On Being Sick … and Reading in Bed

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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?

Sick again as a child.
Sick … again.

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?

Some of what I've been reading in bed since I've been sick with a cold.
For sickness one needs a variety of reading and listening devices.

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

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67 thoughts on “On Being Sick … and Reading in Bed”

  1. I alway think about my mother when I am sick. There were the plate of daily vitamins and the salt water gargling (as a nurse she believed salt water cured everyday ails), but the endless bowls of Campbells Chicken Noodle soup, glasses of Coca Cola, ice cream and being tucked under the covers…priceless. Glad you are feeling good enough to write about it!

    I am a lover of adventure, biographical and historical fiction books and am currently reading on kindle “The Cartiers, the Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire” by Francesca Cartier Brickell. In paperback I am reading, “To Shake the Sleeping Self” by Jedidiah Jenkins. The first book is self descriptive, the second book is about bicycling from Oregon to Patagonia.

  2. speaking as a scot what you need is a hot toddie: whisky, honey and hot water… lemon optional. couple of those and you will be feeling no pain! seriously though it does work. hope you feel better soon

    1. Ha. Would have… should have… but no whisky in the house, I’m sorry to say. Hot toddies are what we drink when we’re canoeing and the weather turns miserable. Nothing like a big fire and a hot toddie to warm you up.

  3. Besides writing magical (in multiple senses of the word) books for children (including Island of the Aunts), Eva Ibbotson also wrote novels for adults (A Song for Summer) These novels are romances — sweet and sometimes silly, but never stupid. Ibbotson somewhere said that she wrote them ‘for the intelligent woman with the flu’ — a description I loved then and now.

  4. Get well soon. I have just started reading the first book by Cara Black, Murder in the Marais. I am enjoying it. I recently read one of the non Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth called Run! It wasn’t up to the standard of the Miss Silver series. I would say it was ok. I am also reading some Australian indigenous history by Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu. It is fascinating and sad reading about land use and settlements prior to and during early colonial settlement.

  5. Thinking of reading in bed and also thinking about being sick as a child, and I flashed on an image (smell, texture of the cover and of the pages, and the visual of the grey cover’s illustation, the illustration for the poem itself) of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Land of Counterpane — and I found myself reciting “When I was sick and lay abed, I had two pillows at my head. . . .”
    We mostly borrowed books from the library, but at some point Mom must have squeezed the grocery budget enough to get a volume of Stevenson’s poems for children and there were also copies of A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. . . It was a great gift she gave me, my love of reading. . . .
    Glad you’re beginning to feel better. . . .(and so glad you’re loving Diana Athill as much as I do)

    1. Funny how those childhood books are so very clear in our memories. For me it’s Heidi, loved that book as a child, and the Hungry Tiger of Oz. Plus a book of fairy tales and poetry the sight of which I can still conjure in my mind. Parents who don’t read to their children are doing them a grave disservice, I think.

      1. So many overlapping remembrances! My mum wrapped our necks with flannelette cloths when we were sitting up. Salt water gargles. Aaargh. Heidi is a stalwart childhood book. I believe I had what you had in November. Not nice. Must re visit slightly foxed… full recovery soon I hope although less reading time I bet

        1. Oh… me too. Facecloths folded into triangles and pinned at the back of our neck after being slathered with warmed Vicks. We looked like little cowboys in our “neckerchiefs.”

  6. I’m so glad that you are feeling better!
    I was not sick a lot during my childhood but the memories are similar: staying in bed,reading all the time (except during the first days of quite nasty measles I’ve had to spent in a dark room…and I remember reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities after that) . Interesting…I remember only books and reading (my parents usually bought me a new book or went to the attic to find some of their old books), all the temperature,coughing or pain fade out…..I was actually happy
    I’ve started this year with Margaret Atwood’s Testament and continued with Peter May’s Firemaker. Thank you for the recommendation,I love it
    Take care,
    Dottoressa

  7. Sympathies. It is very lowering to the spirits to get ill when older. You seem to be iller, if that is really a word, than when you were young. Saps the vitals. But yes, it always take me back to when I was a child, often in bed with severe colds that laid me flat. Mum making little sandwiches and Heinz soup. Endless nights with menthol on the pillowcase. And reading. The first time I read an Agatha Christie – Hickory Dickory Dock – was when I was confined to bed at about age 10. Delighted, despite the ague. Hope you are up soon and tottering into the clean winter air. But I agree about the toddy. Get it down you.

