I was sick a lot as a child. I had a cold, and a runny nose, and a thermometer stuck in my face for most of my early years. Or that’s how my sisters and my mum tell it. Vicks rubbed on my chest, bundled up against the cold… even in the summer… even at the beach. In fact, the smell of Vicks or Mentholatum makes me nostalgic. Makes me feel that Mum’s in charge and I am the focus of attention. At least I think that’s probably what’s going on there, psychologically speaking. Tucked up into bed with my best blankie, my favourite books, and the thought of butterscotch pudding with bananas for lunch. Ahhh. The benefits of being sick: lots of attention and reading in bed. Not to mention the butterscotch pudding. Those were the days, eh?
But the past is definitely a foreign country as they say. Those childhood images of sniffling and snuggling down with my blankie and a book? Ha. Long gone, people. This week I’ve had the cold from hell. That’s the reason for the long interval between blog posts. I haven’t been sick like this in years. Wracking cough, aching chest, no energy, no appetite, you get the picture. In fact, some of you are probably suffering from something similar right now.
Each day has been a new experience in misery. I kid you not. I croaked to Hubby the other morning when he inquired as to my status, “I think it’s the beginning of the sword swallowing stage.” And speaking of sore throats, I am seriously done with herbal tea with lemon and honey. And don’t get me started on salt water gargle. Of course, there was the coughing up a lung stage, the climax of which was the ultimate cough-sneeze explosion which felt like being mule-kicked in the ribs. Really, the only bright spot was lying in bed last night, holding the ice-pack to my ribs as I coughed, and dreaming up ways to describe all this to you guys. Ha.
But, you know, even if I can’t actually enjoy being sick like I did as a child. At least there’s still reading in bed. That’s something. Isn’t it?
It’s a lot, actually. When I’m awake, and not coughing, I’ve been reading a ton. And listening too. I re-listened to The Great Darkness, the first book in Jim Kelly’s new Nighthawk series. The Great Darkness takes place in Cambridge in the first weeks of World War II, during what was called the “phony war.” Hubby is reading the book, and enjoying it as much as I am. Barrage balloons, the first “black-out,” and all manner of interesting things well told. Kelly is a very competent writer.
I’ve also been catching up on my Slightly Foxed podcasts. The soothing voices of pleasant, erudite people talking about books is just the ticket when I can’t concentrate on reading myself. Hubby bought me the Foxed Quarterly magazine for Christmas, and while I won’t get the actual magazine until the spring issue, I did receive the “Reader’s Catalogue” the other day. I’ve been perusing it (see above) while listening to the podcasts, in between coughing paroxysms.
I read the third in Peter May’s China series. I wrote a post about the first book The Firemaker a while ago. Since then I’ve listened to the second book The Fourth Sacrifice on Audible. And this past week I finished the third book, The Killing Room. This series is more violent that May’s Lewis trilogy, but I’m really enjoying the characters, and finding the focus on Chinese history and culture fascinating. Plot-wise they are classic thrillers, which I don’t usually enjoy. But I’m loving these. I think that’s because plot is not all they are about, which is classic Peter May, in my view.
I also tried a new writer who I read about in an article on New Zealand crime writers. Paul Cleave’s Cemetery Lake is set in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you’ve ever been to Christchurch you’ll probably agree that it seems like an odd choice of setting for a very old-timey, hard-boiled detective novel. But despite its sometimes gruesome imagery, I found myself unable to put Cemetery Lake down.
And for some peace and quiet imagery amidst all the murder and mayhem, I’ve been reading Diana Athill’s short story compilation, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse. What a tingle of joy I felt when I began to read the first page. Athill’s stories are wonderful. Spare, but detailed. Beautifully written. Endearing, insightful, witty. I love them. Can you tell? The first story made me smile and brought to mind Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. The others remind me at times of the poignancy of Alice Munro. And how Munro can tug at your heart by describing something as banal as a woman’s slip. Or of Margaret Drabble’s A Summer Birdcage, and youthful naivete just waiting to be deprived of its rose-colored glasses.
I read Athill’s memoir A Florence Diary last year when my friend Frances kindly sent it to me when I was laid up with shingles and hoping against hope that our Italy trip would not be cancelled as a result. But I never did get around to reading any of Athill’s other books. Until now.
Now… here’s a real treat that I found on the web when I was checking details about Diana Athill. In this delightful interview she says that the best moment of her life was finding out she had won first prize in The Observer’s short story contest in 1958 for her story “The Return”, which appears in the collection Midsummer Night in the Workhouse.
In her introduction to the 2011 edition of the collection which I am reading Athill writes: “Bury me, dear friends, with a copy of the Observer folded under my head, for it was the Observer’s prize that woke me up to the fact that I could write and had become happy.” I love that quote.
So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past week, folks. Coughing, hacking, moaning, sleeping. And reading.
I’m sorry to tell you there have been no gently nostalgic sickroom scenes at my house this week: no sweetly tousled heads on freshly-fluffed pillows, no feverish brows soothed by cool cloths (unless I applied them myself)… no butterscotch pudding. But there are still the books. Thank god for books, is all I can say.
Actually, it’s what I always say. But never mind.
Now, I have to go gargle. So I’ll turn it over to you, my friends. Any good reading in bed suggestions? Nothing too deep, mind you.
Joining Catherine this week at #ShareAllLinkup