Thursday, 16 August 2012

The power of a good book


According to Anthony Powell, books do furnish a room. And you have only to look round any room that I’ve ever lived in to see how true that is. Actually, in the case of my office you might even suggest that books can clutter a room, but we’ll brush that thought aside.
Books also have the power to heal. Well, they do for me, at any rate. From the Dr Seuss books that I used to love as a small child, which were a particular solace whenever I was laid low by whichever bug was doing the rounds at the time, to the Katy series by Susan Coolidge and a lot of Enid Blyton in between.
Books can also have the power to make me ill. I discovered that in dramatic fashion one summer when I was engrossed in a novel whose protagonist was dying from a particularly unpleasant form of liver disease. As the book progressed, I felt increasingly ill. I found that I was experiencing many of the symptoms that the main character was going through. I knew I’d come out in sympathy with her and that I wasn’t really ill at all, except that somehow I was. But the book was far too good to abandon – I had to know what happened. Normally, I’m sorry to finish reading a book if I love it, but on this occasion I was very relieved. And so was my liver.  
For obvious reasons, these days I avoid books that are going to make me unwell. But when I am ill (which doesn’t happen very often, even though this blog may give a very different impression), I know exactly which books to choose because of their restorative properties. I once cured a bad back with the help of PG Wodehouse. He wasn’t actually there yanking me about, you understand, but he didn’t need to be because I was in the sublime company of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. The bad back melted away within days and I’d found two friends for life.
Nancy Mitford is another cure-all, especially The Pursuit of Love, which I first read when I was in bed with a terrible cold. Within an hour of starting the book, I felt so much better that I celebrated with tea, toast and blackcurrant jam. Dear old Nancy has also cured me of murderous hangovers on more than one occasion.
Miss Read, with her Fairacre and Thrush Green books, is a guaranteed restorative. She cheers me up if I’m unhappy about something, too. Maeve Binchy also came to the rescue once, at the start of a year in which it felt as though all the Fates had come together simply to use me like a dartboard, as they hurled various misfortunes my way. Everything seemed to be coming apart at the seams, so it was bliss to be able to disappear into Maeve Binchy’s novels and forget about the maelstrom raging around me.     
My mother once took a purler while wearing a pair of shoes that were too big for her and broke her upper arm. It had to be strapped to her side, which meant many nights spent sitting up in bed with a bag of frozen peas wrapped round her arm, too uncomfortable to sleep. Her nightly companion was Dick Francis – but only in the form of his novels, I hasten to add. Unfortunately, she read so many of them that she couldn’t bear to look at a single one ever again because they always reminded her of that dreadful time. She also went off frozen peas.
According to Anthony Powell, books do furnish a room. And you have only to look round any room that I’ve ever lived in to see how true that is. Actually, in the case of my office you might even suggest that books can clutter a room, but we’ll brush that thought aside.
Books also have the power to heal. Well, they do for me, at any rate. From the Dr Seuss books that I used to love as a small child, which were a particular solace whenever I was laid low by whichever bug was doing the rounds at the time, to the Katy series by Susan Coolidge and a lot of Enid Blyton in between.
Books can also have the power to make me ill. I discovered that in dramatic fashion one summer when I was engrossed in a novel whose protagonist was dying from a particularly unpleasant form of liver disease. As the book progressed, I felt increasingly ill. I found that I was experiencing many of the symptoms that the main character was going through. I knew I’d come out in sympathy with her and that I wasn’t really ill at all, except that somehow I was. But the book was far too good to abandon – I had to know what happened. Normally, I’m sorry to finish reading a book if I love it, but on this occasion I was very relieved. And so was my liver.  
For obvious reasons, these days I avoid books that are going to make me unwell. But when I am ill (which doesn’t happen very often, even though this blog may give a very different impression), I know exactly which books to choose because of their restorative properties. I once cured a bad back with the help of PG Wodehouse. He wasn’t actually there yanking me about, you understand, but he didn’t need to be because I was in the sublime company of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. The bad back melted away within days and I’d found two friends for life.
Nancy Mitford is another cure-all, especially The Pursuit of Love, which I first read when I was in bed with a terrible cold. Within an hour of starting the book, I felt so much better that I celebrated with tea, toast and blackcurrant jam. Dear old Nancy has also cured me of murderous hangovers on more than one occasion.
Miss Read, with her Fairacre and Thrush Green books, is a guaranteed restorative. She cheers me up if I’m unhappy about something, too. Maeve Binchy also came to the rescue once, at the start of a year in which it felt as though all the Fates had come together simply to use me like a dartboard, as they hurled various misfortunes my way. Everything seemed to be coming apart at the seams, so it was bliss to be able to disappear into Maeve Binchy’s novels and forget about the maelstrom raging around me.     
My mother once took a purler while wearing a pair of shoes that were too big for her and broke her upper arm. It had to be strapped to her side, which meant many nights spent sitting up in bed with a bag of frozen peas wrapped round her arm, too uncomfortable to sleep. Her nightly companion was Dick Francis – but only in the form of his novels, I hasten to add. Unfortunately, she read so many of them that she couldn’t bear to look at a single one ever again because they always reminded her of that dreadful time. She also went off frozen peas.
A few years ago I went flying and managed to break three bones in my right wrist. My initial interest in seeing my normally straight wrist transformed into an S-shape swiftly wore off, and after three days in hospital I emerged with my right arm, now studded with K-wires, encased in plaster from armpit to knuckle. It was bent at the elbow and only fit for hailing taxis. Unfortunately, as we lived on Romney Marsh at the time, where there are more sheep than people, I was a bit stymied on that score. Anyway, getting to sleep at night was almost impossible, and I needed comfort and entertainment in equal measure. So I reread every Jilly Cooper novel from Riders onwards in chronological order and, happily, unlike my mother and Dick Francis, it didn’t put me off the exploits of Rupert Campbell-Black and his fellow inhabitants of Rutshire. Give up one of my favourite authors? Now that really would make me ill. 

 

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