    1. Ha. Yes, ma’am. I always do what I’m told. 🙂 First though, I’m going to totter outside. Hubby is off skiing. But a gentle stroll around the yard in the winter sunshine will have to do for me today.

  8. Soignes-toi bien. Sometimes a cold leads to bronchitis….
    At the market here, the olive vendors have pickled garlic. It’s crunchy and delicious and not at all hot or halitosis-inducing. I try to eat ail confit in winter to ward off colds, or at least evil spirits.
    Your books sound so interesting, but what a pile I already have. My bedtime reading these days is Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. I’ve owned it for a couple of decades–Hemingway waxed poetically about Trollope’s talents. It is rollicking good fun.
    As for butterscotch pudding, you were lucky. My mother thought Jell-O was the thing to slide down sore throats. I loved that, too, but butterscotch pudding was my favorite thing. Still is. But I wouldn’t so much as swallow a spoon Jell-O these days.

  9. Big commiserations. I guess we’ve all been there . My childhood seemed to consist of one head cold after another & I’m still very familiar with the local ear , nose & throat specialist . Books always helped . Frances reminded me of RLS & his Childs Garden Of Verses & I still remember many of them . Short stories are very handy for when concentration is lacking & Diane Athill is such a wise , honest writer . I really enjoyed that Jim Kelly series too . My last read was an autobiography – Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner – Another of our hedonistic aristos but a very honest & engaging one . A good book , fortunately as I got two copies for Xmas ! TV , if you haven’t watched it , I can really recommend The Night Manager . We finally caught up with it recently & found it gripping . I’m glad you are bouncing back . Isn’t it wonderful when you can breathe easily again

    1. I had my tonsils out when I was two, and my family has never let me forget how many possible family fun outings I spoiled when I was a child. Can’t be that many though… but then again older sisters do tend towards exaggeration. Ha. We watched the Night Manager a few months ago when I discovered it at the library. Hugh Laurie will never be the same for me.

  10. I hope you are feeling better soon. I can highly recommend Becoming by Michelle Obama. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book but it is insightful and inspiring. She also shares lots about what it was like to live in the White House. This as a book that keeps you interested right from the start.

  11. I’m very sorry you’ve been so unwell. Your cold sounds dreadful and I do hope it passes soon. As you say, thank goodness for books! Your reading is covering a broad swathe, which is essential when one isn’t up to much else. You’ve inspired me to get my hands on the writings of Diana Athill. She isn’t well represented in my local libraries so I may have to add some volumes to my personal collection. I’m currently reading John Boyne’s “Ladder to the Sky”, for my book group. It’s about the desperate measures writers can deploy to carve out a literary career and, despite the awfulness of the protagonist, I’m enjoying it. Get well soon.

    1. I hope you enjoy Athill. She was recommended on this blog by Wendy from York and Frances/ of Materfamilias Writes a couple of years ago. They are both readers who opinions I respect.

  12. So sorry to hear you are unwell. I have similar memories of childhood maladies involving having a bath in the morning after siblings had gone to school and then coming back to a freshly-made bed with the sheets being very cold but warming up nicely as I snuggled in them. That memory has bright winter sunshine pouring in as I was lathered in Vick’s and doused with cough medicine. Nancy Drew books to keep me company but no butterscotch pudding!

    1. Thanks, Susan. Wow… this cold is reminiscent of the really bad period when I was first teaching. Before my teacher immune system had not developed. Gad I was sick every Christmas for the first four years. Love that image of returning to fresh cool sheets and Nancy Drew!

