Have you ever heard of Maurice Sendak? No? Me neither. Apparently he was a renowned illustrator of children’s books. Some time ago I came across his response when he was asked to share some of his favourite comments from his readers. He said:
Oh there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters – sometimes very hastily – but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim, I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
I love reading. I read, therefore I am. I can relate to that cute little boy who literally ate the drawing. Some books are so good that I could eat them too. When I read quality writing, I feel I’m being nourished. Some writing is so beautiful, so moving, so vivid, so delicious that it makes my mouth water and I want to lick my lips. I gobble it up.
When I was little, I always wanted to be a librarian. Before the days of internet and electronic books, I would go to the library every opportunity I got. Vast, quiet, dusty libraries are my favourite places.
I love the hope and anticipation of starting a new book and it is difficult to describe the joy I feel when I am completely absorbed in a good one. I generally don’t read fancy, high falutin stuff. I don’t like fantasy though – my brain doesn’t bend that way.
I am a fussy reader and I have little patience for bad writing. I loved the book called The Rosie Project but then I watched an interview with the author who said, ‘The book has been so successful. Who would have thunk it!’
Thunk? WTF. Now I can’t read the sequel because I keep thinking of thunking and I’ve lost respect for the author. I’m very judgemental, as you can tell. Maggie O’Farrell’s books are particularly edible. David Nicholls is tasty. Anything by Liane Moriarty is yummy. Bill Bryson’s work is easy to digest and Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing is endlessly satisfying.
I’ve developed this rating system in my head. When I am browsing on Amazon, I read the synopsis and reader reviews and then I ask myself, ‘Will this book be edible?’ If it doesn’t grab me within the first ten pages, I move on to the next one. That is why I love the new sample feature on Amazon because I can download the first few pages and assess whether it is good enough to eat before I buy it.
With two children, I have less opportunity to read so I snatch whatever time I can – usually before bed and when I am on the loo. Megan is potty-trained and she now associates the toilet with books. When she sits down for a big one, she brings a pile of books and when she’s finished flicking through those, she shouts, ‘More books!’
The other day we were outside with no access to a toilet. I led Megan to a secluded spot under a tree. She pulled down her pants, hovered over the icy scrub and said, ‘Mommy book please.’
I recently met a girl who said she hasn’t read a book in over three years. I was so disappointed because, as you know, I am on a quest to find a Switzerland-based BFF and there’s no way I can take our friendship to the next level if she doesn’t read. It’s a deal-breaker.
One of the few things I loved about living in London was the accessibility of cheap literature. I loved that I could buy a book for the same price as a sandwich. In South Africa, new books were so much more expensive. One book equated to at least six sandwiches. Lunch or a book? Something good to read is much more valuable and useful than an egg mayo sandwich.
Another thing that was fabulous about London was that I could buy second hands books for one penny. I ordered books without restraint. I loved being home when the postman came because he would pop my packages through the front door and they would land with a big BOOF on the wooden floor and I would skip into the entrance hall like it was Christmas. Every day, there was BOOF, BOOF, BOOF. It was such fun. But then I got too many books and I didn’t know what to do with them. I started building towers in the lounge, in the bedroom, in the kitchen. That’s why I am so grateful for the Kindle. It is much neater. It also means I can carry hundreds of books around with me in my handbag.
Reading and writing are my thing. They’re me. I love words. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I have no appreciation for science – words are the way I see beauty. Nothing moves me like language. Reading helps me to learn and understand, without having experienced. It takes me into other people’s spaces and I can travel to different times and places all while lying on the couch.
Writing orders my thoughts and helps me make sense of the world. I don’t write this blog for anyone but me. I started it when I was in a dead-end accountancy job and I felt like a dried up old husk. Writing breathes life into me. I don’t find it easy but that is part of what makes it so fun. When I don’t write, it makes me grumpy, like I’m a bear with a sore head. I sit down at my keyboard, set the egg timer (because I have no self-discipline) and then, after 5 minutes, my head is down and I tap away and off I go. After I’ve got some momentum, I lose track of time and it feels fabulous.
There is no point to this blog. It is not functional and is possibly even a waste of time, especially when I let emails, housework and general admin lag. Writing this blog has taught me that, for our own wellbeing, we must still make space in our lives for things that are fun and pointless.
Anyway, I digress. The reason I wrote this post is because I recently read an absolutely delicious book, written by a girl who also loves words. I can’t stop thinking about it. You must read it too. It is written by Tony Blair’s ex-private secretary Kate Gross and is called Late Fragments: Everything I want to tell you about this magnificent life.
I won’t tell you anymore but I suspect that when you read the synopsis, you won’t want to try it. You’ll worry it will be sad and depressing. It is, but not nearly as much as you would imagine. I love books where I hold a pencil as I am reading because there are so many brilliant points I need to underline and remember. I write ‘Yes!’ and ‘Here! Here!’ in the margins and I did that a lot in this book. Please read it. The world would be a calmer, kinder, happier place if everyone did. It will remind you that LIFE IS MAGNIFICENT.