Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Enchanted April, and other things.

I decided yesterday it wasn't going to get me anywhere, this waiting for decent weather before I began Enchanted April. When I pulled it down from the bookcase, a bookmark fell out: a train ticket from April 2005. Clearly, I had once before attempted to read it in April. April 2005, however, was not the time and I remember it well: it was my final assessment period at university. Dissertation was being edited, essays written in the dead of night fuelled with coffee and Red Bull, theologians were the bane of my life, and Bible references and quotations were written on sticky notes, stuck at various points over my desk. Literature had to wait. I couldn't imagine a spring where I could sit and read. Always exams and essays in spring, for GCSEs, A' Levels, BA, or the doomed MA. I never imagined being able to just sit and read.

But times change, and one day, it does all stop (academic assessment, at least). One day, learning, reading, and studying is only about pleasure and self because there is no one watching over your shoulder. Whether that's a good thing or not is for you to decide. I sometimes miss my old personal tutor, and enjoy staying in touch with him and sharing various thoughts on various things. A part of me even misses the long nights, phone calls to various girlfriends at 3am. "How many words have you done?", "How many do you have left?", "Reckon we'll get any sleep tonight?", and the classic, "Let's make a pact: we will never do this again!" 8am would come, and the train at 8:28, which I might as well get because I'm awake anyway, so let's just get this thing handed in and then I can sleep. I didn't realise it at the time, but they were good times. I miss them, but I know they're idealised. The things I would have done, if I could go back, wouldn't have been done any more than those pacts to always read the seminar readings before the seminar, or writing essays a week in advance when I was still there. But I do miss being forced to write. No inspiration, no motivation, or no desire to write a two and a half thousand word essay on Karl Barth didn't matter in the slightest because failure was not an option. Write anyway, just get on with it in the blackest of nights where most people are asleep, and then, the next morning as everyone's getting up, crawling along to the train station holding those two and a half thousand words: I wrote that. And then weeks later, being praised for it. That night was worth it.

The whole thing was, however grim it was at times. Sitting inside a Victorian building with faulty heating, attending a lecture sometimes just for the sake of writing my name on the attendance sheet and not getting told off, vowing to read properly on the subject later in the library (which, to my credit, I more than often did). It was good, even the grim times, not least because of the perspective it gives me now. I've been glad for years that I'm not forced to write anything, but now I need to be. On the other hand, I'm glad not to be forced to read anything, which is funny because I am the one who forces myself. Not always, of course, because reading is my hobby and I make very little effort to step outside my comfort zone.

I never realised just how much I love reading until Sunday. When I decided to stop at 11am, I went downstairs to make a hot drink and put Trotwood in his cage, then I came back up and went to bed. First thing I did was pick up a book. After twenty-three hours of almost solid reading, I picked up a book to wind down. I didn't do it deliberately, but I wanted to. This is what I do. This is my hobby, my own, independent source of happiness. Of course, other things make my happy, happier even, but I am talking specifically about my very own thing.

Reading is mine. It isn't dependent on anything other than the light (which, incidentally, is flickering now, suggesting a power cut is close and I should wrap this up, or at least decide on a direction!). I read. All of these books, most of them anyway, are mine and they are for me to read. Pages mark the passing minutes, and novels mark the days. I have no need for a watch when I read, time has nothing to do with me now. All these challenges I create for myself, they're not back-breakers. I want to read these books, and they're worthy endeavours: I know this even if I'm starting to think of a new "Major Works" challenge when I still have six Dickens titles left to go. There is nothing on these lists that I don't truly want to read, and at the absolute least, I will have the pleasure of knowing I have at least read them, knowing I have at the very least a small degree of familiarity with a book. As independent as my reading is, one of the consequences of it is that I feel a connection with a million others throughout the years. I have used this analogy before, and I stand by it: how many people have read the book you're reading, and over what time scale? My current bedtime book: Dombey & Son - imagine the people through 160 years reading this at bedtime. I may not read into it what, say, an old man in the 1880s would have read into it, or even a thirty year old woman in 2012 (as I am), but we have a very small, tenuous bond that transcends one hundred and sixty four years, five kings and a queen, forty-seven prime ministers (unless I miscounted), the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, the Boer War, two World Wars, the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, the Falklands, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libyan Intervention, depressions, recessions, a declining British Empire, decimalisation, 9/11, 7/7, assassinations, revolutions, everything this country and your country has faced, through it all, through all of this, here on my bedside table sits Dombey and Son, as it did 164 years ago on someone else's.

And what does this have to do with Enchanted April? Nothing, except that I read it, I read another book, another classic. Actually, I didn't plan to write what I have just written, it's entirely off-topic. What I had meant to say was I had finally read it, and it waited there for me for seven years, which is nothing compared to the time scale I just offered you! But yes, I read it, I read another one of my books and I loved it. Again, I sat in the kitchen, and as with most of April, I sat inside as the rain poured outside and I longed for flowers, sweet smells, gentle breezes, and beautiful views. Not that the views aren't beautiful here. The moors, the forest, and the hills are darker, full of water. The reservoir is choppy, but the wind isn't bitter. It's strong, but it doesn't chill you to the bone. It's really quite lovely here, on reflection.


  1. Beautiful reminder of the timescale of books and just how awe-inspiring the practice of reading actually is, on reflection.

    You might even have tempted me to try Dombey and Son. :)

  2. "Reading is mine." Hear, hear! I agree with you that a good writer forges a real bond with you across the ages. And the bond links you and other readers as well.

    Very well said.

  3. Thanks for saying what, I suspect, many, many of us feel. (And thanks for sharing your moor breezes with us.)

  4. This is such a lovely post!
    Even now, as I am stealing time I actually don't have because there is a 2000 words paper on Byronic Heroes waiting for me, I understand what you mean. Being forced to work until the wee hours of the morning is tough, but somehow a little satisfying too. Schools and universities force us to do things we never thought we could do, like writing a brilliant essay in one night.

    Oh, and speaking of the connection through books: coincidentially Dombey&Son is sitting on my nightstand too :)

  5. I love thinking about who else has a read a book I'm reading over time. I especially love it when I know a favorite author has read a certain book, such as reading The Mysteries of Udolpho with Jane Austen in mind, knowing she read it about 200 years ago. Crazy!



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