Saved By A Book For Adults

About a month ago I was going to bed on a Sunday night and realised that I wasn’t feeling the usual resentful, despairing feeling at bedtime on a Sunday night – I’m exhausted and won’t be able to sleep well, I’ll feel worse when I get up early tomorrow morning, weekends are always too short, I didn’t rest this weekend, I didn’t write enough this weekend, other people seem to be happier than I am, I don’t want to go back to work – but instead I felt sad. Outright sad. I could have cried.

There was a big week coming up for me and I was scared that some of the components might not work out properly. Dad would be in hospital and mum would be in respite care at a nursing home and I was scared, I suppose, about all the things which might go wrong, and unwilling to face up to my responsibilities, which I knew would pile up a bit, on a week like this.

As it happens everything went well. Both parents were home together again on the weekend. But it was only days later – weeks possibly – that I understood something deeper about what I was feeling. I’ve written elsewhere that my journey to work and back must be largely taken up by reading, or else I can feel mentally unsettled and even grumpy. If I don’t read on the train I’m usually very worked up by something.

Now I realised that the reading material itself could have an impact. You see a friend of mine had leant me a book of the kind I don’t normally read. It was all explosions and escapes from certain death as the main character and his allies saved the world. The plot was somewhat convoluted and involved several groups of bad guys, all planning to kill the hero, and the deaths of many minor characters, often in spectacular ways (heads exploding when high-powered bullets struck them was very popular). This story would make an excellent film. It would be a little silly but there would be one-liners and the destruction of sophisticated military hardware and the good guys would win in the end. But it was exhausting to read. This means that fans of this kind of book undoubtedly felt that their desire for more improbable plans and races against time, more action, was delivered. But I found it really difficult to read.

It was difficult to read because there was little respite between the action sequences but mainly because it was all plot and very little character. There were no examples of reading a sentence and thinking, “That was beautiful. I’ll read it again slowly.” There was nothing to savour. There was no poetry, although the story had been assembled very artfully indeed.

And I’m not criticising this kind of book. Not at all. It just isn’t really for me. It was big and fat and heavy and when I was reading it I was thinking about other things I could have been reading. And this absence – the absence of what I usually read and what it does for me – was I think partly responsible for the seriously melancholy mood which set in. I had no release. The appreciation of beauty provides a release. But I also lacked the psychological interest in characters who act and speak in ways which can’t be predicted.

And there were such books to read. When Laetitia and I were on leave recently we went silly at a very good second-hand bookshop just out of Sydney. I was particularly pleased with my haul, which includes biographies of Proust and Evelyn Waugh, Mr. Norris Changes Trains to go with Goodbye To Berlin on the shelf (a book I’ve been looking for for years), EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, which I’ve been dipping into when I get a few minutes spare and have been loving, and a handful of cricket books by the great cricket writer Neville Cardus.

Mr. Norris is finished now and was excellent and I wonder why people don’t seem to talk much about Isherwood. In any case, it was a book for adults, and it hit the spot and I’m feeling much better now.

Published in: on September 27, 2017 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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