Reading the Seasons
114 pages
English

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Reading the Seasons

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus
114 pages
English

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Description

It's an old cliché that books 'transport you'; but as any avid reader will tell you, there's far more to them than that. Alongside comfort and retreat, books offer insight into ourselves and others; they tell us how the world is, was or might be; they are windows into other worlds, whose meanings resonate through the ages. It's this multiplicity that is at the heart of bibliotherapy, the ancient practice of reading for therapeutic effect.
Reading the Seasons charts the evolution of a friendship through candid letters between bibliotherapists Germaine Leece and Sonya Tsakalakis. Ignited by a shared love of reading, of finding a book for every occasion, every emotion - both for themselves and for their clients - their conversations soon confront life's ups and downs. The authors they reach for range from Stephen King to Javier Marias, Helen Garner to Maggie O'Farrell, as they reflect upon loss, change, parenting, careers, simple pleasures, travel, successes, fears and uncertainty.
Reading the Seasons not only offers an entryway to new titles but affirms the power of books to console, heal and hold us together as friends and as individuals.

Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 30 mars 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781760761868
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0058€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

In memory of my father, Paul Joff , who showed me the love of a reading life. For Stuart and our children, Lily, Edward and Louis, who have taught me that the answers are not in the books but within ourselves.
For my parents, Anastasia and Yianni, for unwittingly giving me the hunger for books, and my darling children, Dana and Samuel.
Contents
Introduction
Summer
Autumn
Winter
Spring
References
The Bookshelf
Texts Index
Acknowledgements
Introduction
If you had to describe yourself using a quote from a book, what would it be? asked my husband, Stuart, as we sat in a cafe recently.
I paused, but he continued: I would either be It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how , from The Cat in the Hat , or a line about Ratty and Mole messing about in boats from The Wind in the Willows .
I found that quote later: Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. He was right, those quotes fit him. They fit him as the nineteen-year-old he was when we met and they fit him as the forty-five-year-old man he is now.
Surprised by how quickly he answered, I was concerned by how impossible a question it suddenly seemed to me. It felt unanswerable, which left me curious; if reading is such a big part of my identity, how could I not find a quote that fits?
Back home, I realised that I cannot pin myself to just one quote, as I have found fragments of myself in so many books and characters. Different selves have expanded and contracted, demanding more or less attention over time. My bookshelves symbolise quests of self-discovery rather than self-recognition, and I am scattered throughout.
The only constant throughout it all has been my love of reading. As one character says to another in Ali Smith s Autumn :

