Today’s aim is to write for 30 minutes (and yes, Day 7 is yesterday’s prompt – will I ever catch up? May be not, but if I take 20 days to complete this 14-day challenge, so be it! I’m assuming there are no Challenge Police who will barge in and arrest me for Crimes Against Good Writing… ) So 30 minutes freewriting on what? I’m going back to my list from Day 3 and jotting my thoughts on ‘Why books are vital to my well-being’…
I have a long and complex relationship with books – they were a favourite ‘toy’ as a child. I owned very few, but the library van would visit our village every two weeks and I remember vividly clambering up the huge steps to choose my 10 books – oh the deep, bodily joy of the whole process!! I was an early reader thanks to my mother, who loved her Mills & Boon, and liked children to be neat and quiet. I am sure she, or some family member, read to me when I was very young, but I truly don’t member it. I do remember I could read before I went to school, as it was remarked upon. And I know I was one of the youngest kids to read all the books in the school’s library – which certainly wasn’t extensive! (The school had four classrooms and teachers and 100 children – a typical small village school.)
I vividly remember reading The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, and repeatedly choosing it from the library van. I adored Edward Lear’s wacky poetry, ‘The pobble who had no toes’ was another favourite. And when I discovered Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, I was in heaven – I would recite ‘Jabberwocky’ to whoever would listen – on the bus, in shop queues… When I went to Oxford, and walked in Christchurch Meadow – the setting for Alice – I was in heaven. But that quickly changed when I learnt more about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his penchant for young girls…. I still struggle to separate the man from his amazing gift of word-play, imagination and rhythm – ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ is just so brilliantly composed and a sheer joy to read aloud!
So words, words, words written in books, books, books have the backdrop of my whole life. Books on shelves, or in piles, are the perfect home decor for me 🙂 (Oh, and at least one comfy chair to sit and read in!) And as I got older, the quality of the book production became a factor, not just the words printed inside – the binding, the feel of the paper, the typeface used. I was a member of The Folio Society for many years (I still cannot part with any of the volumes I own, no matter how many times we move house!) I went to learn book-binding, I began calligraphy classes, all to try and emulate the truly amazing books of the Middle Ages. (I would love to learn letterpress, and more advanced bookbinding, but the truth is having only one useable arm rather precludes it – I simply cannot fold, cut and stitch – and I don’t have the dexterity to handle small objects like letter type blocks).
So, instead, I have my beautiful books lining my walls or on display like my gorgeous Bible (my birthday present from hubby this year), and I stroke the pages, and I sigh, and I soak up the sheer beauty and the skill that brought these wonderful objects called books into being. The Gutenberg original was produced in the 1450s (can you believe that??) The first mass produced moveable-type printing. The printed sheets were sold loose, with a book of examples of possible illuminations to decorate them. The buyer then had to get the pages handpainted by an artist, and cut and bound (often with elaborately tooled leather covers). Yes, the Gutenberg Bibles cost less than the first hand-scribed Bibles and Prayer Books, which only kings and queens could afford, but they certainly weren’t cheap!
All this is to say, books are vital to be well-being for they define who I am – I am Claire, the reader of books – and the long, dark months after the stroke when I couldn’t even hold a book, let alone read it, were truly hellish… Who was I, if I couldn’t read?? This is why, this wee painting is so important to me – it is the childhood me, who would escape to the church over the road to read her book, when the shouting at home just got too much… Books mean sanctuary to me – they are a safe place, a place of escape, a place to be who I really am.