Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Books and Me

Here I am, once again, sitting at the dreaded keyboard, staring at words appearing on a screen.  From my head, to my fingers, to the screen. my own words appear in black on white; words and sentences I already know before they appear.

Where is the  excitement in that?

Now books are a whole other kettle of fish. Unless I’ve sneaked a look at the last page, I have no idea how the characters develop, what hoops the author makes them jump through and how the tale ends, whether happily or, as they deserve, miserably and in tatters. (Oh, I love a good comeuppance, don’t you?)

Books, I’ve loved them all my life.

When I was a skinny beanpole of  eight or nine, who, acc. to my aunt, could have done with some serious feeding up, I once pestered my mum so persistently to buy me a couple of books from a second hand stall, that she actually softened and spent that day’s dinner money on them. We were very poor then. “Your Dad will kill me”, she said several times on the way home. In the end she didn’t tell him and dinner that day plumbed new depths of inventiveness.

From when I was about ten, twelve years old, books were all I ever asked for. When asked , “and what present did you have for your birthday, Christmas, whenever?”, the answer was a jubilant “books”, or a sad and dejected “clothes”. One Christmas I remember, to my shame, going so far as to recite the titles of all the books I’d asked for and been given and then telling people the cost. “Books for one hundred marks”,  a lot of money then.

The aunts were disgusted. “Send her out to play; no wonder she’s as pale as cheese, crouching over her books all the time.  It’s unnatural!”

Books were my world. I read not only children’s stories but anything I could get my hands on. I lived the adventures, travelled to distant places, learned about geography and history, read stories about strange cultures, read children’s classics and the greatest rubbish printed. I swallowed it all.

Books have always been a treat; frequently indulged in when there was  time and sneaked in guiltily when there wasn’t. For years I had a book in the desk at my office, open; if anyone came in, I unhurriedly shut the drawer, smiling innocently at my visitor.  I preferred long journeys to work on the Underground, particularly, if I had been fortunate to grab a seat. There was a lot less free reading time at work or at home.

During some rather dark years reading was my only solace. The children were very good, they were allowed to stay up in the evening until it was their  generously extended bedtime,  if they promised to spend the time quietly in their rooms, with their own books and music, while I lay, face down, on the sitting room carpet, reading. I must have read every thriller published in the English language in those years, too tired to read anything more demanding.

Now that I have all the reading time I want, I write and blog, inventing stories nobody will ever read about characters nobody could ever be interested in. As for blogging? Is there a greater waste of reading time? (Oops, I wonder if anybody has got as far as this?)

In winter, when snow and ice keep us indoors, what could be cosier than sitting reading, curled up on the sofa? In summer, is there anything more soothing than lying on a chair in the garden, sipping a lemonade and slowly turning the pages of your chosen book, while bees and insects busy themselves around you.

I am writing this in my favourite room in the house, my study, two walls of which consist entirely of bookshelves filled with my own books; Beloved’s shelves are elsewhere. My study smells of books, the dry, dusty, slightly mouldy and mildewy smell of a lot of books together, mixed with a little leftover incense. Spring is around the corner and I shall soon have to appear, blinking, into the sunlight, much like my aunt recommended all those years ago.

Where’s that garden chair?


  1. Well, I read it straight through, Friko, and then read it again. How could I resist?
    Like you, books were, for me, a solace, an escape and sometimes-forbidden treasure. By age nine I'd read most Agatha Christie mysteries and anything else I could get from our little library. One of the happiest moments of my childhood was hearing that my teacher had told my parents that they were to allow me to stay up a half hour longer than my year-younger sister so that I could read, uninterrupted. My mother never understood and sometimes my reading was a hidden thing. I consider one of my most satisfying accomplishments is having raised two children who love books.
    I wish I had a study of my own - how cosy yours sounds.

  2. I've never heard that expression, 'pale as cheese' - but it's very evocative! Yep, another one for whom books have been a great comfort over the years.

  3. My reading has gone in fits and starts over the years. If I get into the rhythm of picking one up as soon as I've put one down, it's fine. Otherwise, it's as and when I have the time in between other activities, not least, blogging!

  4. Oh, look at that, I have read it all to the end ;-). I like reading you, Friko. And I like reading some other blogs. But I don't come as far as to read an entire book nowadays. I have so many other occupations. I remember my first book under the Christmas tree: Kiki und Cora Buntauge. About hunting dogs. And Kamerad Hund, another hunting dog book written by the dog. Great to have a study on your own! I hope that this season helds plenty of sunny moments for you in this garden chair.

  5. Forgot: I love that picture of the reading bookman!

  6. I remember my father saying , rather disapprovingly , of magazines that they robbed one of book reading time . Blogging is even worse , in many ways .
    But I love the chance , in a more insular world , of hearing from so many interesting people . And reading articles/posts such as this . Thankyou !