Always be reading something, he said. Even when we re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.
A constant what? Elizabeth said.
A constant constancy, Daniel said.
This constant constancy has created an intense lifelong relationship with books. For a time, reading became my Achilles heel; it has been both a blessing and a curse, a strength and a weakness, my light and my shadow.
Reading protected me in childhood and adolescence, while simultaneously allowing me to explore the complexity of the adult world and the human condition. It prepared me for romance, intimacy, parenthood, mid life - all the existential questions - yet I began to start using these stories as how-to manuals, so I would know how to be in those relationships with myself and others. It sheltered me from grief and gave me words for feelings I couldn t articulate, yet it also became a proxy for feeling my own emotions. A way to believe I was processing more difficult feelings without having to experience them; instead keeping them neatly understood and contained in my head. I used books as my wise elders and guides to living, mistakenly believing they were my oracle and contained all the answers I would need to get me through; a way of feeling in control.
The love of reading also led me into two different careers that seemed unrelated but ultimately became the perfect bedfellows for bibliotherapy. While I studied psychology and sociology in my undergraduate degree, a passion for books saw me desperate to become a fiction editor. Frustrating years followed, working in different roles for different publishers. After my first child was born, I began writing book reviews and profiling authors, actors and artists for a variety of publications. I was becoming more interested in real people s stories rather than fictional ones and, after my third child started preschool, I went back to study and became a psychotherapist. I started working at a counselling centre that offered long-term therapy and finally felt I had found my passion. I fretted that I had lost a decade in the wrong career and wasted precious time in the right one until I read about bibliotherapy.
The Collins Dictionary defines bibliotherapy as the use of reading as therapy . Suddenly I could make meaning of my two divergent careers. In 2016, when The School of Life opened its Sydney doors and offered bibliotherapy as a service - among its other classes and workshops dedicated to developing emotional intelligence - I leaped at the opportunity to become their resident bibliotherapist. This role allowed me to give people space to have a conversation that reflected on their relationship with reading and how it could nurture and sustain their lives. No two people read the same way, just as no two lives are experienced the same way, and recognising the individual meaning books represent creates a more personal connection to literature.
My own relationship with reading allowed me to recognise the patterns of losing myself and trying to locate myself in another s words. It also gave me the space to notice this tendency and have the awareness to read differently. In the words of poet JV Cunningham, books enable us to see how we could think and feel otherwise than as we do . Yet, it wasn t the books alone - to paraphrase psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, it is difficult to surprise yourself in your own mind - it was also the multitudes of conversations about reading that have been flowing between myself and Sonya for the past four years. Thinking about why I was reading and what I was taking from the stories, discussing it with Sonya, who was also considering why she was reading and the effect it had, created novel reflections and deeper self-awareness.
Sonya, a bibliotherapist working with The School of Life in Melbourne, contacted me by email to introduce herself soon after I began my bibliotherapy practice. Books became the foundation for a deeply enriching friendship; examining our life experiences and those of our clients through the lens of literature started an intimate and trusting friendship that continues to grow.
Having only met twice, ours is also a story that celebrates the power of letter writing. Despite using email to communicate, I still label these exchanges as letters. When I write to Sonya, I am as focused as I am when reading. I create the time and space in my mind to pause, think and compose. When receiving emails from her, I wait to open them until I again have the time and space to absorb myself in her words. There is a contemplation involved that creates a stillness and reflection in my day or week that would otherwise not exist. As our friendship deepened, so did my thoughts and musings about the books I was reading.
This form of communication also created a space for me to become more personal and honest. Like books, letters are written and read in isolation. There is time to digest and reflect, as they are not responded to instantly, unlike in a conversation. Also similar to reading, letter writing happens privately, in silence. The silence this friendship created allowed me to finally, properly hear myself.
It s a similar process to the way we both practice bibliotherapy, and I hope that by peeling back the covers on the books that have spoken to us and our clients over the changing seasons of a year, you are also inspired to reflect upon how stories nurture, challenge and shape you on your own journey. To help with this, we have added notes in the margins of our letters to continue the conversation with you, our reader. The clients I have mentioned throughout my letters are compilations of people I have worked with; however, their struggles, experiences and reactions to reading are real. The books are real, too.
Another week, another cafe and again Stuart asked if I had found my quote. I realised that I finally had. Reflecting on my reading life, my work with bibliotherapy and psychotherapy clients, and my ongoing conversations with Sonya led me to a new understanding about the freedom that comes when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason . John Keats wrote this to explain his concept of negative capability in a letter to his brothers in 1817, and it sums up my understanding about life now. There is no certainty, and no book will ever provide the answers, yet how hopeful to be in a world of mysteries and doubts with authors whose work explores the questions that create endless curiosity and learning. The poet Mark Strand once said in an interview, I don t think it s human, you know, to be that competent at life. That attitude is far from poetry. And perhaps that is the closest I will ever get to an answer about looking for certainty within the pages of books.
Germaine

