In honour of Thanksgiving, which we don’t celebrate in the UK, here is a very short little meme, which you are most welcome to do if it pleases you.
What reasons do you have to be grateful for books?
Without any undue exaggeration, books have been my life so far, and I hope it’ll continue that way. Not only have they comforted and enlightened me, amused and challenged me and been my favourite way to spend my time, I’ve also made a rather fun living out of them. I still can’t quite believe I got to sit around, chatting about books I’d read, and was paid for it.
Is there any author for whose existence you are especially grateful?
There are many, but at the top of the list is Agatha Christie, for having accompanied me so stalwartly through adolescence, and Colette and Marguerite Duras for having provided the research material I needed for my PhD. I still love all three of them with all my heart.
What positive impact does reading have on your day?
Reading forces me to slow down and take stock. It’s relaxation, yes, but it’s also a shift into a different pace of life, one in which I start to reflect and think things through. I’m not rushing around trying to get tasks accomplished any more, lost to the onslaught of the quotidian, and for all that people say it’s escapist, I’m actually more ready to deal with difficult situations, calmer in myself and clearer in my mind, if I’ve taken some time out to read. And if I can’t read, well, then I’m really upset and I have to do something about it.
What good things has reading taught you?
Reading has certainly broadened my mind and deepened my sympathy for others. I’ve become a better listener, after spending so much time listening very carefully to what books are telling me. And stories are places where I can do complicated emotional processing. Not in the event itself – that’s when I need comfort – but afterwards, I can often find solutions and explanations that enlighten me as to my own feelings.
Is there any particular book that’s special to you?
Too many to mention, really. But here’s one example. My first year at university was extremely intimidating and I did not feel that I had accomplished it with any grace at all. And then, during the summer holidays, I was trying to get ahead in my reading and picked up Zola’s Nana, the gripping chunkster of a novel about a fabulous courtesan who brought the men of Paris to their knees. I forgot I was reading in French, I forgot I was reading for a course. I was just reading because I was loving that book. And I thought to myself, that’s what I’ve really forgotten – to have some fun. How could I ever have let it slip my mind that first and foremost, reading is the most wonderful fun? After that, everything became an awful lot better.
What are you most happy to have read recently?
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence for the beauty of his prose, an interview with Mavis Gallant, which was somehow immensely touching and inspiring, and my friend Jeff’s (as yet) unpublished extracts – one day he’ll be a respected author, I’m sure.
Edit: I keep forgetting to do this! I’ve promised my friend I’ll publicize her online book sale. If you are interested in looking over what she’s got for sale, you can do so here.