April and our first glorious daylight salon of the year, nearly wrote my car off following Rebecca down the drive. While she slowed to avoid pheasant roadkill I was a bit too busy admiring the fabulous sky-high rhododendrons. But a chance to sit and admire the par-terre garden which was a beautifully segmented palette of pansies, as we gathered to share our book choices on the subject of Intrepid Travellers.
I do it every time, boldly proclaim my choice on here and get to the afternoon of the day with the book largely unread. Sadly On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers by Kate Marsden no exception, it just wasn't doing it for me and the book I'm enjoying now on Laura's recommendation, Journey into the Mind's Eye by Lesley Blanch had only arrived that morning. Kate Marsden an intrinsic part of the young Lesley's Siberian Shelf but it was all a bit more than I could stomach.
Turning to the shelves for inspiration I gathered together a stack of W.G.Sebald and curled up for an afternoon siesta read and found that Rings of Saturn fitted what I wanted to say perfectly.
Not only a book about an actual journey but a book that made something of an intrepid traveller on that reading journey out of me.
Discovering Max Sebald quite a pivotal point in my reading life with that sense of history, archiving and the whole process of memory linking all those deposits and traces of the past and the Sebald narrator who is so often a wanderer. The reverberations all there for the reader to hear and for years I just wasn't listening in the right way when I attempted to read Sebald, because you have to use your eyes too. The pictures which take their meaning from the text by implication and suggestion, so once my senses were tuned to the pitch of Max Sebald's writing there was no looking back. Rings of Saturn a book that it is almost impossible to hold in the memory and summarise sufficiently when others ask you what it's about. That melancholic meditation which Geoff Dyer suggests is 'teetering on the edge of boredom' yet it absorbs the attention so completely. In Max Sebald's own words,
'By all means be experimental but let the reader be part of the experiment'
and so each time I raise my head from reading Rings of Saturn I very appropriately wonder quite which planet I've been on.
Some great Intrepid Traveller reads from fellow salonistas.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy was suitably lauded by those who'd read it.
Unsuitable for Ladies an anthology of the experiences of women travellers less so for its rather messy editing.
The Discovery of France by Graham Robb fared little better though came with glowing approval ratings from the giver of the book as a gift so we made generous allowances on the basis of never look a gift-book in the mouth.
Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder ...are you there Rebecca, I was so enthralled I didn't write anything down, Kalder visiting the off the beaten track Russia and I think you sort of enjoyed it but not quite hugely.
The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson generated lots of debate about autism and the author's journey with his son in search of healing and acceptance. We wondered if the time might come when autism is no longer viewed as a problem but accepted as a different and valid view of the same world, and actually who's to say whose view is the right one?
Adventures on the High Teas by Stuart Maconie took a bit of a drubbing truth be told, its reader was not impressed and there was some serious dissection of the whole genre of Bill Bryson-esque writing.
We came to the conclusion that only Bill can be Bill.
The Places Inbetween by Rory Stewart almost won Book of the Evening for his long walk across Afghanistan which took the reader into new territory and brought her out the other side a complete expert on the country and its history and with a solid understanding of the people and the problems.
But all offerings were eclipsed by a book written by cat, Mrs Chippy's Last Expedition edited by Caroline Alexander, Mrs Chippy being the tom cat that accompanied his owner on Shackleton's last fateful journey on the Endurance. I can't bring myself to tell you what happened to Mrs Chippy but at least we don't think they casseroled him. We were all distraught verging on inconsolable and thankful of another offering from the bearer of Mrs Chippy, The Female Shipwright which cheered us up no end. This the book about Mary Lacey who joined the navy in the 1750s as a man which was never discovered until long afterwards when she applied for a pension and got it.
Another great night of bookish talk, our new member came back which is a good sign and next month is a tricky theme if ever there was one.
The Impossible Book.
We all have to read that bete noir, the book we may have struggled with for years. We groaned and wondered quite why we'd chosen this one, but undeterred and determined we strode forth to gather again in May, and yes I'm going to say it "someone" is dragging themselves kicking and screaming to open The Time Traveller's Wife and it's not me.