July was a surreal month for me
It started with a kind of hangover from having spent the previous two months reading more out of obligation than pleasure. I was on a judging panel and quite a lot of the titles weren’t really my thing. They weren’t bad; just not my cup of tea. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have minded – it was what I used to experience when virtually everything I read came from whatever the library had available – but over the past 4-5 years I’ve had a bit more disposable income and become very good at selecting books that appeal to me. Of course there were some great books in the mix but it was the ‘meh’ books that left an aftertaste.
So at the start of July I didn’t feel like picking up a book at all.
Then I had a brush with a real crime. A man I have known for a dozen or so years committed a horrific murder. I had spoken to him about something entirely inconsequential only the day before. He is an acquaintance rather than a friend but still… You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned of it. Probably still could. Although there is not a shred of doubt about his guilt I still can’t quite process it. I can’t even imagine what his family and close friends must be feeling if I am so unsettled out here at the very periphery of his world.
The silver lining to this particular cloud was that I felt like reading again. But not crime fiction. Not yet.
And, no surprise, I don’t have much else on hand. Except some old favourites. I haven’t done any serious re-reading for years but I found it hugely comforting to revisit some of my very favourite books.
Like Douglas Adams’ THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. I’ve no clue how many times I’ve read this book but it still made me laugh all these times later. And read bits out loud just to hear the cadence of the language. My first copy fell apart due to overuse so I bought a new one a couple of years ago. Plus I have the audio version narrated by Stephen Fry. Bliss. My favourite line remains “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” That line encapsulates pretty much everything I love about Adams.
Something of a change of pace is Geraldine Brooks’ YEAR OF WONDERS: A NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE. I’ve read this one less times but still don’t know how many. It is a novel of great despair and great hope too and this time I couldn’t help but be struck by the line “How little we know, I thought, of the people we live amongst.” Indeed.
Then I turned to some light non-fiction to re-visit Bill Bryson’s NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND. I’ve probably only read this three or four times but still my copy is falling apart. Bad binding? Rough friends? (it’s been loaned a time or three). I like the way he reminds us that we are (or at least we used to be) generally harsher on ourselves than others could ever hope to be
“How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state – in short, did nearly everything right – and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things – to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.”
Though of course he wrote that before the invention of twitter’s hashtag storms and the comments pages of online news outlets. In those worlds of anonymity cruelty to others has become a dark art. But I digress.
When I wasn’t re-visiting my literary comfort zone I was getting stuck into a visual one. I started re-watching THE WEST WING from the beginning. It’s been about five years so it must be time. Part comedy, part fantasy it is my favourite TV show ever. If only wishing could make the world so. I keep thinking that one of the times I start to watch over again I’ll be bored and not want to keep going. It hasn’t happened yet.
By the end of the month I was starting to feel the pull of my TBR pile. But I went and bought a couple of new books instead. As you do. Well as I do. August’s reading?