  13. Elizabeth Ashby

    Poor you – but books are such a great distraction. Do your chemists have Vick First Defence across the pond? It’s a nasal spray to be used at the first sign of a tickle or a sneeze. I bought it after returning from Italy last year on a packed flight with wheezing and all the rest surrounding us and have used it since then whenever grandchildren turn up with sniffles, or I’ve had a train journey to London with sufferers, and it’s worked. Hope you’re fully restored before long. Have you read Francis Spufford’s novel, Golden Hill? Highly recommended. Best wishes, Elizabeth

    1. I will look for that First Defense, thanks. I haven’t had a bad cold in years, and find that once afflicted it takes me a while to build up my ability to fight them off. I will also look for that book… thanks.

  14. Ah, the smell of Vick’s Rub. The smell of childhood. Sorry you have been laid low. My DH picked up a similar bug after (US) Thanksgiving and only in the last week or two has rid himself of the “bringing up a lung” cough (the sound of his cough is so violent it almost makes me gag–so much for compassion). Hoping your bout is of much shorter duration.
    I subscribed to the Slightly Foxed (SF) quarterly last quarter and am loving it. In order to savour it and make it last, I only read one article a night. I’m also drawing out listening to their podcasts (up to #12) for the same reason. Heading over the Pond in a few days and bringing an extra bag just for books I want to bring back. A bit worried as the list numbers 20 at the moment. Might have to cull it a bit, but once I walk around John Sandoe or Toppings that list isn’t likely to diminish (…she says with glee).
    Here’s hoping you have enough (good) books on hand to get you through this cold and that you are cough and misery free very, very soon.

  15. I’m glad you are on the mend. Reading in bed is such a pleasure. Even though my abdominal surgery last year was more painful than my last two eye surgeries, it was so much less awful since I could read! It’s the only thing that makes illness acceptable. I hope you are back to good health soon.

  16. So sorry you’re sick. I usually get the same exact thing, but so far, have escaped. However, I’ve been sick from the second shingles shot – horrible reaction!
    I think I’ve hit my mystery reads wall for now. I’m reading Dear Edward which I’m loving so far. Curious if you’ve ever read J. Courtney Sullivan books, such as Saint for All Occasions? I think you’d love her.
    Feel better soon xo

    1. I have been delaying getting my shingles shot. But I will have to go soon… think I’ll wait for a couple more weeks, though. Ha. I’ve been saying that all fall. I haven’t read J Courtney Sullivan. I will look for her. I am also taking a break from murder and mayhem. 🙂

  17. Sorry to hear about your sickness. When you hadn’t posted recently, I figured something “more fun” was going on.
    The smell of Vick’s always brings me back to childhood colds – I had strep throat a lot as a youngster.
    I just finished reading The Silent Patient – by Alex Michaelides and highly recommend it. I can’t remember where I heard about it. If from you – thank you!
    Feel betta
    Suz from Vancouver

  18. Feeling your pain. Fractured my left hip just before Christmas (no surgery required, thank heaven) , then came down with a bad chest cold that still has me hacking. Spent most of last three weeks on couch reading. Just finished Elton John’s memoir. Amazing. At your suggestion, i asked Santa for the Peter May China collection and he came through. So many on my TBR pile. Soldier on and get well.

  19. I am so sorry about your bad cold – it’s wretched! And I can say that because I started a cold on Christmas Day, got better and then a secondary infection at the beginning of this week which is much more fluey but not actual flu. Feel so unwell, but making myself get up and watching old films: Oklahoma (wow, but feels quite ‘old’); Cabaret (very good); Ben Hur (the Charlton Heston version which is good but long).

    Reading: From now on I’m going to look at your recommendations. And feeling a little anxious with no books ready-to-read, because I’d finished all my Xmas present books and I’ve not been enable to get out and scour the charity shops, I bought a Kate Atkinson online (Case Histories) looks good and ‘enjoying’ it so far. I simply adore books that are written with spare but beautiful prose so absolutely love Alice Munro and Diana Athill. Two outstanding books with that spare prose again are the Olive Kitteridge books by Elizabeth Sprout and just finished reading Olive Again, so Sprout is an author I shall explore with joy.

