Well, who knew the first thing to desert me in a time of national crisis is my desire and ability to lose myself in a book? And bearing in mind that I started March so excited by the publication of The Mirror and The Light it’s just really rubbish timing. I’m 250 pages in, can’t remember anything that’s happened and can’t concentrate when I pick it up.
I started the month re-reading the five volumes of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard as I was immersing myself in a big character-based saga while I waited for the Mantel. I’d not read the fifth volume before, set in the 1950s and published just before Howard died a few years ago, and I don’t like it nearly as much as the others. It feels like a sequel and not a series continuation. However, the series as a whole is a splendidly enjoyable piece of work and I shouldn’t complain that one of the volumes is less than the others.
For a change, I took Car Park Life by Gareth Rees away for a weekend (seems a long time ago) at the beginning of the month. This is a non-fiction exploration of the life in car parks surrounding large faceless warehouse-type shops, the out of town strip malls featuring B&Q, the Range and various supermarkets. It’s a wry look at modern life and the soulless nonsense that dominated life not so long ago – a good read during these strange times where we are suddenly either staying at home or standing in one of these car parks, at least 2 metres away from anyone else.
And then the lock down. I have two reading group books to get through for next week – one taking place online, the other probably not – and haven’t been able to get through either of them. It’s not the writing, it’s my mind.
So I’ve turned to non-fiction, knitting and embroidery to relax. I do them while listening to the sound effects on the Calm app. The non-fiction is Salt on Your Tongue by Charlotte Runcie. It’s an exploration of our relationship with the sea, especially women’s relationship with the sea, and much of what she says seems familiar to me. It’s gentle and reflective and about all my mind managed last week as I worked overtime and worried, and this week as I worked extra time and home schooled my daughter.
One of the good things on Twitter at the moment is that lots of bookish people are saying similar things. Reading is not doing it for them in the same way. I’m planning to find some more non-fiction in the house – I have some Rebecca Solnit, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, and Tracey Thorn’s autobiographical volumes all waiting. Perhaps then, I may go back to Thomas Cromwell.