My Pandemic Reading

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In April, I started a book by a Glasgow writer Carol McKay that was a post pandemic story called Incunabulum. I’ve read Carol’s short stories before and wanted to see how she wrote her novel as I tease myself some days with the idea of writing a novel based in Dublin in my time.

The fact of Covid19 and the restrictions on my life – no poetry meet ups with pals, no weekly ballet class, no hill walking in some of the best weather in years and no casual shopping – made the book feel so realistic.

The characters are well developed and the setting of Glasgow – my adopted home- made it familiar and reassuring in a strange way. Imagine you woke up after a number of weeks, everything is different, quieter, and you think you are alone. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the possibilities of the ending.

It’s a stark read; McKay deals with complex issues from adoption to rape to physical violence as well as misunderstanding and false accusations. Yet, the people and their stories come through strongly – familiar human needs and strengths as well as weaknesses.

And it brought me back to 2018 when I was recovering from a bad fall – knee and hand fractured – immobile, frightened and learning to move again with ease. Rethinking what matters.  The joy of having a shower after weeks of simple washing, clean clothes – one my trousers had to be split up the side to accommodate plaster. That was my evening wear, and it certainly didn’t look like a designer quirk!

Since then, I savour my walks, my dance, my food and time to read and write – being able to hold my book or kindle without pain. I also realised how essential writing is to my wellbeing.

At the start of lockdown, I read Anne Enright’s latest novel, The Actress. The setting in Dublin and the reference to roughly my growing up time made it interesting and familiar. Her writing is so beautiful. My unease with this novel is that it echoes many stories we have heard. Perhaps her wider canvas brings some unusual touches but overall, I was disappointed. I thought she could use her command of prose and her beautiful word choices to tell another story.

My escapist read is science fiction. K.B.Wager’s series about a gunrunner/queen is great fun. I’m always happy to have a feisty, fierce and kick-ass tough woman heroine with intelligence. Wager sets a cracking pace and even for bedtime reading it works well.

Her latest, Down among the Dead, keeps the tension and plot going well. While the action takes place in the future, the tech gadgets don’t overtake the human drama!

Poetry is a constant. For my birthday on 24th April, new poetry books brought me joy; I’ve grown to love classical poetry from Greece and from China. David Hinton’s anthology on Classical Chinese Poetry, brings great gifts and surprising resonance for me with the life of Court poets in the ninth century Chinese dynasty.

I regularly read the Bloodaxe series, Being Human, Being Alive and Staying Alive. It’s the most wonderful collection of poets from all over the world.  With some of the most moving, visceral, life-affirming and engrossing testaments to the human spirt and to the redemption of words.

In my year of recovery from the fall, my husband read for us on many evenings, words that inspired and enriched my physically restricted days, giving me riches of the mind to cherish.

There are so many favourites, both recent and long-standing. In this pandemic time, I come back to the poems about quiet including Quietness by Rumi and Pablo Neruda’s, Keeping Quiet, both included in the Bloodaxe Being Human anthology of 2011.

The penultimate verse could have been written now:

‘If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.’

(Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda)

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