    Lovely post – thank you – and I shall write something similar soon but critique the films I’ve been watching. And yes, Vick……

  20. I hope you feel better soon. Coughs and colds are such a bind. I’ve found that having the flu jab the past 3 years has kept the colds at bay. Coincidence? I’ll probably pay for that statement now😂
    I’d just like to say thanks for all your book suggestions. I have just read the Peter May China series and am now working my way through the Enzo MacLeod series set in France. Like you, I find the settings and customs every bit as enjoyable as the plots. I’ve also worked my way through a lot of the Jim Kelly books. It’s especially enjoyable when they describe places you have visited.
    Thanks to you I now have some further authors follow up.

    1. Flu shot didn’t seem to help me this year. But maybe I would have had a cold AND the flu if I didn’t get it. Glad you are enjoying the Peter May books. I always love to hear that.

  21. At the end of 2018 I had two horrific bouts of bronchitis, and at the beginning of 2019, I had knee surgery. As a singer and singing teacher, these were financially disastrous for me (I called the URIs the $2000 cold), but as a reader, it was terrific. I’ve been freakishly healthy this year, knock on wood, and the only thing bad about it is that I haven’t made time to read.

  22. Sending you loads of well-wishes! My mother was a New Englander to her bones when it came to illness, we were lucky to get some Cheracol cough syrup and baby aspirin, which tasted like candy (something else New England frowns upon;))

    I read recently, and ADORED, Circe by Madeline Miller. Quite fierce, but if you like retellings of Greek mythology, and can enjoy a deeply feminist perspective, it’s a cracker.

    1. New Englanders must be like Maritimers in their dislike of “fuss.” My grandmother always recommended remedies we did NOT like. I have not heard of that Miler book. I think I can handle a deeply feminist perspective. 🙂

  23. My mother made custard. I remember hating the consistency of custard except for the top which had cinnamon and was firm. I just read a book that is about the woman who delivered books to remote rejoins of the Appalachia’s. They were library’s on horseback. Such an interesting view of how women were viewed and society was in those days. I couldn’t put it down. I very lively and engrossing story telling. Perfect to recover with. Enjoy!

  24. I hope you are getting better. This post is so nicely nostalgic for Vick’s vapo rub and the cozy feeling of mom taking care of you. Now I fend for myself, in spite of having a husband. He is a good one but not much for administering extra care to the sick bed. A couple yrs ago I had pneumonia as the cherry on top of a vicious bout of bronchitis and the only upside was binge watching two seasons of The Crown on my iPad. And then drifting to sleep.

    In just finished Say Nothing about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and I loved it. It is non fiction that reads like fiction. I learned a lot. I also watched Derry Girls on Netflix, which is hilarious especially to anyone who attended Catholic all girls school, and it is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

    I am reading an oldie, Bel Canto. Thank you for the Peter May recommendation. He is on my list. Keep up the book posts. It is my resolution to read more in 2020.
    Jeanne

  25. You make the “staying in bed and reading” parts of being sick sound so appealing I just might have to fake a cold (have a “man cold”?) and spend some time moaning and lying about reading.
    I read recently that having measles as a child can impact one’s immune system for quite a while and it made me really wonder if having had measles at age 6 contributed to the very bad colds I had every winter as a child — and all the stories above from women my age makes me wonder all the more….here is a link to the article about that study: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2222038-measles-has-a-devastating-and-long-term-effect-on-your-immune-system/

  26. My early years were very impoverished. But in a somewhat macabre vein, one of the best times was when all five of us got measles. Darkened room, stinking, very sick, and I have no memories of the fever, but hey, as we started to come out of our stupor, we got things that we never had: orange juice , crayons, colouring-in books. I don’t wish measles on anyone, but one of my sisters also recalls how fantastic it was getting those treats with measles.

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