I spent a very dull evening indoors last night. On tv was one of those retro ‘We love’ programmes where middle aged people whine about their lost youth, under the illusion that they are witty sages of a long missed era.
A nod to those times came to my rescue, however, when a retro-like power cut hit the entire area. Homes, street lights, pubs, everything went out. Like a light, of course. Out came the candles but not enough light to even read a book. Which, looking at where my mind is presently, and what I actually bother reading at the moment, might be just as well.
It hadn’t occurred to me until now. Thinking back to therapy, however, it’s obvious. Part of one of the questions on those standardised ‘Scores On The Doors’ surveys, that therapists use to gauge your level of depression (of course, that’s really going to tell them everything), is:
“Do you have trouble concentrating on things, such as reading …”
Every time, I’ve ticked the box for no days in the past fortnight, without even thinking. The Magnolia Tree House is full of books although I hardly ever buy papers since my local newsagent stopped selling the Sunday Post (it’s either The Broons and Oor Wullie or nothing for me).
What I’ve realised, sadly, in recent weeks, is that I can’t bring myself, for whatever reason, to sit and read. It’s inexplicable. I’ve spent my life as a bookworm, hours, days, weeks, months of my life lost to the written page, my mind filled endlessly with pleasure.
Not now though. For the past three weeks I’ve had a book by my bedside, and a book by my armchair. Despite promises to Lesley I would read at least a page a day, the sum total since our last therapy session nine days ago is two pages. Something’s not right.
It’s a real loss to me as the world of books educate, entertain, infuse, enthuse, provoke, adding so much to everyday life. I really do want to get back into books as I used to. In the meantime, again perhaps one for each day of the week, here’s a list, by no means exhaustive or in order, of some of the books that’s had a profound effect on the way I think and feel.
This is beautiful in so many ways, a real modern classic. I was first tipped off about it purely because there was so many references to Inverness. The story, and the prose, gripped me though. The girl, Anthea, meets the ‘boy’, Robin, a lesbian eco-warrior, who’s battling against a bottled water factory where Anthea’s sister, Imogen, also works. It contains the most beautifully written love scene I’ve ever read, without even mentioning a body part. A tale of true love, of doing the right thing, no matter what. Absolutely awe-inspiring.
A genuinely classic example of ‘if you’re only going to write one novel, make it a good ‘un’. Set in a dark Yorkshire farmhouse, it encapsulates equally dark themes of how negative and destructive vengeance and envy is in love and life. I love the narrative, not an everyday novel but how the housekeeper, Nelly sees things going on between Heathcliff and Catherine, when she talks to Mr. Lockwood, a wealthy Southerner who stays in a nearby lodge. Hauntingly wonderful and a lesson on how love is a double edged sword.
I surprised myself with this. I have no interest in cricket, and by and large sportspeople’s biographies are the worst genre of the lot, excrement in literary form. After I heard of the author’s battle with depression though, I took the plunge, although admittedly the £3 price tag swayed it more than anything else. What I was given was a stark insight into how depression can get anyone, at any time. It’s a harrowing read at times, and possibly the most open and honest sports biography of the lot. At the top of his game, Marcus succumbed to the ‘black wings’ of depression and destroyed his career in the process. A brave and engrossing read.
More of a screenplay than a novel, riveting all the same, and again has mental health as a theme. A decades long indictment of The Great American Dream. It’s a pity the first thing people remember about Arthur Miller is Marilyn Monroe because this is a truly great tale. Willy Loman, in his 60’s, has never been the same since a car accident, and his wife Linda worries about him and the effect he’s having on the children, Biff and Happy. Hope, cynicism, love, tragedy, all in the confines of an everyday American home. It’s taught me so much about life, good and bad, and what to make of it.
Causing controversy from the 30’s to this very day. There’s a row raging in Britain, with the government backtracking after apparently withdrawing this from school exam reading literature. Which is just as well, it’s a compelling tale loosely based on the author’s experiences when growing up. Tom Robinson, a black man, is falsely accused of raping a white woman. The narrator’s father, Atticus Finch, is Robinson’s defence lawyer, and as the story unavels, it showed just how deeply ingrained racial prejudice was in people’s lives, the consequences of it, and why fighting it is imperative. Magnificently unputdownable.
Yet another ‘oldie’ but so much intrigue and psychological trauma. The main charcter, Pinkie, is a teenage leader of an underworld mob, wracked with anguish and guilt because of his Roman Catholic upbringing. Inevitably murder is afoot, as well as the pursuit of vengeance, along with a slow mental breakdown, as agnostic Ida relentlessly tries to right what she sees as wrong, with a moral compass taken from everyday life rather than faith. Gripping, frightening, and a book that can’t be put down.
Possibly one of the most talked about, mis-quoted, and maybe even unread, books of the lot. We all know Winston Smith and the first sentence of “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”, of Big Brother, of Room 101, proles, and how so much in the book is part of modern day terminology. What is forgotten in it all is the story of love, or just perceived love, be it in the beautifully evocative countryside or a grubby room. Of how deep the human survival instinct really is, and what you’re prepared to do to others to save your own skin. And how that survival instinct becomes a paradox. It’s chilling yet warm in an odd way. A disturbing joy to read
If you can do one thing this week to indulge yourself, getting yourself into one of these books is what I thoroughly recommend. Your life will be the better for it.
Have a great Sunday – and happy reading xxx