellent books and authors that I may not otherwise have come across. My views of the books we discussed often ran against the general consensus. There were no complaints about this although in the end I was feeling uncomfortable expressing myself. I think this was indicative of my wider malaise at the time.

Books feed my imagination and broaden my experience and understanding. They make me think through issues and question my perspective and principles. I love to discuss a book as each reader is affected by what is written in a different way depending on their views and life experiences. A good book is an escape but also an education. I feel fortunate to have friends who have written books, both published and self published authors. I have the highest regard for these intelligent, fascinating, self deprecating individuals.

What makes a book good is an interesting question. The best seller lists are full of formulaic thrillers, chick lit and soft porn; none of which I enjoy. I want to be challenged and educated by well written prose and original thinking. However, if we all liked the same sorts of books then there wouldn’t be the breadth and depth of choice available and we would have less chance of finding the next, inspiring work. Getting people to read books matters, whatever they choose to read. To quote Haruki Murakami, whose books I have enjoyed: ‘If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’ Choose carefully what you read, but do it.

Song of Ice and Fire Books


The best things in life are not things. Good health, a pain free day, enough food and comfortable shelter are all so much more important. Feeling safe, cared for and loved will provide more contentment than any number of possessions. Yet, it is still so hard not to feel possessive of the things we own.

I love to read good books; I have had some interesting discussions with friends about what makes a book good. I have many bookshelves full of books that I have enjoyed and that I enjoy sharing with others. I lend books out to friends regularly. A physical book is, generally, a low value and easily replaceable item. I often buy my books second hand as I do not need them to be in pristine condition. I have avoided moving to an ebook reader as I wish to be able to share my books around. Why then do I feel irritation when one is not returned? Surely it is better that a book be read than that it gather dust on a bookshelf.

I recently noticed that a few of my much enjoyed books had gone. I remember lending some of them out so approached the lady I thought I had leant them to and asked if she had them. She did not. She had another book of mine and had borrowed one of the missing volumes at another time but returned it. As I lend my books out widely and regularly they could be with any number of people. I felt a sense of embarrassment at having asked for their return. I felt petty and mean, especially when I realised that I had approached the wrong person.

I am as much annoyed by the irritation I feel at the loss of these possessions as about the loss itself. I try to be a generous and giving person and do not wish to concern myself about a few books that I have leant out and that can easily be replaced. When I have finished with some item; toys that my children have outgrown, books that I have read but not enjoyed or clothes that will no longer be worn but that are still in good condition; I gain pleasure from passing them on to someone who will benefit from them. A number of my friends use sites such as ebay to raise money from such things. I have sold a few, small bits and pieces, but found that I gained more satisfaction from passing on freely than from the small sums I raised through sales. When I have expressed this view I have been accused of not appreciating that others have more need of the money than I. Whatever the truth of this, I would not wish to try to influence others behaviour. If they derive satisfaction (and useful money!) from selling items then that is good. I derive satisfaction from giving things away, but only I guess when I have finished with the items myself.

My feeling of loss over a few books cannot be explained in purely monetary terms. In lending out a possession we show trust in the borrower; we show that we wish to share what we have with them. When I have borrowed from a friend I have taken especially good care not to cause damage. Perhaps some of the irritation that can arise from such acts of kindness is in the unknown differences in how a person values an item. There are books that I have leant out that I would happily give away; I do not require them back. There are other, much loved tomes, that I am lending out because I wish to share the enjoyment; I would wish this book to be returned. I cannot expect a borrower to know the difference.

One of my friends keeps a notebook in which she writes down who she lends a book to and when. She also writes her name in her books. Perhaps if the loss of a few books irritates me then I should follow her example. I would prefer, however, to just get over my possessiveness. Good things should be shared and I want to continue to pass on the joy of reading a good book. I wish to cultivate a more generous spirit and not be mean and petty with my possessions.

It is the things that we do not own and cannot replace that have a true value. Our possessions only have a value in the pleasure that we derive from them; it is the pleasure that is of value rather than the thing. Today I will sort through my bookshelves and try to work out which of my books are missing. If I regret their loss then I will replace them. I will remember how fortunate I am that I can do this. I will continue to lend out my favourite books and hope that the pleasure that I derived from reading them can be shared. I will strive to improve myself by cultivating a more generous spirit. How much richer our world would be if all could manage to be just that little bit more giving, not of things, but of themselves.