The heat from mid-morning did mean much time could be spend seeking shade, with litres of cold water, reading, in order to cool and prepare for another short onslaught, to go to town for the shopping or just to have a walk. We have several circuits of different timings that can be accomplished in available slots. Longer walks also happened.
I’m not sure that I have ever read so many books while away. As I was garden or house based, trips to town were fewer, so the option of buying the local paper was not available.
Georges Simenon, a Belgian writer of dubious reputation, was writing from the thirties into the seventies. His best known books, about Inspector Maigret, have been made into several television series, but not in the very recent past. These were “pot boilers”, pocket novels that could be read easily, based around the central figure of a bear like figure immersing himself in the lives of victims, in order to understand the motives of potential perpetrators. It was a human precursor to personality studies. His other novels, or his “romans durs” are a more mixed collection of stories, with a different cast of “heroes and heroines”, but, essentially still with an effort to share the psychological makeup of every character. His books have a certain cinematographic style, which lent itself to film and television adaptation. Every one shows Simenon’s ability to observe, settings and characters. A Simenon splurge, of two Penguins, each with two stories, was a relaxed way to unwind after a period of “green gym”, with greed, insecurity, fears, jealousies and bravado leading to demise, all featuring.
One of my charity shop finds before the holiday was Joseph Kanon, Leaving Berlin, a post WW2 novel, where a Jewish writer is persuaded to return to Berlin after persecution lead to his fleeing the Nazis before the war. This time he was fleeing the McCarthy witch-hunts, but in the hopes of a return to the USA, to be reunited with his son. As an agent, he encounters some of his past, but also has to manipulate events, to provide information to his handlers, but also to deal with personal issues that brought him in contact with Soviet spy networks. It was a fascinating insight into the human capacity to survive, despite a range of pressures.
Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book, has been sitting on the shelf for a few years. I’ve tried several times to get started on it, but found it a little dense. However, this time, I persevered and was very surprised how it drew me in, after the first thirty or so pages. The main story is of Galip, a lawyer whose wife disappears, probably with her ex-husband, Celal, his cousin who was a famed journalist. As Galip explores every possible avenue in trying to find his wife, he meets a wide variety of people and starts to piece together a narrative. As the story progresses, Galip appears to take the mindset of Celal, eventually beginning to write his column. In seeking to discover more about others, Galip eventually discovers himself.
The Village of Secrets, by Caroline Moorehead was another charity shop find. It was a story based on events in the Massif Central in France, an area to the east of my cottage, during the Vichy period. We had a trip to Clermont Ferrand during the holiday, so drove near the area where this story was set. In passing through the rugged countryside, with a few houses dotted infrequently, it was easy to see how the locality would lend itself to hiding all sorts of people being sought by the Nazis. The book unpicks the key storylines, the main characters and seeks to do so unsentimentally. Focused on the small town of Chambon and outlying districts, with a Protestant ethic across many communities, the pacifist, non-aggression approach was followed, as was a code of silence, each building a strong community prepared just to do good for others. While the passage of time allows stories to be changed, added to, distorted to specific ends, the book seeks to provide a balanced view of events, but also to offer the alternative viewpoints. The capacity of human beings to be courageous, generous, brave and single-minded in their efforts to help others was evident, as were the opposite traits, where some were prepared to denounce for money, torture or kill with little provocation. Self-preservation, or fear of punishment is likely to distort one’s viewpoint.
I like Steven Pinker’s Stuff of Thought as a book now to dip into occasionally, having read it earlier. I fits with my ideas that we are all just trying to make sense of life, a series of experiences that are a result of the passing of time and our journeys through different events, with people and places playing their parts. I like his assertion that life is like a series of metaphors; one event linking us to previous experiences, which modify and adjust our viewpoint, either by expansion or replacement.
I came back to Tim O’Brien’s Inner Story several times during the holiday, in part because it asked me to think, and while every book I read engaged me in different ways, Tim was asking the reader to think about themselves. In many ways, the time and space to think about yourself is a luxury in today’s busy lives. Just occasionally, life provides experiences where this is an enforced activity. Tim uses anecdote effectively to illustrate how this can come about. I reflected back to pivotal moments in my own life, which I have written about at length here, to make my own links with Tim’s book.
Becoming self-aware, taking responsibility for your own decisions, reflecting on outcomes and adapting to these are the essential building blocks of a developing human. We each live life as it appears to each of us. Every situation is unique to the event and the participants. Sometimes these are life-changing; each adds something to our journey memory. We are the product of the sense we make of each of the little experiences that make our lives. Whether we take opportunity when it arises is likely to depend on our circumstance and frame of mind. We operate within a personal profit and loss account; what’s in it for me (WIIFM)?
When we see ourselves, we are likely to be able to see and empathise with others too.
Reading does make you think!
Ps. In case you haven’t seen it yet, the #teacher5aday handbook is a useful insight into ways to add elements to your busy life that might provide some R&R. In my case, this holiday, I managed (a lot of) “green exercise”, reading, photography, painting a couple of pictures (not so easy with high temperatures, meeting friends and, since we’ve been home, some grandparenting in London and clearing and replacing the conservatory tiled floor. Busyness that provides an extended time thinking about something completely different might just be the key.