It’s been a while. Six months, I see. I’m a bit rusty. Attempts to fill the space in between have amounted to naught so – having ended on a six degrees in September, with autumn beckoning and the dark difficult winter ahead – I’ll pick up as if I’ve never been away with another six degrees. I note in my September preamble that I gave warning of a darker chain than usual. A portent perhaps? But if so, I give notice now that this next chain is light and bright and filled with good things. Spring is calling, and on its back flies hope of easier times for everyone.
Six Degrees of Separation is organised by Kate and the background can be found here. Our starter book is Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. This book is not available in the UK until May but has been on my radar for a while and I’m looking forward to reading it – very much my kind of thing and very much needed at the moment.
Phosphorescence is subtitled: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark. It was an easy leap from here to my first choice: Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. The paperback version will not be released until June but I was able to read an advance copy and it totally lived up to expectations. The link in the chain? Wonder. Helen describes her book as a Wunderkammer, which translates as a cabinet of wonders. And indeed it is – crammed with wondrous prose revealing some astonishing facets of the natural world and the less palatable impact of humankind upon it.
Again, an easy jump to the next book. (Isn’t it lovely when the links in the chain present themselves effortlessly? This is possibly the fastest chain I’ve put together.) The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison is one I have not read but have here, ready to go. It was published late last year which makes me think I might be forging a chain of books published in lockdowns but the links that suggested it to me are light, nature and yet again, wonder. I’ve read all of Melissa Harrison’s books and I’m excited at the prospect of this one, a collection of her nature columns from The Times focusing on the everyday natural wonders she notices around her.
Three non-fiction books focusing on life and the beauty around us; it seemed I was on a clear path. The subtitle of Melissa Harrison’s book is: A Nature Diary. The obvious book to follow in the chain is Dara MacAnulty’s marvellous Diary of a Young Naturalist. But my thinking took a different turn.
Instead I switch to fiction, albeit with an equally obvious link through the title: light. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny is my latest read in the series featuring her Quebecois Chief Inspector, Armand Gamache. I’m still working through these books according to the season in which they are set which means I have to wait until early summer for my next indulgence but then I have at least four to enjoy before the end of the year. A smorgasbord to look forward to!
Clearly my seasonal reading of this series directed me to the next choice: to a book I’m reading right now. It came my way as I searched for something I felt I could manage for Dewithon, the annual celebration of Welsh writing and writers on Book Jotter. Reading has been spasmodic in recent months. I’ve learned to be careful in my choices and I’ve abandoned far more than usual. The Seasoning by Manon Steffan Ros was originally written in Welsh. It appears to have lost nothing in the translation. It connects to the Gamache series through food. Delicious comforting food plays a prominent role in every Gamache book; he unravels each murder case whilst munching on a brie and cranberry baguette in the Bistro or enjoying the hospitality of the residents in the bucolic village of Three Pines. (All of whom seem to be superb cooks and effortless hosts.)
Each short chapter in The Seasoning is a vignette offered by those who have featured in Peggy’s long life and each is prefaced with a recipe. In Welsh this book is called Blasu; Blasa in Cornish means to taste. I like the idea of seasoning a long life with memories – good and bad, light and dark, happy and sad. Peggy’s life has a liberal sprinkling of all the above and food features strongly throughout albeit not quite as it does for the good inspector. The Seasoning is deceptively easy to read but it’s not a cosy book as might befit one which features recipes and I can see why it has won or been shortlisted for various awards. I am enjoying it very much.
But I digress. The Seasoning, as with the Gamache series, speaks of family, friends – of the comfort derived from knowing your place in the world. Thus we move to another Welsh offering which is rooted in community, Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I listened to this for last year’s Dewithon but never wrote about it. It’s brimming with Welsh village life and humour. Hearing it performed – read by Richard Burton – is pure indulgence.
A unique sense of place; the strength of family and relationships in all their complexity, and from seasoning to seasons: all are factors in the forging of my final link. My final choice is another book read at the appropriate time of year – in the seemingly long-ago summer of 2020. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was a reread and I enjoyed it even more second time around. Jansson chronicles the bond between Sophia and her aging grandmother as they pass their time on their small family island. Small wonders are amplified and treasured, every tiny experience is savoured to the full. It is a book of joy with the inevitable sprinkling of darkness as Sophia’s grandmother struggles against the limitations of old age. (Tove Jansson is also a favourite of Paula, who brings us Dewithon.)
And there we are. A chain of books I have read or will read within the bookends of the pandemic. A chain which features old favourites and new favourites and anticipated favourites. A chain filled with armchair travelling. It began with the wonders of the natural world and how we might find solace within it before shifting into the wonders of the human world where solace lies within family and friendships, coming full circle finally, back to the joys and wonders of the tiny things in the natural world around us.
Well, I’ve broken the ice. Posts may still be scarce going forward but it’s good to be back within the warmth of the blogging circle 😊