One distinct advantage to this whole 'not working' thing apart from ten tons of anxiety being lifted from my shoulders is that I now stand as much chance of finding the gems in the Oxfam bookshop as the next person.
So a few weeks ago I discovered a book called Reading in Bed Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading edited by Steven Gilbar and published by Godine which I snapped up instantly and what a worthwhile snatch it has proved to be.
For a start I know exactly where the book was bought and when because handwritten in the front, Borders Express, Monday 11th July 2005, Somerset Mall, Troy. I suspect that is here so quite a journey from Detroit to Devon to dovegreyreader.
The book is a gloriously good and uplifting read with a selection of essays spanning the ages from the 16th century Michel de Montaigne, and working towards the present day via William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, John Ruskin thence to Robert Louis Stevenson, Marcel Proust, Herman Hesse, Henry Miller, Eizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Italo Calvino. Joseph Epstein ( of Fred Astaire fame last week) and countless others and I have loved every single one. There's nothing to surpass the well-written literary essay.
Back in 1995 Steven Gilbar was suggesting that
'I envision the reader to be someone like myself...one who is made up in part of all her or she has read, who can be moved by good writing. We may be an endangered species in this age of non-books and aliteracy but we endure.'
Heavens that left me dumbstruck, were things really that bad in 1995?
Embryonic very newborn internet days?
But my favourite entry is from Clifford Fadiman. You may recall that his daughter Anne is one of my best friends (Anne doesn't know this and may be worried about stalkers if she did) but Anne's books Ex Libris, Rereadings and At Large and Small grace my little Books at My Right Hand shelf on my desk (currently Anne is cheek-by-jowl in the esteemed company of Penelope Fitzgerald's House of Air, The Paris Review Interviews and The Poems of Emily Dickinson) In an idle moment when Typepad is on one of its go-slows I will reach for any one of these and read.
Reading Clifford you can see where Anne picked up the talent and here Clifford addresses the issue of 'pre-slumber reading' most specifically, and that means we must add in Mary Azarian's beautiful wood etching (for which Bookhound is convinced I posed)
'Hence the wise bed-reader, rendering unto Morpheus the things that are Morpheus' will shun any book that appears too interesting.'
But nor should books be used as an opiate because
'dull books soothe only dull brains.'
Clifford urges us towards middle of the road reading, definitely not newspapers because all newspaper readers furrow their brows,
'the enemy of the settled mind...with its unkillable obsession with the actual... the systematic generator of worry'
Nor should we be entertaining a misery memoir,
'Problem novels (usually produced by problem children) should never companion your pillow; midnight is no hour to worry about the time being out of joint.'
Likewise stay right away from political arguments and plenty more, finally Clifford leads us to his best pillow books,
'...those that deny the existence of tomorrow. To read in bed is to draw around us invisible, noiseless curtains...a bridge between the sharp fact of daily existence and the cloudy fact of the dream life...removed in some degree from my current time, my current place...
The books that do the job for me may quite well bore you to a catalepsy or infuriate you to a raging insomnia.'
Firstly Clifford likes to
'roam around in the general catalogue of the Oxford University Press...rich with peculiar treasures.'
Then he hits the novels,
'Give me no profound Russians, no overlucid Frenchmen, no opaque Germans, give me solid Englishmen of the nineteenth century...'
So who do you think does it for Clifford?
'Breaks through the time barrier and teleports the horizontal reader instantly to a divinely settled, comfortable, income-taxless vanished world...never fails to interest, but not too much; to sooth, but not too much.'
So who exactly is his 'perfect novelist for the bedside?'