I am having to cancel our family’s attendance at a Thanksgiving dinner tonight since three out of five are ill, but I am still grateful. Mourning the pumpkin spice cake, but grateful. Like Litlove, today I am grateful for books.
What reason do you have to be grateful for books?
I think we all love to be told stories, and there is nothing better than reading the first few pages of a novel and thinking, “Aha, I’m in the hands of a master.” I love that moment of relaxing into a book, trusting that the author is going to take me somewhere safely and at the end, I will be better for it. So to me books are journeys, escape, freedom, new horizons and new destinations – and I am grateful for those, always.
Is there any author for whose existence you are especially grateful?
It’s hard to say because I have loved different writers at different stages of my life. Right now, the two writers whose work I’m relating to most are Siri Hustvedt and Lionel Shriver – they write burning psychological novels that cut to the quick of what is important. I like being exposed to their world-views, and I love how both write ungendered stories – there is no female perspective or male perspective, but a human one. I gasp in admiration.
What positive aspect does reading have in your day?
Firstly, it provides escape and a welcome one. Daily life can be a grind, and it is a relief to have a book to escape into. I was home with a sick child yesterday, and we snuggled in bed together, he working on getting well and me frantically flipping the pages of Ildefonso Falcone’s Cathedral of the Sea. I also read myself to sleep at night.
What good things has reading taught you?
I’m generally empathetic and a listener, maybe more so because I read. In a way, my reading is selfish – it’s something that’s for me and me only, which as a parent, is a healthy escape. I think it’s sane to have a place to go off to and not be drinking in the family’s every emotional tide. I guess it’s also a learning experience have such personal access to a writer’s mind. Then there are some writers whose minds are so gruesome, I don’t particularly want to spend time there. Reading teaches me discernment. Slightly off-topic, I know that my many hours of reading aloud have turned my kids into readers. I’ve just watched my second child get the bug, and now have the joy of going into her room every night and wrestling the books off her before I switch off the light.
Is there any particular book that’s special to you?
Once again, it’s hard to pin down. I think the Narnia books for cementing my love of reading forever, The Canterbury Tales for teaching me the universal appeal of a story, Othello for teaching me the dark power of jealousy, everything by Athol Fugard for opening my mind to the insidious nature of oppression, Harry Potter for being my birth partner, everything by Nigella Lawson for teaching me how to cook, and everything by my two heroes Siri and Lionel for teaching me that women can write big, intelligent, sweeping books. So, no, would be the answer, not one particular book.
What are you most happy to have read recently?
Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand (known as Little Bee in the US) for an object lesson in voice, my friend Nova’s debut novel Dani Noir for its charm and, come to think of it, another object lesson in voice, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for its sheer excellence.