In one of her letters, Germaine asked me what I was reading when I was fifteen. I responded, but it wasn t easy to immediately traipse back to that time and recall the books to which I gravitated. Finally, I was able to conjure a response, a truthful one, but there was an omission - the book I went back to time and time again was the dictionary. I loved reading the dictionary! Every night I would learn five new words and ecstatically write them in a notebook. And I would make every attempt to use them whenever I could. I remember an essay returned by my high school English teacher with the comment in red, occasionally, use a simple word!
Words for me conveyed such power, magic and possibility. The sound of them, the length, the mystery they embraced. I could say mellifluous , parsimonious or vituperative and imagine thoughts that would take me beyond the reality of my world. They felt safe to me, besides offering untold, private exhilaration. In Oscar Wilde s The Picture of Dorian Gray this is beautifully envisaged: they seemed to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?
School was a battlefield for me, where cataclysms of both the emotional and psychological kind took place almost daily. I started without knowing a word of English, being the first-born in a migrant family where we spoke the Cypriot dialect. It was a struggle to fit in, to feel included, for many reasons that were not within my capacity to control. I was never the pupil in the middle of the schoolyard, frolicking in the sun. I was always on the periphery. Just like the fearful muskrat, Chuchundra, in Rudyard Kipling s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi , who skirts around the dark edges of the room. It was an era when children were left to their own devices, expected to have agency from a young age rather than parental intervention. Well, that was my experience. It sounds lugubrious, no wonder I have such an affinity for the Russians! Rest assured, it wasn t all grim. I had a wonderful, kind librarian in my primary school, Mrs Bowen, who was so thrilled about reading. She was instrumental in introducing me to a cornucopia of books; before I knew it, I was clutching Enid Blyton, marvelling at the quirky characters, their hijinks and how they were part of a community. I never felt lonely between the covers of The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair or The Magic Faraway Tree . Their power lay in the prolonged enjoyment and solace they conferred, long after the book was closed. My mind could wander and seek sanctuary in a word, a character, a fanciful encounter, in the face of abject unpleasantness inflicted by others. Another grand thing about my childhood were the Little Golden Books in the supermarket - so accessible, so cheap. Every time I accompanied my mum to help with the groceries, one would find its way into the shopping trolley. I think the first book I possessed was The Tawny Scrawny Lion. Or The Little Red Caboose .
Unbeknownst to me then, from that early age I was practising bibliotherapy. I was holding on to literature as a drowning person clings to a lifeboat to stay alive; this was something that has remained with me ever since. This self-medication on books has endured and has enabled me to weather the vagaries of existence. Or as Simone de Beauvoir said (as I rapturously scribbled in my notebook after finding the quote on Pinterest), When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair and that convinced me that art was the highest of values.
My careers adviser in secondary school was a strong advocate for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, so much so that truth held no merit for her. She would highlight that there were far more job prospects in the STEM domain. Even back in the Dark Ages (as my kids call them), aka the 1980s, they were lauded over the arts. But English was by far my favourite subject, and discovering Tennessee Williams s moody A Streetcar Named Desire was a stunning revelation. The play s tragic antihero Blanche Dubois, the most interesting character in literature in my mind, quotes whole tracts of texts from Hawthorne and Poe, and in her grandiloquent gentility, her human failings, she shines like a glittering jewel. And so the soft people have got to - shimmer and glow - put a paper lantern over the light - it taught me that sometimes the loneliest of us all can be the most intoxicating company.
Dutifully following the misplaced advice, I was called the displaced science student by my peers at university, as I would often be found in the humanities library reading the classics, and then I decided to take an English Literature unit - let s just say that it took a while to finish a very expensive science degree!
Then followed further study and careers in allied health. The proverbial turning point didn t occur until years later, at home with my young children, after reading a newspaper article by Blake Morrison called The Reading Cure . It delved into research as to why reading for pleasure was beneficial for wellbeing, how it engendered self-knowledge and meaningful connection with others. I was excited beyond measure! Something I had always known and felt was the importance of being held and grasped by a book; finding refuge from the tyranny of the self by being ensconced in other perspectives, interiorities, emotions. Seeing this conviction on the printed page, and learning that there was such a thing as a slow reading movement , was the impetus for my quest to engage in further research about how I could put it into practice and help others.
In 2013 I launched my enterprise, The Literary Hand, and began group bibliotherapy in aged care settings. Within those walls, I discovered the richest stories and eyes that twinkled with the knowledge of poems inscribed on the heart. This passion led me to London, where I attended a conference on reading and mental health, and participated in shared reading coordinated by the Reader Organisation in the UK s public libraries. On my return, I approached The School of Life in Melbourne and was subsequently trained by British bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, who co-wrote The Novel Cure . Over the years, I have had the privilege of bearing witness to accounts of fond childhood memories from clients in places as far afield as Copenhagen, New York and Seoul, and how the trials of life are mollified and friendships strengthened in the presence of books.
It was bliss when Germaine and I met. How exciting it was for me to have an exchange with someone who was as equally passionate about reading and derived an unsurpassed thrill from the books that helped change a way of thinking, of feeling, of being, in clients and ourselves. How I love that we come from vastly different backgrounds, and yet the commonality we share is far bigger. The emails sent back and forth felt like handwritten letters in their honesty; in them we shared what we were reading, the titles we were prescribing and our own private turmoils.
Our letters contain some wayward reading matter - from the Twilight series to The Slap , and from Jane Eyre to The Library of Babel - because the imagination is such that entire worlds can be fashioned from enthusiasms which diverge and coruscate in their own unique, mysterious way. My hope is that you, too, in your jaunt through our exchanges, will find something that will delight you; a book, a poem, a line that will reawaken an attachment to the act of living, such that a cataclysm is not needed to love life today.
Sonya
Surprise discoveries; the seeds of friendship; summer reading; sex, angst, ageing; reassurance

