Reading under lockdown – April round up

I finished March unsure how much reading I would get done. The lockdown had shot my concentration and my usual solace, reading, had not helped. But into April and I found myself adjusting, relaxing into the new rhythms of the days and, although I missed my commute to read in, I found my way back.

Non-fiction helped. I finished Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea early in the month and immediately started reading Tracey Thorn’s book about singing, Naked at the Albert Hall. While I’m not particularly interested in singing except for something I do for fun at home, I do like Tracey’s writing and she made this a welcome wander around a personal subject, interviewing other singers, discussing things like performance, range and stage fright.

I also read The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury. This is a book about how Bradbury enticed wildlife back into a previously abandoned back garden of her new house, one submerged beneath decking and with no sense of life. Although I was interested in the subject, I chiefly bought the book because the title is the same as a dystopian teenage novel I got out of the library as a young girl which made a huge impression on me. From what I remember (the book is out of print) it was about an experimental facility that conducted experiments on teens and I remember nothing except how different it was to anything else I’d read before, and that I was faintly horrified by it. But back to this. Bradbury does great things in a small space with a tiny budget and I loved finding how she encouraged wildlife return but good grief, she was sooooooooo sensitive! There was little in the book to discuss her mental state officially but I suspect there must have been an underlying reason for some of her reactions which were hopelessly OTT. She sat and wept when the neighbouring landlord chopped down a rogue buddleia that the sparrows sheltered in. She wept and dwelled on it for days. People destroy what they don’t value – she did nothing to encourage others, even nearby, to value the area and the gardens, she just cried and oh, she annoyed me.

To fiction, and my daughter’s bedtime story was new to both of us: Moondial by Helen Creswell, a local author, and this was set in Lincolnshire. A time travelling ghost story, it started with a scene of absolute horror (to me – E was fine) and turned into an enjoyable romp of ghostly nonsense. E enjoyed it, and is now looking forward post-lockdown when I shall take her to Belton House, where it was set.

I read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, which I picked up last year on holiday when we visited Lyme Regis. A fictionalised version of Mary Anning’s life and her friendship with another female fossil hunter of the time, Elizabeth Philpott, and how they changed the face of science. It gave Mary Anning a voice, and grounded her in a way the children’s books skate over – it covered both the poverty she lived in and the wonder and knowledge that she possessed in a way that was realistic and moving.

My reading group book this month was The Great Fortune, part 1 of The Balkan Trilogy, by Olivia Manning. I’d had the whole trilogy on my shelves for ages so was glad to get it down and disappointed that it was a very dated book – in a way that I hadn’t expected. The story of a young newly married British couple in Romania at the start of the Second World War, it gave no sense of place and had an old fashioned, patronising, I may as well say racist, view of the Romanians. It was very much a ‘British people acting as if they owned the place’ type of book and I liked none of the characters. While it was well written, it isn’t something that for me has stood the test of time.

And finally, I went back to The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. I had to start it again, having read the first 250 pages and had to put it down due to concentration issues, but soon got through those and continued. It suffers for plot at the beginning, it misses Anne Boleyn to drive the action along, and is slower and more ambling at the start as a result. However, we’re in safe hands and it’s an engrossing read, especially if you’re trying to work out which bits are going to be relevant later on. By the end however, I couldn’t put it down, and stayed up late to finish it and it was so worth the effort. It’s a fantastic achievement and a real inspiration. She deserves all the prizes going.

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