In Praise Of… A Good Book

What was the last book that you missed dreadfully once you finished it? The book that you then had to press into the hands of your book-loving best friend, urging them to read it quickly so you can discuss it together? For me, one of the most bittersweet sensations in life is that addictive, compelling pull of a good book while one should be doing other more necessary things.

And then there’s that bereft feeling of desertion when it is over, especially if sobbing has been involved. I recall desolation after finishing The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. These are books you can’t bear to keep reading and you can’t bear to put down.

There is a rare deliciousness in being able to read a book in one sitting on a rainy Sunday afternoon, on a long flight or under a shady tree by a pool. I have a strong memory of sitting in a London café one wet day and reading Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach over several pots of tea, instead of venturing to museums and galleries as planned.

A sore back has been a strange ‘gift’ recently in affording reading time in blocks and I have devoured Graham Swift’s breathtaking novel Mothering Sunday, Hannah Kent’s outstanding The Good People and Jane Harper’s page-turning crime novel The Dry while ‘resting’.

What about the sense of anticipation when one of your very favourite authors has a new book out? They never come fast enough do they? I have a personal policy of not reading reviews or even the blurb on the back cover of books by Rose Tremain, Ann Patchett, Jay McInerney, Anne Tyler, Wally Lamb, Tim Winton, Richard Ford or Sarah Waters.

When travelling I love to read novels of the place. On a two-week retreat in India a few years ago I had the pleasure of inhaling Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (my favourite novel of all time despite there being no redemption), the classic epic A Suitable Boy from Vikram Seth and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

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What book are you reading right now?

And then there’s the deep pleasure of reading the personal stories of those we admire. Many of my friends are currently raving about Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run and I am rationing a chapter a day of the illuminating new Book of Joy by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

For many of us aged over 50 (and before Google), books have been from where we gleaned much life-saving information - be it the street directory and travel guides, Yates Garden Guide, The Liver Cleansing Diet, The Margaret Fulton Cookbook or Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Classics are there to keep us anchored and I return to Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre every decade or so, having loved them first at school.

Books also bring us great and lasting beauty. The Woodblock Painting of Cressida Campbell is my favourite ‘coffee table book’ and in the same pile is the catalogue to the David Bowie exhibition Inside and Irving Penn’s photographic portraits Flowers.

I find e-books are great for convenience when travelling but I prefer the tactility of holding the actual volume, being able to see where I am up to and repeatedly contemplating the cover.

Audio books are a blessing when we are ill, driving or otherwise engaged and take us back to that pleasure of being read to when young. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, narrated by Sissy Spacek, is a truly special audio book experience.

A great story with a compelling plot line and characters we care about will always fuel our spirits and take us away from ourselves, thereby sparking our imagination and expanding our knowledge of humanity.

What’s your favourite book of all time? 

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