Reading Choices, Book Reviews and The Unmade Bed…

It’s strange how things come back to me after all these years. Our choice of reading material over time. I awoke this morning thinking about probably the last book review that I wrote, it was for a book called “The Unmade Bed” by Françoise Sagan. I think I was 14 years old and at the time, we were expected to review books regularly at school as part of the English curriculum. I think at the time I was trying to find out more about sex since boys had begun to show an interest in me. As you can imagine, if anyone actually made a move on me properly, then I would at least want to know what was supposed to happen. I certainly wasn’t going to learn what sex was from a family who did not discuss it, other than the fact that it was not supposed to happen until you got married. I felt the need to find out what was supposed to be enjoyable when it happened. No-one seemed to want someone who knew nothing about it as a girlfriend, although they didn’t want an expert either, it must surely make sense to have a little knowledge. It wasn’t their faults entirely, as many parents assume their children will do exactly as they tell them until they are adults, less so these days but back then things were different. I guess that they do not think that as they rebelled, their children will also do so.

So, in my teenage rebellion, I often sat in the library, reading whatever I could find that might give me a clue. I hadn’t studied the sciences at school, so was not interested in anatomy, or how it all worked, more how it felt and what was supposed to happen.

Yes, “Feelings” were a big part of my life even then….

I read Mills and Boon books like any other teenage girl, but even my dad knew about them, the bodice ripping stories which could not be taken seriously, filling my head with ideas, he banned them from the house, so I used to read them at school, or sit in the library. I read quickly even to this day and so it didn’t take very long to read one of those, a lunch hour perhaps or a day’s worth of school breaks.

The last book review was different though. If I was caught reading it at home then I could quite honestly say that I had to write a book review for it. I was at the age, when we were expected to go out and find out own subject matter to read and review. I can only imagine what my tutor thought when she was faced with the review itself. It was a book that to this day, I can remember something about. In my naivety I had misunderstood the contents. I know, it should be pretty clear from the title. But I thought that it would have more detail in than it did and I felt that it was a let down. It took me twice as long to read as it hopped from character to character, I almost gave up and found another book to read, but my stubborn streak got in the way. It was of course about the sex life of the character and their escapades, it had no depth. But I felt that it lacked any excitement, it seemed almost mechanical in its writing. Part of me wishes to find the book again after all this time and re-read it to see if I gain any more enjoyment from it, but I fear that my time would be wasted and that I shouldn’t bother, so I haven’t yet. After all there is more to life than reading a boring book twice?

I recall writing in my review of my disappointment that the whole story seemed to be a catalogue of people who kept jumping in and out of bed with each other, swapping partners and all sharing the same bed. Somehow the thought of that repelled me and I found myself wondering if the sheets ever got changed. (Ever the practical thinking) I don’t think my review encouraged anyone else to read the pristine old book which sat on the library shelf and I doubt my teacher clamoured to the local library or bookshop to borrow or peruse.

So that was it… Did I need to write another review? I’d quite like to because it will give me the opportunity to read books again with purpose. I have read to learn things, but not so much for the enjoyment of a story, I miss that to enjoy the thoughts and processes which go through other writer’s heads. I love reading, I get totally consumed by whatever the subject is whilst I read a book, to the exclusion of everything around me. I cannot put a book down easily mid-read. I prefer to read it cover to cover so I am careful of the subject matter and as a consequence do not read nearly enough. I was sad to find myself saying a few years ago that I had not read a book in years, yes it had actually been about 5 years at that point, I had not had the time to myself to enable me to do that and resolved to try and change that. I have read more since then and take time to read mainly online. I love that about WordPress since it encourages me to look around and doesn’t take up the time that a book would and you still learn, read and see interesting things I also feel that it is still a luxury to be able to sit and read a book or article without interruption, one that I can’t always allow myself.

The Daily Post – Depth

In the name of Research, The Library and Books of Poetry

So since Today was a pretty grey day and I had some errands to run, I found myself walking past where I used to work years ago to visit the very unassuming library to do a bit of actual research, I was in a nearby town close to the family home.

Two things happened today, I ventured out to do stuff and in doing so, I put on a smart shirt, some perfume and some heels along with my jeans and a leather jacket, did hair and make up and felt like I had returned to the land of the living for the day. I refused to let the debilitating headache which has plagued for a week get the best of me today and now that the shakes have stopped (almost) I decided to get things done…

So having not got any answers as to how many poems in a book is a good idea. I thought I would flick through the shelves and look at the children and adult poetry sections there for inspiration or to at least figure that bit out.