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning, -
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer s smile, -
From Summer Song by William Carlos Williams

Dear Germaine
For a while now I thought you were based in London, until it occurred to me that we are within the same shores!
So, I m inviting you to please get in touch next time you re in Melbourne. I d love to meet you in person for a coffee. You shared such thoughtful ideas in those ricocheting group bibliotherapy emails, and I was especially pleased you mentioned Georgia Blain, an author I hugely admire. I don t think I ll ever recover from her mother s Tell Me I m Here . I was struck by the ferocity of a mother s love despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles - the intensity and unpredictability of psychosis, the people in her life, the law, the medical community. Apart from that, Anne Deveson s intellectual fervour is astonishing!
At the denouement of a bibliotherapy consultation I like to offer enchantment, contain any runaway thoughts or feelings that may have been bestirred, by reading a poem out loud for clients. I have taken the liberty of sharing some lines from William Carlos Williams s Summer Song Hope it ignites a wanderer s smile in you!
Adieu for now
Sonya x

Hi Sonya
Thank you so much for getting in touch. This is a new world for me and I am feeling both excited and nervous, so it is perfect timing to meet a fellow bibliotherapist! How funny you thought I was based in London a sliding doors story for another time.
I wonder how you felt when you started? I have been seeing clients for a couple of months now and am beginning to notice that I m reading with a constant sense of anxiety about catching up . This feels too much of a reminder of my English literature undergrad days and completely at odds with what my understanding of bibliotherapy is. It s paradoxical: I have forever read for emotional fulfilment, never concerned about the idea of books one should read , and now I find myself worrying about my gaps - the classic coming-of-age novels I wasn t reading because I was devouring Virginia Andrews s Flowers in the Attic series, the Booker and Pulitzer novels that bored me in my twenties that I think I should now return to. (I realise we don t know each other at all and I find myself torn between admitting to the Virginia Andrews phase or deleting it. I ve decided that in the spirit of how I intend to move forward with bibliotherapy, I will leave it in. I m yet to analyse what that series gave me as a teen but the memory of delight, fear and curiosity when escaping into those stories, and trying to understand such complex relationships is, I realise, exactly what we want bibliotherapy to give us.)
I will send this now before I rethink my confession! But before I do, thank you for sharing those evocative lines. A brilliant, dew-moistened summer morning is unfortunately not reminiscent of Sydney today. To paraphrase Jane Austen (and balance out Virginia Andrews), What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.
I look forward to hearing from you again.
Germaine x

Dear Germaine
How wonderful to read about your impressions on the practice of bibliotherapy. And inviting me to reflect on my beginnings
I remember my first client listed the most impressive authors and titles of the works he had read and loved in his questionnaire: Camus, Dostoevsky, Mailer, Wodehouse, Cloudstreet there were some greats there! It made me feel a little worried. What can I offer him?! A dyed-in-the-wool consumer of great books. But it wasn t until the consultation that I realised he needed a fresh perspective, to look at the world anew. This is what is emerging for me, how important that face-to-face interaction is, the discursive banter between client and bibliotherapist. He reads those books because they ve been lauded over time and he derives great solace in knowing their universal appeal remains constant. Let me tell you, I understand the pleasure of a classic, being a proud member of a classics book club. I can t tell you how many times I have read Jane Eyre and still find something new to bewitch me, and to teach me. The divine George Eliot once said something along the lines of, Art does nothing if it does not teach.
I realised that this client was stuck and a new mix of books to take him beyond the boundaries of knowing was called for. It was time to get playful!
What I enjoy most about the individual, face-to-face interaction is watching the client s face metamorphose, taking on an almost luminous quality as they wax lyrical about their favourite book, or reflect on their fondest childhood book memories. It is so wondrous to bear witness. And while doing so, I am thinking, What books can I prescribe that will cast the same glow?
Dovetailing the client s fascinations and preoccupations with his reading tastes, Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz was included in his prescription. Vignettes of entangled, embattled life spilling out in a narrow alley in pre-World War II Cairo. He enjoyed the energetic pace of a place with which he was not familiar and never will be, where the characters dance to the beat of their own particularities - how can you not adore the ambitious enchantress Hamida! - it made him feel he was part of this vibrant community. He was living among them, intimately getting to know them, feeling their sorrows as his own. And how he needed that, as he himself declared how solitary his life was.
I think the anxiety is always there, that you need to be seen as the expert . The desire, however unfounded, to impress, to wow people with your knowledge of books and reading. I have learned to reframe this anxiety as a kind of fuel that propels me to read widely and wildly, certain that clients are in the company of someone who is devoted to the art of loving books and using them for the purpose of living well. Very simplistic - I know!
No time for books that don t enthral or engage me. Just started The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. I am rather entranced by its minimalist aesthetic, the polyphony. Nameless young Japanese women heading off en masse to the United States before World War I to become brides to strangers with whom their only link is a photo. Yet it flutters with individual, lilting voices. What is on your Christmas reading list?
Oh, the inelegance of the season. Don t I know it, sister! No amount of fancy product is going to tame this frizzy head. Not in this merciless humidity!
Son xx

