Sunday 21 June. It's the longest day! I'm never entirely sure if that's something to be celebrated or not - the evenings will be drawing in from now on, after all! But as the weather forecast for the coming week looks very promising, let's enjoy the long summer days while we can.
And, with bookshops opening again, we're able to replenish our stock of reading material. Even though we all seem to be blessed with piles of books still to be read, the lure of the recently reviewed title is often irresistible, isn't it?
Do take a look at my website for details of the titles I've been reading lately. The lockdown meant that the publication of many books was delayed and the summer months will see the release of some great reads, so watch this space!
One title coming out soon is 'The Great Godden' by Meg Rosoff. It's a fabulous summer, coming of age novel, aimed at a young adult readership, and I loved it! On Thursday 25 June, at 7pm, Meg will be in conversation with broadcaster Nina Nannah in an online event in aid of Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall and the details are here. While it's a free event, donations are invited to support ongoing events at the hall, and books can be ordered from any of our local independent bookshops.
Next weekend, on 27-28 June, Felixstowe Book Festival will have elements of its 2020 programme live online. Among the speakers will be Esther Rutter who wrote a travel history about wool and knitting, called 'This Golden Fleece' which I mentioned a few weeks ago as one of my recommended reads. You can find out more about Esther in my interview in 'Suffolk' magazine here. She is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker and you'll be diving for your knitting needles after hearing her.
So we're looking at the end of the month already, and that means that we'll be meeting again for a Zoom book group discussion at 8pm on Monday 29 June. If you'd like to join in and share your thoughts on Michael Ondaatje's 'Warlight', reply to this email and I'll send you all the details. And in the meantime, you might like to read more about the author in my interview with him here.
It's difficult to process the news these days. As well as the underlying fear, confusion and uncertainty of the global pandemic, the horrific death of George Floyd has brought an outpouring of grief, anger and disgust.
What has happened to our world, to our society?
If you need, like me, to have hope for a better future, then please do read a new book by the Dutch writer Rutger Bregman. It's called 'Humankind' and I found it a very upbeat and engaging read. It was stimulating, challenging and hugely uplifting and optimistic.
The author stresses that the argument we've been fed for generations, that humans are motivated by an accumulation of money, property and status, isn't correct. He gives one example after another about how it is, instead, in our nature to show and receive kindness, collaborate and build community, listen and understand each other, and appreciate differences and celebrate likenesses.
It is a powerful message, not least because he shows how a better society may be attainable, even giving ten points of action in his concluding chapter.
And, if I may, I'll leave you with one of the points he raises regarding how we feed our minds and hearts. Turn off the news, he says. Think as carefully about the information you feed your mind as you do about the food you feed your body. Turn away from the television and social media, and find a source of more nuanced and in-depth writing.
I thought 'attending' the Hay Festival talks this week might be a mistake and, sure enough, I've got another long list of books I want to read!
Yes, there are the latest books by novelists I'd had my eye on, but there were also some fascinating presentations about our world today.
The future of work, journalism, healthcare, artificial intelligence, politics; these themes and many more were addressed by some engaging and inspiring speakers. (I was particularly taken by Daniel Susskind talking about 'A World Without Work'.)
I doubt I would have sought out these sessions in the normal run of things. The fact that the Hay Festival responded to our current situation by taking their programme online gave me, and thousands of people all over the world, the opportunity to hear some enlightening and stimulating talks, and be introduced to new and exciting thinkers.
There were a few particularly memorable presentations - do look up Polly Samson talking about her novel 'A Theatre for Dreamers', with music from her husband David Gilmour and a poetry reading from her son Charlie Gilmour, all in a make-believe Greek taverna - it's wonderful, a real tonic!
All the talks can be accessed via Hay Player for a one off cost of £10. I urge you to sign up if you haven't done so. I don't think you'll regret it - I'm still buzzing!
Choosing the next book for our monthly discussions has proved more difficult than usual in 'the current situation'. Something which will hit the right tone, provide plenty for us to think about, while also being widely available is a bit of a challenge.
We're all finding different things working for us at this time, I think. So perhaps a lighter read might suit? An old favourite, a literary classic, or something from childhood might be soothing? Or crime and mysteries can keep us turning the pages, sucking us into trying to solve the problem if our concentration is lacking? Personally I'm not inclined to read any post-apocalyptic, science fiction or imagined futures at the moment, but these books are still selling well!
Whatever we choose for book group, or our own personal reading, can I urge you to consider purchasing from an independent bookshop? Many are now doing mail order and prices and delivery times are comparable with the big internet provider. Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge will be very glad of your support! And do sign up for the weekly update from Browsers regarding deliveries and new titles just released. You can do that by clicking here.
Well, that's a month of lockdown done. I hope you're coping well and finding comfort in a new routine, staying connected with friends and family in mew ways.
With more of the same for the time being, it's vital that we stay well and safe, of course, but perhaps, little by little, we can begin to take stock and think about what we're gaining, what we're learning from this experience.
Are you filling your diary with Zoom meetings instead of dinner dates? Are you ordering clothes and nick-nacks online instead of going to the high street? Or are you thinking, actually I like a bit more space, and fewer 'things'?
It's important we don't judge each other, and focus on being kind, to ourselves and to others, in this. We are all responding differently at different times. A book that has helped me with this over the years, and which I have turned to again this week is 'Quiet' by Susan Cain.
Some of us are still finding our ability to concentrate is still fluctuating I think. So why not try some poetry?
I remember several years ago, listening to 'Desert Island Discs' and hearing someone very respected and high profile who, due to her pressured role and busy life didn't have time or inclination to read fiction, or non-fiction. But, recognising the importance of literature, she made sure she always had a book of poetry to hand - beside her bed or in her bag for train commutes. She commented on how poetry was so succinct that it didn't requite a huge investment in time or concentration, but contributed powerfully in providing comfort, inspiration and meaning.
My go-to poets are Ted Hughes for the natural world and UA Fanthorpe who left teaching to work as a hospital clerk and used her observations of life in that environment to inform her writing. Whose poetry do you enjoy most? Or perhaps pick up an anthology and see what speaks to you...