Reading list

by little red pen

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird and all the rest
I’ve got a whole stack of books lined up to add to this reading list thing. We had the Readers and Writers Festival and it’s winter and the evenings have been peaceful, so I’ve been able to pick up my reading pace a bit.

I seem to be a bit shy/lazy about blogging, though, so there they sit in a teetering pile, apart from the ones I had to take back to the library already.

Every male member of the household is down with some nasty virus thing that gives them a temperature and a sore head and makes them very tired. I’m fine so far, but touching wood often and getting nervous every time my nose feels a bit blocked. My main role seems to be to dispense hot drinks and maternal kindliness, to keep the crumpets coming and to play card games with the smallest, healthiest one. Also, to roam the house periodically in search of used mugs and grotty hankies.

I wish I could say that I am performing this role with grace and patience, but I’m borderline grumpy, feeling the cabin fever and vaguely repulsed by all the lying around being germy. Also, three days! The grown-up one has been a sleepy wreck of a man for three days! I don’t know that I could get away with such a thing.

Plus, there’s crap everywhere and the whole house needs a good airing out.

In more positive news, I’ve started going to the gym and, after three days of feeling like my legs were going to fall off, I would hurt something if I bent over and my shoulders needed a hot water bottle permanently strapped across them, I walked out the pain and have been feeling chipper and fit ever since. I had a day off and a massage on Thursday and physio and yoga on Friday, and now my main motivation in caring for Ian is to get him well enough to watch the kids while I go back to the gym.

Just while I’m having a moan, we put out a bird feeder a few weeks ago and I was delighted, DELIGHTED, on Thursday to see that the waxeyes had at last discovered it and were massing in flurried green enthusiasm to eat porridge and drink sugar water. Blackbirds and thrushes patrolled the ground underneath to collect anything that fell, also the occasional chaffinch and a small sparrow-like bird I have yet to identify, the chief household birdo being uncharacteristically prone and lethargic.* So all this was charming, spiritually meaningful, fascinating, beautiful. Then I got up this morning and realised they were using the washing line to perch on. I haven’t looked closely yet, but I suspect at least half the load will need to go back in the machine. And the only person tall enough to comfortably reach two of the lines is lying on the couch covered in blankets drinking hot water with lemon and honey in it.

All of which is a very long-winded and pathetic way of saying that I have discovered Anne Lamott and I love her. I started with Bird by Bird, and if you have any thoughts of being a writer, you’d best get a copy and devour it as soon as possible.

Then I read the novels, then Operating Instructions, then Some Assembly Required, and now I’m moving on to the faith ones. Lamott is funny, apt, wise and, thank God, human. If you’ve ever been a parent, Operating Instructions will recall to you everything you never dared fully admit you felt or thought or experienced. You’ll look at other parents and marvel at the love that drives the whole enterprise, at the fortitude needed to get through a damn day. You’ll look at your children, whether they are still small or well grown, and marvel that you got to be the one to carry them through childhood.

Speaking of which, the physio said I have “mum shoulders”. She said I’ve spent far more time holding a child — and here she curved her arms in front of her as though a small creature was nestled against her heart — than I have writing, and as a consequence my upper back is locked in a forward stretch that is going to take quite some time and work to unfold. But Lamott reminds me that the letting go is parenting too. As is the writing, the recording, the telling that forces the truths about mothering — or seventh grade, or sex, or faith, or families, or life — out of your heart and onto the page.


*I was thinking it might be a dunnock (the one bird against which no word of complaint has ever been raised, quotes the birdo), but no. He thinks it’s a female chaffinch. All I know is its head is a very nice shape, blunt and with a slight incline towards the back.