Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comfort in words

Is it a sign of getting older that I find such comfort in certain routine items, especially those linked to books and words?

If I have been travelling, especially in less than joyful circumstances – like when I went to Uganda last year – there’s nothing I find more comforting that than the sound of Mark Colvin’s voice as he calmly and authoritatively presents ABC radio's current affairs program PM. It helps me know I am at home and back in my private bubble.

This came to mind when, heading off to Noosa with Mum for a few days recently, I found myself fondling a P D James book a the shop at the airport. I needed ‘holiday’ reading as I call it and I knew it had to be easy to dip in and out of and its entertainment value had to be guaranteed. I can get a bit toey when I'm with people a lot, so used to solo time at home am I, and I need a panacea. I opened The Private Patient while still on the plane and, after one or two pages, felt myself breathe out with relief. I was in safe and familiar hands.

To be honest the book was not one that will go down in the annals but bloody PD (pictured above) is 88 now. Give the woman a break! She’s quite an inspiration. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, poet and policeman and a returning character for her is making his fourteenth appearance for Scotland Yard in this book. The twists and turns are all there, the language spoken by the characters is precise and wordy, there’s a fine old English country house, some literary references, some religion and some mayhem. Ah, so reassuring. I tell you, even as I noted some repetitive phrases or had that strange premonition of what was going to happen next I was simply further appeased. That’s the power of the book, it’s like a woobie blanket for grown ups, or at least it is for me.

Holiday reading is a funny thing is it not? A number of people I know save up all their trashiest books to savour by the pool or swim-up bar. Why is that I wonder? Surely, at a time in the year when one’s mind should be freer and less preyed upon by the day to day pressures of life, a holiday is the very time one should be tackling challenging and exciting reading?

I have a new plan in place. I always tend to read one ‘serious’ book followed by one (or I dip in to both at once) guilty pleasure. Of course I pride myself on reading well written ‘guilties’ like a cracking yarn by Ian Rankin. Now, because I love books on CD so much, I have committed to non fiction in the car and fiction on my MP3 player. Now I can have at least four books going on in my head at one time.

Jesus, no wonder I’ll never get ‘round to writing my own.

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