I located one of the librarians who gave me directions to the bottom shelf, where I was faced with the grand sum of less than 2ft of one shelf with poetry books.  Hmm, I thought nervously, (and more than a little hopefully) maybe poetry is such a great thing that all the books are out.  Alas no, this was all they had, I hoped that my choice of genre was not a bad one after all.  That is not really going to light up my life is it, about 20 books!  Dismayed I sat cross legged on the floor, I opened the first book, the rough carpet under me since there was no sign of a comfy chair on which to sit and I was not going to be emptying the meagre shelf just for a look. I hoped that no-one would tread on me in their stampede on their way past to the craft afternoon which was just about to start and rather wished I had made the journey to the other old library, where I used to go as a child after all. Now that was all that you want a library to be. It was beautiful old building with solid wooden panels and shelves and you could lose several hours there with a good book looking out over some lovely gardens. Or perhaps the one in the nearest town to me, which is huge and has regular exhibitions and lots of seating.  But there I was for a a short time transported back to a world which reminded me that I love reading and if the floor is the only place to sit, it really didn’t matter.

I picked up the first book, which was a collection of the poetry that used to be on the underground. I was quite surprised that the book was over 300 pages deep, but then had large widely spaced text, small poems, one to a page or more and lots of chapter pages too, so a lot of that was information and credits.  There were over 100 poems though.  So if I am going to follow that route then I will need to write a few more and include all the ones I have already written.  

I picked up another book, of Love poems the contents slightly less at just under 200 pages, with about 20 of them being allocated to indexing and notes.

I found a few which only had 30-40 poems in them and some of them were also very short so it seems that there is a whole host of ways to go.

The things I noticed from my little bit of research about this is;

All the books listed the poems, in the index by the first line of the poem. 

Only some of them listed the poems by name.

They were not split into subject matter.

They were randomly included in each book.

Most had less than 180 pages including the indexes and afterward.

Almost anything goes…

So it seems that although there are no hard and fast rules about which way to go, for any of you who like me, are on the route to your first book of poetry, I hope this little list helps you out.

What struck me though was the bizarre mixture of poetry which jumped off the page and stuck in my head as I left there.  Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Roald Dahl, Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou and The Tyger by William Blake, all so vastly different.

I may have to visit the other libraries anyway all in the name of research of course! to see what else I can find out. I feel my research is incomplete, plus it will give me the opportunity to read a few more books and see what exhibitions are happening locally. Now who could pass up an opportunity like that.  Plus, I enjoy the silence with which to read, it makes the memories last so much longer without distractions. The silence was definitely missing in today’s library, there was noise and bustle and things going on, along with a loud conversation between the librarians about recycling and composting bags and how many of them they are selling at the moment.  Perhaps I am recalling times gone by, a flashback to the past, when libraries were a place for peace and quiet.  Perhaps it was that this was a small community library that they were holding events in the midst of it, so should I be seeking that serenity elsewhere?

 

Sheet Music and Musical Events.

I remember that I am sitting in my Grandmother’s house, at the time when I was learning to play the recorder. I had to learn how to read music. It was the only way I would progress and be able to play in the school orchestra. As a small child, I did not have the lungpower for a proper wind instrument. I had only a small voice and couldn’t quite muster enough puff to play for any length of time. However, my Grandmother persisted with me. She would always help you if you were willing to be taught, laughing as I write this as the reality dawns that I am exactly the same in that respect. You shouldn’t waste your time on people with no wish to learn. If only I had remembered that in the training sessions of my later employ, when others who did not wish to partake, sat looking blankly on, saying that they just, didn’t “get it.”

I remember her running through the notes with me, singing which were which and explaining each one of them to me and where they would be within the piece of music.
Gone with the mists of time I now do not recall any of the knowledge behind it, I remember that I like the treble clef with it’s artistic swirl at the beginning of a piece. Whether it will return or be dragged from my mind kicking and screaming remains to be seen. I had decided that I wanted to learn a musical instrument. The recorder was a cheap instrument for my parents to buy, they couldn’t afford a trumpet, my hands were so small that I probably in truth couldn’t hold one. I could barely reach the bottom hole on the recorder. I had a Hohner recorder, it was black with a cream line around each section where it screwed together and you could dismantle it for cleaning, along with a plastic cleaner like a large needle and a piece of fabric threaded through the top. You pulled it through the instrument to remove saliva deposits so that it didn’t sound like you were just blowing bubbles. I also had a bamboo recorder, which had been acquired from goodness knows where, but my mother deemed unhygienic and spirited away. I think that one had come from one of the jumble sales. My Grandmother For the classes at school, I was required to learn to read music, so that we could play whatever was required for assembly or the forthcoming concerts.

