Wednesday, 10 August 2016

By The Book

"These are the days of your life. And the thing to do – is live them."  Miranda Sawyer, article in the Observer, 14 August 2011


After several years of struggling to make the time to read when all I wanted to do was knit, I have discovered audio books.  Out in the fields, pottering in the kitchen sink, or sitting at my sewing machine:  I can have literature running through my head and flowing out of my fingertips, inspiring my everyday activities.

More than once, my mother has cut me off at the knees with a disparaging: "Oh, I suppose you read that in A BOOK, did you?  You can't do anything without reading a book!"  Nowadays she substitutes "the Internet" as her chosen term of abuse.

My mother has told me that she had never read a "whole book" until I was six years old, when my aunt marched us both to the local library, horrified that there were no stories in my life.  For her 91st birthday, I bought my mother a subscription to Listening Books.  Although she complains that the narrators are "too posh, with marbles in their mouths" and the stories "too modern and full of language", she is beginning to find some favourite authors (Crime Stories, without sweary words please) and certainly thinks she has a new best friend on the Listening Books helpline (to whom I can only apologise).

In my bereft state of mind, I have drawn solace from Decca Aitkenhead's All at Sea.
I have been mesmerised by memories of summer in the 1970's with The Girls by Emma Cline.
I sought light narrative, but found a poignant exploration of love and grief in The Turning Point by Freya North.
I recalled people, places and things I had forgotten with In Gratitude by Jenny Diski.
I was immersed in the social mores of 1950's Naples listening to My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

Right now, I am listening to Villette by Charlotte Bronte.  For most of my life I have professed that this is my favourite book of all time.  But it must be 30 years since I read it, and it is not at all what I remembered.
If ever there was a template for my adolescent angst, this is it. Now I am having to put the narrative on pause while I interrogate myself:  whatever made me think I could navigate my teenage years with such a melodramatic role model as my guide?

And now...?  What about now?
Here I am at another crossroads, unsure of where I am headed.  I have found a sheltered spot under a tree, spread a metaphorical rug and set out a picnic.  I have a selection of tasty treats:  knitting, books, music, spinning, cross-stitching, sewing, all to hand.  But if I shade my eyes against the sun and squint at the horizon, there are other possibilities out there - new places to explore, people to meet, things to be done.

As a lonely teenager, I used to read articles entitled "How to Make Friends", as if that was the secret to a happy adulthood.  I should join clubs, go to evening classes and get invited to parties...  but then I met FL and I didn't want Other People.  That's a hard habit to break and maybe I don't need to.

This morning I finished reading Out of Time by Miranda Sawyer.
It is a book for those of us who are seeking a jumping- off point for the rest of our lives, when we have become invisible.
When we realise we are never going to be Bowie .
And that he has gone now.
Yes, she makes that reference - she could be my friend!

Unlike other such books, it is written from the perspective of someone who did not subscribe to the mainstream ideals of white weddings and power suits, who now finds herself in mid-life, uncertain of her future direction but hanging on to the things that make her happy.
Music!
Dancing!
Art!
Reading!
We can be the women (or men) we always were... but older.  Different.  And that's OK.
It is not a self-help book, but it is helping me address the peculiar nuances of finding myself middle-aged and alone.

Books, you see.  I can't be without them.

32 comments:

  1. Beautiful Roo, just beautiful. I hear you...

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  2. Books - proof of evolution - where you can visit anywhere and meet anyone without leaving your home or where you can find help for a new journey 😊 love them x

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  3. You're not alone, if you've got a book ...

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  4. you're alone? hey! what are we, chopped liver? (just kidding)

    personally, I've always been an avid reader & movie watcher with hermit tendencies. I do sometimes wonder how I could have more of a social life, though.
    :-) Chris

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    1. What an offal (hahahaha) thing to say! :)

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  5. We who like our own company and our hobbies fully understand this. I read, sew, knit and hike. Most of these are by their nature solitary pursuits. Don't discount that there are new adventures waiting for you, but be happy that you already have so much to enjoy. I love my audio books. I listen while I knit and sew and walk. Love them!

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  6. We who like our own company and our hobbies fully understand this. I read, sew, knit and hike. Most of these are by their nature solitary pursuits. Don't discount that there are new adventures waiting for you, but be happy that you already have so much to enjoy. I love my audio books. I listen while I knit and sew and walk. Love them!