  7. Another one here who's read your post all the way through. We have a house of books here too - in bookshelves, cupboards, attics, under the telly. We are both book lovers. Love your picture :>)

  8. Just re-reading Kate Atkinson's 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' which was one of the first 'proper' books I read when I had my renaissance in my 30s, stopped reading Mills & Boon and got all literary with myself. It is SUCH a great book. Her debut novel. Bah!!!

  9. Friko, I could relate so well to that little girl-you who loved reading. Before I start going on about myself, I'll spend a little time on her - the grown-up version. You might not like writing as much as you do reading (who does??)but for me - and I know I'm not the only one - the quality of your writing is the reason I keep coming back. Well, there are a few other reasons too, but if you if didn't write about them so very, very well, I wouldn't follow you. (Is that snobby? Yes. I have every right to be snobby about what I read.)

    Back to me. I loved books too, and so did my mother. She understood perfectly the pure pleasure of stories and took me to the library every week, where I would, on average, take out about 10 books. She convinced the librarian to let me - a 10-year-old - take out books from the adult section, and I can remember the first time I was allowed in there. A whole other world of serious, grown-up, interesting books was opened up to me and I was intoxicated by it all.
    As my children were growing up and debates raged about the quality of their education and whether they should be doing better in math(s), I thought 'If they turn into readers, then they'll be just fine.' As things went, only one of them is a reader, which makes me sorry, and worry, for the other two.

    I am very, very happy with the 67 new books acquired several weeks ago and need to learn from your example. Reading in the middle of the day is NOT a sign of laziness or irresponsibility. Repeat after me. Reading in the middle of the day in NOT a sign.....

    And how dare you suggest that reading blogs is a waste of time?! In the corner. Face to the wall.

  10. I've always been a reader and continue to read every day -- in fact, I can't go to sleep if I don't read a bit first.

    I don't know how anyone writes without being a reader.

  11. What a nice entry to read at nearly twenty to five in the morning.

    Please allow me to "pick that idea up" and share a bit of me and books soon; wishing you as well a wonderful Thursday.

  12. Proud that you are a member of my tribe!

    Aloha from Hawaii Friko

    Comfort Spiral

  13. personally i'd choose a good book over a conversation with anyone everytime - but i know people that will skip to the end and if they don't like that won't read the book

    Blogging does sometimes feel like throwing words into the air and seeing which ones will catch on the rooves and which one will shine with the stars - this post shone. so glad i read it

  14. Ah books ! Such joy! Who needs to explain or say more!

  15. I am with you for a part of the way. Reading comes before blogging as speaking comes before writing. What do we equate blogging with, I wonder? Writing? But if no one ever wrote, there would be no books to read. I di think I spend too much time blogging and not enough reading, and one day, I have no doubt, I shall giv e up blogging. But reading? Never!

  16. I love to read!!!!!! According to family lore I learned to read at the age of 3 and haven't stopped since. My day wouldn't be complete if I did not do some reading, in fact, I would rather read than eat (but I would not be amiss to having someone slip me some crackers and a glass of wine from time to time lol). Friko, I look forward to my visits to your blog - one never knows what the next post will be about - the one thing I know is that I will enjoy reading it. Thank you!

  17. Books have always been my solace; my escape. I love to hear of others like yourself who love books as much a I do!

  18. Pondside - I started my English reading via Enid Blyton and then Agatha Christie and that was before I could speak much of it. Both of them pretty simple language and rather undemanding content, but great fun then. My children learned to read in sheer self-defence, I think.

    Chris Stovell - It is a straight translation of a German expression.

    Martin H - Blogging does get in the way nowadays.

    bayou - I'd rather forget about the other activities and read, but that's just my preference.

    Smitonius and Sonata - magazines? - rubbish - unless well chosen.
    I certainly wouldn't read the average women's mags.

    mollygolver - good, there can't be too many of us.

  19. Fran - I love Kate Atkinson, I've read everything of hers. BTW, I don't for one minute believe the guff about Mills&Boon. You?, never.

    Deborah - flatterer! And yes, libraries, my first smell and sight of a library was a revelation. Even though the books were all big and fat and hardback and even leather bound. I've found that boys will read until they get to about 13, then stop, then start again much later if they have any sense, while girls carry on reading regardless of age.
    Reading at any time is not lazy; how about reading at breakfast? Nothing wrong with it at all.

    Vicki Lane - couldn't agree more. And reading before lights out is an absolute must.

    robert - with pleasure; I look forward to reading about what you read.

    Cloudia - good, another one. Aloha, friend.

    Hungry Pixie - thank you. I like the idea of words shining with the stars. I may have to remember that one.

    her at home - glad to hear you say so at any rate.

  20. Dave King - that's exactly what I'd expect of you. Giving up reading? never.

    CarlaHR - I've tried again to find you and leave a comment on your blog, this time by finding your blogspot site, yet, no blog mentioned. Then I went to somewhere where you left a comment and tried that way. Again no luck.
    Should you come back here then please accept my thanks for commenting and, if you like, I will slip you that cracker and glass of wine.

