Reading When I Should Be Writing

A variety of books litter the landscape of my new studio space with those from my own pared down personal library mixing in with the plastic protected books belonging to the public one. Scattered throughout the house, they can be found in a variety of places such as my desk, the daybed, and dare I reveal it, even the bathroom. I tend to read two, three, or even four books at the same time and an impromptu visit to our home might lead a visitor to think that there are more than two readers in the house.

I have noticed that John tends to read one book before starting another, always leaving it on a small table next to his favorite chair in the living room. I hesitate to call it his chair as he will always offer it to guests and has frequently said that I should sit there whenever I feel like doing so.

Occasionally, I take him up on his offer and when I make a move to change places when he comes into the room, he will say, ‘Stay,’ and choose a place on the sofa settling in so comfortably and with such little fuss that I can see he really means it when he tells me that I am welcome to sit in what I think of as ‘his chair’ anytime I wish.

Going back to how I read instead of where, I tend to treat books the way some people do food by going on word binges instead of fried chicken or Hagen Daz ice cream. That said, anyone who knows me well can tell you of times when I have made a meal of the partial contents of four or five pints of my favorite flavors of what most would consider dessert rather than dinner.

Because I like a variety of taste and texture in my food, I generally buy the flavors with crunchy nuts, toffees, or cookie dough, always rounding it out with my favorite, Hagen Daz vanilla. That vanilla would be my favorite seems strange to me even based on my desire for the variety that comes with a mix of flavors and textures. I think there must be something in the silky denseness of the vanilla that acts almost like a glass of milk along side a plate of cookies. After all the taste testing of the other flavors, the vanilla brings things back to a simple, almost palate cleansing final taste.

Lately, I have been scarfing up books instead of ice cream, unsure whether it’s the result a too tight waistband or a desire for more facts and fantasy. You see, I go from book to book depending on which room of the house I happen to be in at the time. If I am sitting at my desk, I may be reading Write Away, by Elizabeth George which is a gift to writers wishing to become novelists. I have read a few on this subject and her writing/teaching style makes perfect sense to my brain which tends to absorb information in through the right versus the linear left.

If you popped into the family loo, you would find a very dated travel guide to Tenby, Wales complete with advertisements, black and white images, and old maps from 1929. I have been using it for research and it is just one of several well preserved travel guides that belonged to my husband’s grandfather who documented much of their families travels in the old photographs that John still has today.

In my personal bathroom, you would see a copy of The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe that I picked up in a hurry during my visit to the library last week to drop off books. I can never leave books behind without grabbing up a couple on my way out. I noticed it because of the color of the book spine which may seem odd, but color can often attract me to a book when browsing long before I notice the title or author’s name.

Of course even when in a hurry, descriptive blurbs that begin with words like, ‘epic and painstakingly researched,’ along with ‘ spiritual quest and murder,’ draw me in and when I see phrases like, ‘richness in writing,’ it quickly goes into a special bag that I reserve for trips to the library.

Yesterday morning I was still musing over The Lady Elizabeth, by Alison Weir which I had finished just before going out for a run. It was an easy read that provided a somewhat fictionalized version of Elizabeth I’s early life, written by an author known more for her nonfiction. Alison Weir doesn’t appear to depart too far from her normal role as a historian as she weaves her own version of Elizabeth I’s life before becoming queen into a dramatic tale based on historical fact.

She does however allow herself the liberties needed to help the reader feel as if they were tucked behind a curtain ease-dropping on a conversation between Elizabeth and her sister Queen Mary in much the same way that some of her characters did in the book described by one reviewer as, ‘an exceptionally perceptive as well as imaginative interpretation of the most significant monarch in English history.’

Ms Weir’s book carried me so throughly back to the 16 century that I found myself wondering if the famous queen had ever traveled to Cornwall as I was running past structures that predated her birth. Moving in the direction of Helland bridge which was built in 1381 before renovations in the 15 century left it in its present state, I thought about how long ago she ruled and how the bridge on which John proposed to me, had already been in use for 152 years by the time she was born in 1533. I love a book that has such a hold on to me that it stays in my imagination as this one did even after reading the last word.

This morning I began another book I took from the library called, The Widows of Eastwick. Some of you may remember a movie made in 1987 called, The Witches of Eastwick. With a cast of characters played by American actors Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer along with singer turned actor Cher, it was a hit with movie goers looking for something different on a night out. A mix of comedy and gothic horror tied up with a loose red ribbon of sensuality, it worked in reverse as some movies do and sent me in search of the book almost before I had licked the last of the buttery popcorn off my fingertips.

Remembering how much I enjoyed the The Witches of Eastwick, I picked up the sequel which begins three decades later and started reading. I was only a few pages into it before I began to notice the writing and not just the story line. This can happen for one of two reasons, not surprisingly reserved for writing I consider either very good or very bad.

Shades of grey writing tend to be the everyday meat and potatoes of word assemblage for me and while bad writing is more akin to a cold reheated fast food hamburger with wilted lettuce and a slightly off pickle, really good writing is like a meal made up off all your favorite foods along with an appetite that turns you into the most voracious nibbler of all time. With authors I enjoy the most, I tend reread certain sentences or whole paragraphs directly after having it read it the first time.

Being someone that doesn’t always check the author when reading a book especially one picked up during a hurried trip to the library, I sometimes have no idea who I am reading at the time. There are authors who can write something like, ‘We are all swaying on the makeshift rope bridge that society suspends above the crevasse.’ that make it impossible for me not to pay attention to the writer whose words I am reading.

I was not surprised to flip the book over to find the author was John Updike whose novels have won a variety of awards including the Pulitzer Prize. I can see already that this new book will be a more leisurely read as is my way when beautifully done. Occasional gluttony may be one of my sins, but when it comes to feasting on a well written book, I only worry when it takes me away from my own work. Well … that and the fact that the sedentary life of a reader and writer can over time cause as much damage as a Hagen Daz binge when trying to keep ones aging backside from increasing in size.

As much as I would like to keep reading Updike’s book this morning, I think I should lace up my shoes and go out for quick run first and be thankful that the village shop doesn’t stock Hagen Daz before I settle in for the days reading, I mean writing, of course!

Public Libraries & Me

Date: 16/04/10
According to our records the following items are nearing their return date.
Please return or renew them as soon as possible as fines may be charged on overdue items. Please be aware you may not be able to renew your items if the item has been reserved or your account has expired.
Please contact us if you have any query regarding this notice.

Recently, I received this noticed for three days prior to my books reaching the deadline for their return. I have loved public libraries for almost as long as I have loved books, but I must confess, I have not always been diligent about returning my borrowed books in a timely fashion. The first thing I got when I began my transition from America to England was a library card for the Cornwall public library. I began checking out books right away and I must admit I have been late getting them back a couple of times, but nothing too horrible or so I thought until recently.

This time as it drew close to the return date, I began receiving email updates each day letting me know it was almost time to return my books. When I got the first one I thought what a great idea, but with another coming each day, I began to wonder if I was on some sort of list. You know, the kind where someone out there feels like you might need a little instruction or guidance to put you on the proper path.

I decided I was being a bit silly thinking that this might be some sort of behavior modification program designed for people like me until I returned my books yesterday on the last and final day before they would be overdue. And while I can’t say for sure, I think I might have seen a look pass between the two librarians along with a subtle head nod if you know what I mean. Now I am wondering if there’s a repeat offender list for book borrowers … and if so, am I on it?

Bought or borrowed, I hope you are getting your nose in a few good books and I promise if you ever loan me one, I won’t keep it so long that you have to ask for it back.