Archive for January, 2021

Words and Wishes for 2021

January 2, 2021

My daughter sends me her reading list for 2021. She reads voraciously with a commitment I admire, stretching herself, sounding new authors out.  She is never intimidated by a title. Her list is long and impressive.

On the Road …The Alchemist … The Woodlanders …

My own reading ambition is burgeoning in samples on my kindle. I read book reviews hungrily. I listen to podcasts about books. I devour excerpts in the papers. I stuff other people’s words into my head, like food into my mouth, hastily. I gobble language; it sustains me. I delight in exactly the right word, the perfect phrase, a writer’s sentence that conjures something of my own life so perfectly it could be drawn from my own experience; they have just articulated it with greater eloquence or brevity or colour. When Clover Stroud describes her baby son patting her ‘with his starfish hand’ I am stung so sharply by the memory of my own children’s plump hands  more than two decades ago – exactly like starfish for their five fingered splay – that tears spill. When Charlie Gilmour paints the bank of a river as ‘scorched brown in places, lush green in others, as if sewn from a huge strip of army camouflage’ I can see it, I can feel it beneath my bare feet, the needling prickliness of the dry against the soft carpet of well watered, and when Tara Westover writes of her journey ‘You could call this selfhood many things … I call it an education’ I am not sure any memoir has concluded with so powerful a line.

Memoirs are my go to; other people’s lives help me to unpick something of my own – Fuller on Africa and loss; Calidas and Liptrot on isolation; Stroud and Segal on motherhood, Andrea Gillies ‘Keeper’ helps me to understand something of my mum’s fraying memory just as Matt Haig and Sally Brampton and Gwnyeth Lewis helped me to navigate depression. Some people read to escape. I don’t need to: I live too far away for that. I need milestones and anchors.

I have inherited this – this need to understand my life by reading about others’ from Mum. Mum who instilled in me the power of a good book review, who propagated in my children – all three of them – the imperatives of reading; she sent them dozens of books. Intuitively she knew precisely which book would fit the tastes of which child. Many of those titles still languish on shelves here, or are tucked, when the shelves run out of room, into chests.  Books are heaped on my bedside table. I cannot sleep without reading. My nightstand would seem naked without a pile of books; they mark it as my side of the bed.

‘What will you do with them all, when we have to move again?’ Asks Ant shaking his head in disbelief and frustration at my bibliophilia; I have books from my grandmother’s collection. 

I promise I will downsize, ‘I promise’, I say.

If my Kindle were weighted with the titles I collect and the samples I gather greedily to myself, I wouldn’t be able to lift it. I love the immediacy of reading a review and watching the book pop up in the virtual shelves of my Kindle. I wish I read faster, had read more, but more than anything I wish Mum could still read.

My promise to myself in 2021 is to make up for her loss. To read what she cannot. So that I can tell her other people’s stories. 

I promise to read for Mum.