I can’t quite believe how my psyche betrayed me today, my friends. Yesterday I was excited to write a post about my winter reading. This morning I was excited to write about my winter reading. And when I sat down to write, I couldn’t muster anything beyond a faint … “Meh.” And a sigh.
“What’s the matter now?” Hubby asked with a hint of impatience. As if he were not himself moody and easily irritated by everything and nothing much just the other day when I was bouncing off the ceiling with good spirits. “It’s my back,” I explained. “And it’s COVID. It’s COVID and isolation,” I ventured. “And it’s the weather. And I’m sick of being cold. It’s my hair. And I’m getting fat. I need something new to wear. And I can’t stand any more political news.” I sighed, “But most of all it’s winter. And COVID.”
All of which is code for… it’s everything and nothing much… it’s me.
But I told myself I would write a book post. About what I’ve been reading this winter. And so I made a start. I just started writing. About reading.
This winter I am uncharacteristically struggling with reading. I think I mentioned that in my last book post. And a while ago I was convinced I had found the answer to my literary mood swings. I decided that I will read exactly and only what I want. Not the books I’m supposed to be reading, not books I’ve told someone I’d read, unless I still feel like reading them. And not books that are “good for me” or will “stretch me” unless I feel like being stretched. Which of course, sometimes I do.
I am doing what a very insightful woman once said in a Slightly Foxed podcast. I am following a thread of interest, wherever that may take me. And this past week I have been reading two books. And I’ve found that, despite my recent struggles, I can enjoy two books at one time, if they are very, very different. This strategy may save my winter reading from deteriorating into winter scrolling.
First, I’ve been reading the beautiful, meditative, poetic Autumn by Ali Smith. It’s a book about art and history and relationships and time, in a way. The main relationship is the friendship between Daniel, an elderly man, and Elisabeth, who lived next door to Daniel when she was a child. The book jumps back and forth in time, the present being when Elisabeth is a grown woman visiting the very elderly, and seemingly dying, Daniel in a care home. The fragmented narrative moves through Elisabeth’s life and through Daniel’s, touching on some of the definitive events of their respective times: the Brexit vote and the ensuing turmoil, the Profumo scandal and Christine Keeler, and through their shared experiences, and an exploration of art as it affected Daniel and Elisabeth, in particular the work of 60’s pop artist Pauline Boty.
Autumn is not a book I wanted to rush through. Otherwise I’d have missed the beauty of Ali Smith’s language and her wordplay. It’s a book that makes one stop and think, and muse, and grow slightly meditative. Several afternoons, I’ve put my book down and sat sipping my tea and just staring out at the snow on the river. And it’s the kind of book that sends me down other reading rabbit holes. I’ve been consuming articles and images about the Profumo scandal and Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies et al. And also articles about the artist Pauline Boty, and her work. So it’s good that Smith’s narrative is fragmented, and non-linear, and thus not diminished by stopping and starting one’s reading.
The other book I’m reading is the Jim Kelly mystery The Mathematical Bridge. It’s very, very different from Ali Smith’s book. Of course, since it’s a murder mystery, plot is king. So I am totally caught up in the story. But Kelly is a fine writer, and he depicts time and place and character skillfully. The Mathematical Bridge is set in Cambridge in the U.K. at the onset of WWII. The Cambridge we see most in Kelly’s novel is a nighttime Cambridge, cloaked in darkness. Detective Inspector Eden Brooke is a WWI veteran, who suffered injury to his eyes while in captivity. So he feels most at home now at night, in the darkness that doesn’t hurt his damaged eyes. Kelly’s depiction of the moonlit cobbled streets and alleys, the darkly churning river, and the ancient buildings is wonderful. As are the characters Eden regularly encounters on his rounds.
This is the second book in Kelly’s Nighthawk series featuring Inspector Eden. Hubby and I have enjoyed them both. I just ordered the third book, The Night Raids, for my Kindle. Jim Kelly is one of our favourite mystery writers. Like P.D. James and Peter May, he writes a great mystery, but he’s also a great writer. Period. I’ve written about Kelly’s other series here, if you’re interested.