Although I have a love of music, playing an instrument did not come easily to me, around the same time, my parents decided to play and sing together in a band. My father on guitar and them both vocalising, my mother also had a tambourine to accompany them. They enjoyed themselves and would take us along to visit other churches, parties at houses of the people in the church and various places, the songs were religious and they were part of the local Baptist church congregation. They would take my brother and I along. I played a tambourine to join in but I think my brother just sat it out, he wasn‘t one for singing or musical instruments. It was at this time, that I recall they played at an asylum, it happened more than once, but I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable being there. There were patients milling around and a few “orderlies” standing around listening to them in a room. It seemed to go on forever and as small children do from time to time, I needed to go to the bathroom. They hadn’t finished their song, but I couldn’t wait, so telling my Mother where I was going, they continued to sing and play. I remember walking along the corridor to the toilet, I saw a man was coming the other way. I looked at my feet, attempting not to make eye contact and attempted to walk on past, he suddenly veered towards me and I looked up, at that point the man shrieked at me and clasped his hands to his head, then went off to bang his head against the wall. I ran away as he laughed manically. There was a room with people in further down , a lady screamed out, someone told her to calm down and not to fuss, what on earth were they doing to her in there?

It was quite some distance from the room where my parents were, to the visitors toilets. I don’t think that the organisers had put much thought into it putting us in a lounge away from the usual visitor area. I didn’t like the place, it made me so terribly sad to be there. In this huge and beautiful old building, on a bright sunny day with a wonderful wide expanse of garden outside, where no-one was allowed to play and where supervised people shuffled along the pathways, unable to walk on the grass. A place where despite the singing and praising the Lord, all I could hear was screams and cries. I went to the bathroom and despite my fear of being locked into places, I locked that door. I did not want anyone to come and get me, besides I had to pull together enough courage to make it back along the corridors.

I ran back to the room, clattering along the corridors, I saw a lady curled up in a corner, two nurses were trying to get her back into her room, she clearly did not want to go, she wrestled with them. They asked me what I was doing in that part of the hospital on my own, I shouldn’t be there. I explained that I was going to the toilet. Keep going they urged me and don’t stop to talk. I flew along the corridors and crashed back into the room, the parents were still playing, surrounded by inmates who were now singing along in their own way, rocking back and forth, emitting strange noises. I’m not sure, but think that it did them some good,. I was quiet on the way home. I asked later told my parents that I didn‘t want to have to go back there. I was scared of the people there, they were in the process of telling me that I shouldn‘t worry they were only people who were sick, that we were trying to help. But I was adamant that I did not want to return and told them what had happened when I needed to go to the toilet. My mother berated me for not taking my (older) brother with me when I went. I said, he wouldn’t be allowed in the girls toilet. So after that they agreed that it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to go again. On going to school, the next day I was asked in class what we did at the weekend. I told the teacher, she did not believe that I could possibly have been there, why would a child go to such a place. Surely I had made it up, some of the children decided to be cruel, chanting that I had been to the “nut house” and that my parents must have taken me there because I needed to see a Doctor, and I should have been left there. My sleep was disturbed for some time afterwards, I regularly had nightmares about the place.

I think that after that, my love of learning music waned. I do not remember continuing and being a part of the Orchestra for the school concert. Later I looked at learning the piano, but my parents would not entertain it. It’s a shame since in my earlier years, we actually had a piano. I did teach myself “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music on the piano which was held in a room at a church we later attended, it was a beautiful grand piano which had rolls of music which could play fantastic pieces, if you wound it up, I would spend hours in there just listening to it. Someone had donated it to them and it was kept in a room there. I always snuck in there to play it whenever I had the chance. Most people learned chopsticks, I was different. Looking at a page of music, I now only see notes and not a way to play them, maybe I have blocked it all out

Years later, my friend was stationed at the same hospital for part of her nurse training, I stayed well away from the building but did visit her in the nurses quarters on a few occasions.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I saw on Twitter yesterday, I think that is why this particular memory came back to me. At eight years old I decided that I never wanted to be put in one of “those places“, who knows what happened there, but the people were so very broken, they would never be the same again. I did not know, nor was it pointed out to me that sometimes people actually recovered from mental illness. No-one thought to explain what mental illness was or that it affects people in varying degrees and takes on many different forms. For many years, I had one view of it, I thought that it was where people “ended up” since there was often talk of suicides there and I certainly did not want to go there or join that club. To this day, I struggle with seeing people rocking, it takes me right back to that time. I do want to try and help, to hold them close, take away their pain and stop them from doing it. Seeing that person rocking years ago, throwing their body into the wall, faster and faster has stayed with me. I did not understand the relief that could possibly be gained from literally banging your head against the wall, later I figured it was as they tried to escape from themselves and the pain that they were in. I have always tried to avoid doing the headbanging, it tends to be a more subliminal thing with me. Years ago, I watched the film One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Jack Nicholson. Although I could appreciate the acting in it was brilliant, I found it one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen, it brought back so many of the images from those visits to the hospital which had lain buried for years. There is a stigma, no one wants to be thought of as unstable, deranged or messed up. We all have our moments, some last longer than others. Some feel as though they are insurmountable. Some get help and iron out the crumpled bits, living to fight another day. Some fight their own battles for years, denying they even exist then life slams your head into that wall and you get a wake up call.