Dear Sonya
Ah, it s a relief to hear that reading anxiety is normal (as is frizzy hair and humidity!) but also to be reminded that it needs to be let go of so we can get under the book titles, so to speak, and gain a deeper understanding of clients reading motivations. That wasn t a simplistic take at all!
I also work as a psychotherapist - a career change just a few years before this one - and you have reminded me that I had the same anxiety when I first qualified, fearing my clients expected me to be the expert. It helped at the time to read The Gift of Therapy by the great Irvin Yalom - author and existential psychiatrist/psychotherapist - who wrote that we are all fellow travellers in this journey of being human. A relief to be reminded that there are no experts, but there are many companions along the way to help us come to new understandings, whether they be real or fictional.
I am also bolstered by the fact that today I had a client hold up a mirror and remind me what our work is actually all about. He was a lovely, earnest young man in his early twenties, finishing a university degree. After arriving, he quickly pulled a printed list out from his pocket. It was a list given to him by an English professor that contained the top 100 books all adults should read . He hoped I would help him curate the list or use it to make his prescription. My first thought as I scanned it was noticing the books I had not read. My second thought was why did this particular English professor think he had the ability to make such a list and deem it universal? My third thought was of the lack of diversity of time, culture, gender it was a list that focused on early 20th-century English and American male authors. Finally, I had the wherewithal to hand him back the list and suggest he rip it up (while metaphorically ripping up my own list of should reads ).
We talked about what reading means to him, rather than an English professor decades older, and explored his own reading reflections, which carry his memories of childhood and life experiences. No doubt some of the books on that list may end up on my prescription, not because they should be read but because they contain something that will enrich or challenge his inner self at this moment in time.
While I still feel flickers of anxiety about my reading gaps , I hope some of the power those books and lists hold has lessened for both him and me. I appreciated the reminder that this is also a playful process of discovery. Have you read Samuel Crothers s 1916 essay about bibliotherapy, A Literary Clinic ? It s hilarious, and as I am writing about this reading anxiety I decided to re-read it just now. Again, I am struck by how words written 100 years ago still have the power to speak to me in the present. Thank you, Samuel

There is nothing so harmless as printed matter when it is left to itself. When neatly printed and pressed between the covers of a book there they lie without power of motion. What if a book is dull? It can t follow you about. It can t button-hole you and say, one word more . When you shut up a book it stays shut.
Merry Christmas, hope no dull books are following you about and I look forward to getting to know you next year!
Germaine x

Oh, dear Mr Crothers I also am drawn to what the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton has to say: Here ends the book but not the searching. So I don t know if a book actually stays shut. There is something about a book, even a bad one, that lingers with you.
I recall one novel I couldn t bring myself to finish because the character s extreme self-indulgence was repellent to me. Just get over it! I kept wanting to shout the whole time before throwing it against the wall. (That s one reason I love an old-fashioned book, you couldn t do that with a Kindle!) It was set in Manitoba, and afterwards I found myself wondering about the Canadian landscape. Having never been there, I enjoyed the description of the frozen lakes thawing and the distinctive cracking sound, like fireworks on New Year s Eve, as winter turned to spring. It had me intrigued that you could be in a place where the seasonal shifts were characterised by a unique soundscape. The scientist in me started researching and then watching YouTube videos, with my young son, of frozen lakes and rivers shifting and moaning as the ice expanded with the increasing temperatures. After seeing a video, he exclaimed, It really does sound like Star Wars ! Oh my, I do ramble !
How brazen you are! To ask a client to rip up a treasured piece of paper. I laughed when I read that; it led me to remember a session where I felt unabashed. A suggestion I have for clients is to keep a reading notebook, a way of documenting and celebrating their reading life. After recommending this to a client who, incidentally, was startlingly handsome, he rejected it and said point blank, It s like writing in a journal after making love to a woman . It s pleasure for its own sake, was the message he was trying to get across. But I couldn t get past what he said, and it was hard to concentrate after that.
His bibliotherapy experience was a gift for a milestone birthday, which was celebrated at Tasmania s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Given its themes of sex and death, I also included in this client s prescription Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. A catalogue of inventive vignettes of the possibilities of the hereafter, it encompasses elements that are mystical, dark, fantastical, scientific, hilarious. And just like the experience of that iconic gallery, it is provocative, disorienting and demands that you seek space to process your reaction. Underlying it all is an implicit invitation to consider the infinite possibilities in the here and now, that this is precisely what you chose when you were alive .
I would still love to hear what is on your Christmas reading list oh do tell!
In the meantime, here s to brazen encounters, she says, raising her glass of chilled ros

