I've just been on a road trip. Good to be Away, good to be home.
And then you can always read before sleep, in the luxury of not having to get up at the crack of dawn for work, but being able to be a bit indulgent, flexible, foolish about finishing several more chapters than you otherwise would.
Maybe read a chapter or two over breakfast, before you dig out maps and guidebooks and the local phone book to plot where you want to go, what to see that day in this place that is new to you. Maybe just sometimes have time to stop, and disappear into a book; and if you’re lucky, be travelling with company who read too.
I worked out, on this trip, that there are books that are voyages. You need to fortify yourself to undertake them. I’m not necessarily meaning Dickens or Tolstoy or such (none of which were on my list, some of which I have read) (why did I think I should tell you that?), but books that require a certain amount of attention to character and mood, to the intricacies of plot or language or the rhythm of the sentences. Books that are voyages, so you need time, and attention, and to bring to them your focus so you can journey well.
And then there are books which are easier. A small boat, wooden, with oars. All you need is a picnic basket, and a bit of not-too-energetic rowing, and maybe you’ll find a tree to moor the boat, and a place to spread a rug and lie in the shade and disappear into the story. Maybe the second time you read it, if it’s good enough to warrant the second reading, you’ll pick up the intricacies of language, or the qualities of plot or structure or writing that you didn’t notice first time through. But first time through, it’s reading for fun, a little row on a pond and the certainty of being home in time for tea.
There’s another class again, the books which are utter bonbons, the written equivalent of the meringue movie, light and fun and nothing more, but that’s enough.
Actually, there are lots of sorts of books. Ones you read for pleasure, for duty, for information, from necessity, all sorts of reasons. Many worlds to explore, to disappear into, many stories to entrance or engage or amaze or terrify you, depending on what you like.
But I found, on this trip, that by and large I’d taken voyage books along, and they didn’t really fit my mood.
We went to Bendigo, to see the Art of Couture exhibition at the art gallery there, wonderful fabulous clothes from 1947-1957. Of which more in another post.
Among Bendigo’s treasures is the Bendigo Book Mark , a second hand book shop that is one I’d love to have nearby always. A huge selection, beautifully organised, well priced and with a charming proprietor in Nigel. He greeted customers with equal charm and dealt with each customer with respect and thought, whether they were after military history, or their weekly fix of ten romance novels, or whatever. (I'm not sure if all the stock is on their website - but it's a browsable shop for sure and certain if you're in Bendigo).
After our first visit, I emerged with The Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve been resisting Alexander McCall Smith, for no good reason except he seems to be so ubiquitous and has such a prodigious output (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the 44 Scotland St series, the Sunday Philosophy Club/Isobel Dalhousie series and so forth, each one seeming to get a sequel pretty much every year) that I wondered if I’d like them. But on holidays, and in a second hand book shop, you sometimes take a punt on something you might not otherwise try. I bought The Sunday Philosophy Club, and started it that evening, and had it finished, with pleasure, rather quickly (I am a fast reader, always have been).
Somehow, now home a few days later, I’ve already read book two (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) and lent it to a friend; read book three, The Right Attitude to Rain which will be also lent to that friend; lent book one to someone else; and courtesy of new and secondhand book shops on the road trip, came home in possession of books four and five (The Careful Use of Compliments and The Comfort of Saturdays - US title The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday). Hmmm. Ample evidence that I’m enjoying spending time with Isabel Dalhousie in Edinburgh (it’s so many years since I was in Edinburgh, and all I can remember is the mad parrot in the hallway of the B&B, and catching the bus into the city on the one day I had to explore there). Right book/s for the time and place. Not a voyage, but a pleasant row (rows?!) on a shady river. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy rereading them when I’m dawdling for detail, not racing for plot as you do first time through. Keepers. Lenders, but I do hope they return promptly.
So now I’m home, and still with some summer holiday time, the voyage books can take their turn. (After books four and five. I'm on a roll.) Away isn't always away from home.
(If you're after the hardback of The Careful Use of Compliments, or from the 44 Scotland St series, The World According to Bertie in paperback, Clouston and Hall/Academic Remainders had them yesterday at reduced prices. They were new arrivals, so if they're not on their website, you can phone them).