In other reading news. Hubby and I both finished the fifth and last book in Thomas King’s delightful Thumps DreadfulWater series. I had put off reading Obsidian because I didn’t want the series to end. We both loved all the books. They are quirky, filled with wonderful characters, and go a long way to restoring one’s damaged faith in human kind. And the mystery is interesting as well. I waxed lyrical about Thomas King’s DreadfulWater series last summer; you can read that post here, if you want.
I’ve been listening to, and loving, the audible version of Jane Casey’s Cruel Acts this week. Hubby and I both like the Jane Casey books. In fact, even though it’s almost suppertime, Hubby is currently in the bedroom with his nose stuck in The Cutting Place by Jane Casey. I guess it’s not just me with my nose stuck in a book when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Ha. I must remember to tell Mum that.
I have had no trouble at all listening to books this winter. When I’m cleaning, they distract me from the fact that I hate cleaning. They keep me contented on my exercise bike, and on my solitary walks.
I took the shot above on my walk yesterday while I listened to my Jane Casey book on my phone. I almost turned around twice it was so cold. Tears ran down my face from the wind, even though I had my hat pulled down to my eyebrows, my neck warmer pulled up over my face and nose, and my sunglasses on top. I hummed the song “The Tracks of my Tears” under my breath. But, once I’d turned, and had the wind at my back and the sun on my face, it was wonderful. A perfect crisp winter day. I pulled my neck warmer down and even eventually took off my gloves.
You know, winter can be excruciating and spectacular. And exasperating because, like yesterday, it’s often one extreme followed closely by the other. And so much easier to navigate when one is listening to a good book.
Ali Smith’s Winter is my next literary read. I’m hoping that I will love it as much as I did Autumn.
I’m intending to pair it with Peter James’ Find Them Dead, the latest in his Superintendent Roy Grace series, set in Brighton. Or perhaps I’ll combine Smith’s Winter with the latest Jane Harper novel The Survivors. Hubby and I are big fans of Australian writer Jane Harper. This latest book is set in Tasmania. Hubby and I spent a wonderful week in Tasmania on our first big adventure back in the winter of 2003, so I may feel duty bound to read Harper’s book before the Peter James. So two very, very different books, meditative musing, combined with murder. I hope that strategy works for me again.
I’m also hoping to get to Hilary Mantel’s book The Mirror and the Light before the snow goes. I waited for it for so long after having adored her two earlier books in the Wolf Hall trilogy. When it came out, I purchased it right away, and saved it for winter by-the-fire reading, and now I don’t want to start it until I am in a better mood. I ordered the memoir Cakewalk by Kate Moses, shown in my book pile at the beginning of this post, because I saw that she had written about Sylvia Plath, and I liked the sound of her memoir, about growing up in the sixties and seventies, about sugar and kitchens, and what sounds like chaotic family life. I’ll let you know how I get on with that one.
I’m hoping that with the books I’ve lined up I’ll be able to keep the reading momentum going after a pretty successful week of reading. A whole week of not tossing a single book aside in a fit of pique or boredom or whatever it is that makes me stop wanting to read a book.
This morning after Hubby and I had discussed my slow start writing about winter reading, all my sighing and getting up to make more tea. And after I “explained” to him what was the matter, he retreated to the basement to wax his skis.
Later he came into the den and asked cheerfully, “How’s it going? What are you writing about?”
“Well,” I replied, “I’m supposed to be writing about my winter reading. But I’m afraid I am writing about not being able to write about reading instead of writing about reading.”
He looked as if he was sorry he’d asked. Ha.
So that’s more or less it for my winter reading. At least so far. Lots of winter left though.
Which is why I think we all need a night off. A pub night with just us girls, all layered up in our winter finery. You’re all invited, of course. Just like with our fantasy backyard book party last summer, or our afternoon tea party, or our weekend in Paris, we’ll be imagining COVID and masks and social distancing gone. At least for 24 hours. So send me a shot of you in your party outfit. The dress code is casual, winter layers, smart enough to make you feel good, and warm enough for an evening in a lovely heritage building that may be a bit drafty. Send the photos to me here by Sunday, February 14. Don’t be shy. We’re all longing to put a face to the names we see in the comments.
P.S. If you are fairly new to my blog and want to read more book posts, you can click on “books” in “categories” and access all the book posts in reverse chronological order.
P.P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission.