Last weekend I went to visit my parents in the Forest of Dean and took advantage of the lovely weather to go for some long walks in the countryside. From Littledean we walked uphill to some fields overlooking the River Severn (above) and from there past Blaize Bailey to Cannop Ponds, which we hit just as the sun was setting (below).
I only recently discovered Tove Jansson. I didn’t grow up with the Moomins and it was probably only five years ago that I realised she was a woman. What I am now discovering is that she was a fascinating and talented woman. Jansson illustrated anti-fascist magazine Garm in the 1930s and continued to work as an artist throughout her better-known writing career. There is currently a retrospective of her art at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, which I hope to visit. Her books have a gentle, nature-loving heart and yet still manage to deal with some really tough subjects.
My first Jansson read was The Summer Book and I loved it. It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a young girl who summers on an island with her (largely absent) mother and her grandmother. Next, I read a collection of Jansson’s short stories Letters from Klara, which are often sharply funny and switch easily from light to dark. Then I finally turned to her best-known creation: the Moomins.
I’ve written here before about appreciating the art in computer games and discovering narrative games. Since then I have played a number of small indie games that play with storytelling in very different ways. Here are a few that have stayed with me.
It’s now two years since Tim and I played Her Story and it remains a real high point. The interface looks like an old (early 1990s) computer console and it’s supposed to be the police database files from one particular case. All you have is a search bar where the results are video clips from a suspect’s interrogation. You’re given a hint of what to search for first, which also serves as a clue to the crime that has been committed. The video clips are actual videos, starring actress Viva Seifert. The story is really well told, even in short, out-of-order clips. It touches on fairy tales, family and some pretty dark stuff. I loved this so much I insisted on finding a way to watch every single video clip, long after we’d figured out the story.
After finding myself in a bit of a reading rut in August, I tried a few things in September to get myself reading again. I tried YA, rereads and graphic novels. It all helped, and now I’m back on track and have made headway in a couple of long books: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and A Little Life by Hanna Yanagihara. I think both will be challenging and upsetting, but hopefully also rewarding.
This week, Tim and I took a holiday at home, making a little more of our lovely city than we’d usually fit into one week. We went to the Old Vic theatre, the zoo, the Arnolfini art gallery and a very funny science show called You Can’t Polish a Nerd. Plus some great restaurants, our favourite pub quiz and some very lazy lie-ins. It was pretty great and definitely relaxing.
And then September becomes October, and autumn is most definitely here. Time for some Daphne du Maurier, if I can get through the Ellison and the Yanagihara quickly enough.
I have always read for pleasure. I was never one of those people who resented the books I had to read for school or university – I did choose to study English lit after all. But I must admit I looked forward to the time after my degree when I would be free to read whenever I wanted to.
And that is what I have aimed to do ever since – reading by whim, not feeling bad about setting aside a book I’m not enjoying, or choosing a gripping crime novel over a slower, more “literary” alternative.
Except of course, my reading wasn’t entirely free. I have some self-imposed logic behind each choice. There are books I have agreed to review, selections for book groups I attend, reading challenges I’ve signed up to. And even beyond those, the reasons for my choices are not purely pleasure. There’s also self-education – expanding my horizons, reading books I feel I ought to read and literally learning stuff – and the guilt of the TBR, that I really should read that book my Dad bought because I put it on my Amazon wishlist 10 years ago in an ambitious moment.
Reading just for pleasure is surprisingly rare for me. And it’s also hard to pin down quite what that means. Because there is a certain enjoyment in racing through an easy, pacy read, but they can be badly written and the effect is not unlike eating junk food – very tasty initially but even before you’re done you feel bloated and dissatisfied.
I have not read many books this month. I am, however, part-way through not one, not two, but three books. And for the first time in a while I’m riveted by my current read. I have missed that feeling.
This month we have again been busy. We went to the Great British Beer Festival (many beers, but it felt odd drinking them in a conference centre) and to the Science Museum (always excellent), revisited Reading University campus, watched 1987 film classic The Lost Boys on an outdoor screen at Bristol Zoo (bats flying over the audience added to the atmosphere and walking past the lions at night is genuinely a little scary), did a treasure trail around Bristol Harbour and celebrated our 15th anniversary. So maybe it’s not surprising that I struggled to find time to read.
I chose my online moniker more than 10 years ago when I joined Flickr. I ran through various options, including some I had used before, such as “The onion girl” – the cheesy idea that there are many layers to me, shamelessly stolen from a novel of the same name by Charles de Lint – but none felt like me until I hit on “Nose in a book”.
It’s not an original term, and I’m not the only “Nose in a book” on the Internet, but it’s a phrase that has described me all my life. As a young child if I was going to flout rules, there was probably a book involved: reading through my meals despite the “no books at the dinner table” command; reading in bed long after lights out (I always had a torch and books stuffed down the side of my mattress); even reading when I had invited a friend over to play, and leaving my sister to occupy the poor guest. My parents, being reasonable sorts, didn’t actually mind this type of rule-breaking (though some of my potential friends probably did) and would tease me gently about it.
I’ve read three Jane Austen books and so far not been blown away, but I keep wondering if she’s a writer I’ll appreciate more as I get older. She’s certainly not flowery, which I have less and less patience for. And she’s smart, which I do like. It’s hard to talk myself into reading a book that I suspect I’m not going to enjoy. But I have heard good things about Mansfield Park, so maybe I’ll give that a go.
July was a quieter month than June was or than August promises to be. Which meant I finally got to spend a few lazy days reading for hours on end, which I often miss out on in the summer. I think our next free weekend is in September, and no doubt that will get booked up soon!
One thing we did do in July was go to see Raghu Dixit live. Tim and I were complete newbies but a friend had persuaded us to join her and I’m so glad she did. He and his band are hugely talented and super upbeat. It was a really good time, and an interesting experience being at a gig where I didn’t understand the lyrics to any of the songs (well, except one line in one song that was in English). But we did still have a stab at singing along when Dixit encouraged us to.