Like all of my colleagues I never go anywhere without a book. Why waste valuable reading time standing in an interminable queue at the bank or waitiing on a friend (a rare friend arrives first) for lunch or a walk down the pier? Be prepared and hanging around will never again seem like time wasted; rather see it as an opportunity to catch up and enjoy that time alone with a book.
And people are always curious if they see a book in your hand, often demanding to know the title, the author and, if possible, a quick run through the plot just in case it would be something they’d like to try. When a group of us went to see Hamlet in the Gate Theater last week I chortled at the pithy retort Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark gave when asked a similar question:
Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words
-Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii
The following books accompanied me on the Dart, on the 46a, on the train, in the doctor’s waiting room, and in a particularly long queue in the post office, making extremely pleasurable and efficient use of my otherwise wasted time.
British novelist Gerard Woodward has written eight novels to date, with I’ll Go To Bed at Noon shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004. When I noticed his name on a beautiful new demi hardback curiosity got the better of me. I dived right into The Paper Lovers which I quickly discovered was a thing of beauty and an absolute joy to read. The story concerns Polly and Arnold who have a solid marriage and want for nothing apart from more time with their beloved daughter. But - isn’t there always a BUT! - Arnold is tempted to stray with his wife’s friend Vera, a woman of strong religious views. Nothing unusual in that scenario, you might say, but how this all comes about and eventually sorts itself out is simply splendiferous.
Jennifer Clement is an American-Mexican writer whose 2014 novel Prayers for the Stolen was a powerful story set in Mexico, a country dominated by drug cartels where women have to take special care of their daughters. Her latest novel, Gun Love, is set in a trailer park where a community of forgotten people live out their (usually) short lives. In ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ there is no safety net for so many people who fall through the cracks but Margot and her daughter manage to rub along together in a broken-down car, the only home that Pearl has ever known, with a place for everything they need. Their daily routine is full of little irritations smoothed over with songs and cigarettes and friendships with a hodgepodge of neighbours and passers by. This novel perfectly captures the mood of modern America as it deals with inequality and the right of almost every citizen to bear arms.
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason takes us to the killing fields of Europe during World War One as a young man takes his chance to escape the clutches of family life. Lucius is an inexperienced medical student when he enlists in the hope of further training in some well-run field hospital. An idealist at heart, Lucius almost beats a hasty retreat when he finds himself put in charge of a commandeered church that masquerades as a place of safety for sick and injured servicemen. Abandoned by medical staff who have seen their futures wiped out by typhus, the sick and dying are tended by Nurse Margarete who has learned the skills of a surgeon through dire necessity. The nurse becomes teacher to the doctor as they repair torn and damaged bodies to send back to the front as fodder for generals and politicians on both sides. This is a totally engrossing story that illuminates further the horrors of war and the kindness of strangers.