I've been having a little reading slump recently. This hasn't manifested itself as a lack of reading - I've been ploughing onwards regardless - but as a lack of interest in whatever comes to hand. I've not had a great deal of success with Philip Hoare's Leviathan, despite loving the first 20 pages, and I've been sleep-walking through A Dry White Season by Andre Brink, utterly failing to appreciate what an interesting novel it actually is. In desperation I've been grazing my shelves, plucking books out, reading half a dozen pages, and then listlessly discarding them around the house like a trail of bookcrumbs. It's a dangerous mood to be in when you're under a book-buying edict. The desire to find something to read is very strong but I'm so stupidly uninspired that my TBR seems barren, all 450 books of it. A lapse was inevitable.
Before I knew it I was browsing in Little Apple Bookshop in my lunch break yesterday and - shock, horror! - buying two books on impulse.* The books in question? Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill and New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (trans. by Judith Landry). The irony of breaking my TBR resolution by buying a book about Susan Hill's TBR resolution added to the pleasure of the purchase. The Marani has been on my radar for months, after Nicholas Lezard's high praise in the Guardian, and buying a small press word-of-mouth success from an independent bookshop felt as much like a good deed as an indulgence.
I should have known that I wouldn't be able to stop at two. Foolish, foolish book-buying addict that I am. I was in the library in the afternoon for work, and would you believe they were having a book sale? Paperbacks a £1. I was in there like a flash, dizzy with lust. Three more books into my bag: The Gift by Vladamir Nabokov and From A Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah, both Penguin Modern Classics, and Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. I know the latter is a big favourite in some parts of the blogosphere (particularly with Simon), and it sounded so light-hearted that I couldn't resist. The Nabokov I bought because a) it's £10.99 new, and £1 is bargain! and b) more importantly, after Jenny's review of Pnin I've been wanting to read beyond Lolita. And From a Crooked Rib hooked me in with the blurb - a young Somali woman tries to make her own destiny - and the happy surprise I felt when I realised it was written by a man and published in 1970. As the introduction points out, that's a rare bird in African fiction.
After this lovely book buying I felt refreshed and a little bit guilty, only to arrive home later to a parcel from Sort of Books, with a copy of Kathleen Jamie's new collection of nature writing Sightlines inside. I cracked it open, read half a dozen pages and then, for the first time in a week, kept on reading. And on, and on. Jamie has lifted the slump right off me. What a wonderful writer she is, whether the subject is Artic tourism or gannet colonies or the special February light that heralds spring. I can't get enough of her reflective, poetic style; poetic but still muscular and toned, not whimsical at all.
Look how long this post has got now! I was going to write about book podcasts and book magazines too, but I should probably leave it for another day. I'm off now to 'The Hvalsalen' with Kathleen Jamie - I've no idea what or where that is, but from the first paragraph it looks like Norway will be our destination. I'll leave you with a little extract from Sightlines about the quality of silence in the Fjords:
Behind the ship, the far side of the bay rises to a low brown ridge similar to this, and beyond that ridge is arranged a row of white pinnacles - the tips of iceburgs grounded in a hidden inlet. Westward rises a range of brown jagged mountains, and beyond the coastal range there are hints and gleams of something I thought at first was a band of cloud, but it's ice, maybe the edge of the inland icecap. The air is extraordinarily clear.
That's what we see. What we listen to, thought is silence. Slowly we enter the most extraordinary silence, a radiant silence. It radiates from the mountains, and the ice and the sky, a mineral silence which presses powerfully on our bodies, coming from very far off. It's deep and quite frightening, and makes my mind seem clamorous as a goose. I want to quell my mind, but I think it would take years... I know only that I'd never heard anything like it, a silence that could dismiss a sound, as wind would dismiss a feather.
*In my defence I'd also had a Very Bad Day. An important funding bid had gone AWOL in the post, meaning that we missed the submission deadline. Given all the work and effort that went into it, and the things riding on it, I wanted to run straight home for a good cry. I bought the books to comfort myself, which is better than getting blind drunk or taking hard drugs, and went back to work instead.