Sunday, January 02, 2011

On Reading Into The Year Ahead

I don't make New Year's resolutions.  Complete waste of time.  I'm a Virgo; I make lists instead.  After parking up the parental taxi on Friday night I hopped into bed with a pile of books and luxuriated in the prospect of reading my way through the year ahead.  I've a precious selection of fiction, but most of the books in my house are reference and textbooks including a good selection of horticultural pornography. 

The best horti-porn combines few colour pictures with endless, sparklingly fabulous text.  Anything by Monty Don ought to be sold from the top shelf at Waterstone's.  Helen Yemm is so specialized her agent daren't peddle her via bookshop signings; her fans are considered too dangerous for open gatherings.  We include amongst our numbers parents of undergraduates, after all.

Listen to this example from Anna Pavord's Plant Partners;

"No garden can have too many tulips.  It is one of the few infallible rules in gardening... Tulips are natural companions for wallflowers, and although wallflowers are often badly used, they are never hackneyed. Their rich tawny colours consort well with both tulips and daffodils and the smell, when a warmish shaft of sun tickles their scent glands, is a glorious antidote to the sloth brought on by winter hibernation.  A late spring garden should be swooning with more scents than a seraglio and one sniff of a wallflower can open up a whole Pandora's box of emotions: rows, reconciliations, a particular meal, a birthday party.  A garden without smells would be a hamstrung thing." 

I classify all my cookbooks as reference books too.  I've got most of Elizabeth David; Jane Grigson; Sophie Grigson's Vegetables; lots of Jamie; ALL of Delia; some Rick Stein; a few bits of Claudia Roden and Jill Norman (of course); Margaret Costa's Four Seasons; Hugh Feathery-Walking-Stick's Meat;  a bit of Bill Granger; a couple of Tessa Kiros (from which I have never cooked just looked at in a daze); and some early Nigel Slater.  I used to love reading and cooking from his early stuff, then bought his Kitchen Diaries.  I read with pleasure every entry until I came to "Boxing Day" and his mealy mouthed description of ridding himself of yet another jar of someone's pickled harvest.  Oh really?  The irony of this statement is clearly lost on its author, and I have disliked him ever since.  Managed to catch Toast over the holidays?  We watched it screaming with laughter at the hackneyed dialogue and thoroughly repellent characterisation of women.  His attempts at gardening in his latest TV series are almost as funny.

Some authors are real authors, whose writing casts a spell upon their readers as deliciously perfect as the sight of Jeremy Clarkson in a burka.  They cast their spell upon first reading, then decades later you fall in love all over again.  At some point this autumn/early winter, I read a review of Nevil Shute, and  Requiem for a Wren came to mind.  I read it on my sister's recommendation when I was 14.  As she passed it to me I remember her saying how she wanted so much to suspend everything she knew of the tale as she read it, and that the ending came as a shock. 

And on Friday night I settled down to read Requiem for a Wren all over again.  I spent most of this afternoon stretched out on the sofa in a warm and quiet house reading and reading and reading.  And the ending still came as a shock.  After closing the book I lay still, thinking and mourning for some time.  Here I am, reading into the year ahead.