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  7. I can't imagine living without books (and sewing and knitting). I have moved many times (although not lately) but joining the library was always my first order of business. I think what I am (and perhaps you are) is an introvert. It's a continuum so for me, as a high school teacher I can shine (and sing and dance) at school with my students but come home exhausted and need to recharge (mostly) by myself. But it works for me. And my husband and my few, very good, friends. I know you will find what works for you. Enjoy your books, I do!

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    1. Thanks Jodie. Yes, I too have another persona for work purposes :)

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  8. Yes, I fully understand these solitary activities made better with an audiobook. Do you know abut Overdrive? It's an app for phone or IPad or tablet that allows you access to your public library (its worldwide but you have to have a library card for whatever library you access). They have both audio books and ebooks available for FREE! Be aware that if you load it onto your smart phone it might be difficult to see the tiny print so I find a tablet it much better. If you are reading an ebook you can enlarge the print and access the dictionary too.

    I found it so sad that your mother's attitude toward books is still with her after all these years. My family didn't have many books either but once I found the library I became a regular user at about age 6.

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    1. Thank you for that idea - I have seen this on the library website but didn't really understand. I must investigate :)

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  9. My family was always saying "She's always got her head in a book" and I think it was said as a criticism but they were people who went out, socialised, danced, etc and I didn't. Now I spend most of my time either sewing or reading blogs and the tablet has stopped me reading actual books. I want to get back to them. After 70+ years I finally don't have my head in a book. I miss them.

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    1. Try audiobooks! I think it has improved my listening skills and doesn't need to be "watched" while I am working with my hands.

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  10. Oh that's me in so many ways. I love my books on kindle or on paper. Always have always will. They gave me solace all my life when things were too painful to bear, they gave me hope and they gave me other worlds more beautiful than mine was.. Now they give me a space , a breathing space from appointments and heartbreak. They inspire me to create. Your way will open up for you Roo I am sure, it may just be hidden in the mists until it's the right time to reveal itself . Much love sent xx

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  11. I so enjoy reading your posts. I don't think I have much else to say right now, other than that I love reading books that move me, and I wish you well. :)

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  12. You write so eloquently ...and from the heart.Perhaps you should consider writing your own book when you are ready .
    I,too,wish you well .

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    1. Thank you. I might just do that one day.

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    2. I second Carole's suggestion.

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  13. I love listening to Radio 4 as I enjoy the variety, though having said that I'm in a 'silent phase' at the moment. Sometimes burble in my head, however interesting, gets a bit much. I must try audio books too though. I'd love to be someone who has lots of friends, but it's quite hard to achieve when one is more of an introvert. Lots of acquaintances and a few good friends is more me. Mainstream has never appealed. Different is much more interesting! I'm sure you'll find your new way forward.

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  14. I discovered audio books when we lived in Asia and the internet was too intermittent to listen to Radio 4. There are fantastic free books read by volunteers who just love literature, and then there's my Audible subscription which is a wonderful treat. I just finished listening to "The Secret Keeper" which kept me entertained while packing up our house to move overseas. I also recommend the "Home Front" series of BBC podcasts for lovely historical drama based on fact set in WW1.

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  15. I too am a huge fan of books. Cannot live without them. My divorced younger sister (53) just quit her banking career job, and is going to art school...she suddenly discovered painting. Another sister went back to school in her 40's and took nursing. Do what you need to be happy most of the time and you can't go wrong!
    Barb

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  16. Books! With a love of reading, one need never be truly alone, there's always a friend to be found within the pages. Signed, another lonely child.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, Roo.

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  17. I've lived alone since I was (happily) divorced 20 years ago.I have a lot of friends, but I'm also content in my own company. I'm soon to move about 90 miles away, where I won't be surrounded by my mates - but I'm looking forward to the new start and somehow imagine that I'll reinvent myself! I'll also join the library - not least because it was where my wonderful younger sister worked up until her untimely death five years ago.
    And if all else fails, I'll put Gloria Gaynor on at full volume and do some solitary disco dancing around my handbag. We will survive x

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  18. PS - Has your Mum tried Kate Atkinson - the Jackson Brodie crime mysteries are quirky with little or no swearing or any other unsuitable 'Mum' stuff!
    I've just read Case Histories and One Good Turn and there are another two in the series.

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