    Shattered - glad to hear that you too can escape into books. There is nothing more rewarding.

  21. You always seem to have something worthwhile to say- Can't say the same for me lately.. so I'm working on less words? Hmm..if I don't get outside as I mentioned, I may wind-up with some of that cheese on my rear end! ha

  22. Friko, you've sealed it. Now that I know you not only understand the pleasure of reading over breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, but actually recommend it, you are my for ever.
    It is astonishing to me that there are people who regard reading during a meal as on a par with wearing curlers to the supermarket, or talking during a film. When my father was out of town on business trips, we-my mother and brothers and I-would have Literary Suppers. She would make a fluffy tapioca pudding accompanied by thick slices of whole-grain bread and we/d dive into that and our books. Nobody said a word. I introduced my children to the notion, which they quite enjoyed, even if the boys read magazines, but my French husband was horrified by it. And my Belgian sleeping partner also thinks it's appallingly bad behaviour, although after a few years of living with me he is starting to dart quick glances at the newspaper, placed just so on the breakfast table.

    Good lord. Just see what you've unleashed.

  23. A world without the written word would be unthinkable. I think the best thing I ever learned to do was read. Books have delighted ever since and taken me on adventures, beguiled and stretched my imagination.

    I liked the way you described your passion for reading as a girl - I saw the same thing happen with our eldest son. He had to read - it was a compulsion and still perhaps unusually for a young man, continues to be so.

  24. Gosh, I am reminded off my childhood - a long time ago. It is a only a few years ago that I realised I had few books available to me as a child. My father's widowed cousin used to pack up some of her late husbands library for me to have when we made our annual visit to the seaside.

    They were nearly all either single volumes of encyclopaedias or illustrated books like: The Marvel Book of Science, The Marvel Book of Nature, The book of exploration - you get the drift. No children's books, though. Mind you, I imagined some really good tales when looking at the pictures. Anyway, I did feel a little deprived, but I am over it now!

  25. Oh...yes...books. Books. I know the scent you speak of in your study. Perfume of imagination and comfort. Travels of the mind while perfectly physically comfortable. Escape while safe at home.

  26. Friko, all I read until my mid-30s was trash. Believe me. I've had a LOT of catching up to do.

  27. Kilauea Poetry - cheese? rear end? put some clothes on, woman! I know it's hot in Hawaii, but enough for toasted cheese bums?

    Deborah - you tell 'em, girl, reading broadens the mind.

    mountainear - the best journeys are the journeys of the mind.

    Laurie - Any reading is better than none. I can imagine how much fun it must have been to catch up.

    June - you make it sound even more enticing.

    Fran - no kidding? in that case, better late than never.

  28. You are so much like me, Friko, at least about books. I have had a strong love affair with books since childhood and I have been true to it all these years. I have more than I can read until I die I think. My books are in every room. I need to make a new list as I have several duplicates. I have filled every shelf in every room and now have them in large bags. I read somewhere that the biggest difference between people is not how rich or poor they are, or from what culture they come from, but whether they read or not. I loved your illustration too. I don’t think I could have married a man who did not like books; they are too much part of my psyche. My first husband became a librarian! My present husband, now retired, was a magazine editor in addition to his job. I rarely watch TV because it is time away from books – I usually read one or two books a week (depending how long they are…) So I totally understand what you feel.

  29. Oh, Friko, what a comforting and interesting post and accompanying comments! I wrote a post last week about my currently-arid reading period, so strange after a lifetime of intense reading for pleasure, and thought "No one will read this" so didn't publish it. I might revisit it now!

    But blogging, to me, is both reading and writing, and because it's so personal and authentic, doesn't cause as much anguish about grammar, creating believable characters, or even giving them likely names, as writing fiction does!

    And, like watching boys read only comics, you have to count blog-reading as worthy in itself (it's reading, after all!), because it can feed the imagination, spark interests you may never have found, and lead gently into new areas of reading and marvelling.

  30. Vagabonde - books in bags? it hurts me to think of it. books need the light of day, they need to be handled, loved and appreciated, not hidden away. But I know what you mean, they can become too many and then it is time to pass some on to charity maybe, or children, or libraries or people who can't afford to buy them

    rachel - I hope your 'dry' period will soon be over again and you can enjoy books once more as you did in the past.
    Interesting, what you say about not posting something you think nobody will read. I have been blogging for a year now and I have come to the conclusion that I must write and post what I want to say, want to think about. Of course, I hope that somebody will like it enough to read it, but it has to please me first. I couldn't write only with a view to possible readers' preferences, it wouldn't be me anymore.

  31. Hi.
    I am not a blog-goer and this is probably the first time I ever post a comment. I came across your blog through the image of the man made of books. May I ask you where you got it and who made it?
    Thank you very much for your attention.
    All the best,


  32. Hello Anonymous

    I can't get in touch with you because you have left no forwarding email address. Write to me with your email address.

    Arcimboldo is the painter of the bookman.


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