From Litlove and also from Charlotte. Since it is Thanksgiving, and also because I spent a week or so feeling fractious and uncomfortable and tense and slightly panicked because I didn’t own what I wanted to read next (Trollope) and of the handful of available books on my TBR shelf, nothing else would suit. On a couple of days I even went out without a book at all and dear gods, what was I thinking? Living in the real world for days at a time is very bad for me. Finally I nipped up to Posman’s one lunchtime, found Can You Forgive Her? and a couple of other titles and immediately felt that nasty lurking sense of wrongness dissipate. So, probably, I’m certifiably nuts, but I have the whole rest of the Palliser series on order now so I don’t care.
What reasons do you have to be grateful for books?
For providing wonder and learning, company and escape. For teaching me that childhood, school, family, work, marriage, love, the world could be other than it seemed to be and so that I could change things if I wanted to. For giving me a vocabulary and a sense of curiosity and letting me travel in time and place. Even for being decorative and giving warmth and comfort to a room.
Is there any author for whose existence you are especially grateful?
There are loads who have been the right discovery at the right time. Donne and Shakespeare and Emily Bronte, to whom I was well introduced at school. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. David Kynaston and Peter Ackroyd, Georgette Heyer and D.L. Sayers, Anthony Powell, Elizabeth Goudge, David Eddings, Paul Scott, Enid Blyton. They build on each other.
What positive impact does reading have on your day?
It takes me out of my day, mostly. I’ve always had the ability to fall so deeply into a book that I lose awareness of my surroundings and I’m grateful for that. Now I read on the train, and I can forget that I’m standing up for an hour, or if I’m having a bad day at work I can run away and read myself out of it at lunchtime. I’m patient about waiting at doctor’s offices or anywhere else, because it’s not wasted time. When I’m having trouble switching off my thoughts, if I pick up the right book I can turn the whole of my concentration onto a different track. Reading is therapy.
What good things has reading taught you?
That intellectual curiosity is a good thing and that I don’t have to accept what I’m told. Particularly when I’m told by someone in ‘authority’. I hope reading has taught me empathy, given me some self-awareness, and broadened my contexts too, because it’s a way of pre-experiencing situations and seeing how they might be dealt with.
Is there any particular book that’s special to you?
The Latin Dictionary that I carried everywhere with me for three years used to be. I quite missed it when my degree was done. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and Glenn David Gould’s Carter Beats the Devil because I read both of them at a point when I was sick of contemporary fiction and had begun to think none of it was any good. I grew up on Enid Blyton, from Tales of the Wishing Chair through The Famous Five to Malory Towers. Wind in the Willows, which I read time and time again until finally I understood it all. Generally, unless I have chosen very poorly, they are each special for the duration of the reading.
What are you most happy to have read recently?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, because Thomas Cromwell lived on the page. Little Bee by Chris Cleave, for being emotionally hard hitting and instructive without didacticism. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway because it was funny and sad and had ninjas and about 1000 ideas per page that each could have sprung off to be a new novel, and it had the most energy of anything I’ve read this year. Austerity Britain by David Kynaston, for being fascinating and letting me see how the country I grew up in developed. Alms for Oblivion, vol 1 by Simon Raven, because Mr W spent time tracking it down for my birthday and as a grubbier and more sordid counterpart to A Dance to the Music of Time.