Hi Sonya
Ah, my Christmas reading list I am just coming around to thinking about that now I have finished Margaret Drabble s latest novel about ageing, called The Dark Flood Rises . I was hoping it would be a good choice for a client in her sixties who is worried about growing old, as she had no positive role models for this throughout her life. How wonderful to turn to books to find those examples instead. Unfortunately, this one was slow and not as insightful as I had hoped. I m not sure what wisdom I was looking for, but after reading your idea about books lingering, rather than staying shut, I realise that my next book choice is another book about ageing - my curiosity has not been satisfied - and I am returning to the formidable Diana Athill and her memoir Somewhere Towards the End to see if she can hold my client s hand . I last read her memoir Stet , about her editing and publishing career (and busy social life!), in my early twenties when I started working in book publishing (ah yes, the first career), and loved it. To think she worked with Norman Mailer, Simone de Beauvoir, Jack Kerouac and Margaret Atwood, to name a few, over her fifty-year career! I had no idea she had written this latest memoir while in her nineties, and had I not been disappointed by my previous read, I would still not know. Your Friar Merton was right; the searching continues.
I will also be dipping into Jeanette Winterson s Christmas Days over the coming weeks. I listened to an interview with her on BBC radio and couldn t resist it. Apparently she loves Christmas and has created this book of short stories, essays and recipes. Have you read her wonderful memoir Why Be Happy when You Could Be Normal? I m still haunted by Mrs Winterson s fanatic religious beliefs, and how she made her family prepare and wait for Armageddon, but I think I will see a different side of her in this book. In the interview, Jeanette was saying that her mother loved the lead-up to Christmas - it was the only time of the year she was happy - and this has always made it special for her.
Thinking of festive preparations also reminds me of the short story Others , by Carol Shields. It s about a couple named Robert and Lila, and their reactions to an annual Christmas letter they receive for twenty-five years. It took me straight back to my childhood memory of the lead-up to Christmas being marked by the filling of the postbox. My father was English, and my mother Australian. They met in London, married and lived in Asia before they moved to Australia with me as a toddler. They had friends spread around the world and were therefore the recipients of many Christmas newsletters. Did your parents receive those?! I loved collecting the handwritten envelopes from the postbox, as I was fascinated by the stories they contained - along with the obligatory family photo - about a year in the life of people I had never met. Over the years I came to know them as I watched their children grow, read about holidays and new jobs, sometimes more babies, or divorces, new houses, children graduating, more marriages, grandchildren, retirements and eventually deaths all the rites of passage recorded in annual one-page letters. Each Christmas I still stand by my mother s sideboard and read through the newsletters. They are much fewer these days, thanks to natural attrition and email, Mum says. Yet, I still recognise the names and handwriting from all those years ago.
For me, Others shines by cleverly illustrating the darker side of being the newsletter recipient. Lila and Robert both anticipate and dread the arrival of Nigel and Jane s greetings; separately fantasising about their lives throughout the year, yet admitting to the other they can t remember the appearance of either of them. The subtle competitiveness in the cards starts to weigh on Lila, who would write about their wonderful year and then wonder what happened to all the other parts of her life that could not be satisfyingly annotated .
The line that brought me out of my reverie about the past and into the present was, Elsewhere, these cards said to her, people were able to live lives of deep trust. How had it happened - that others were able to inhabit their lives with such grace and composure? Ah, it s the old-fashioned version of social media, I realised! Those carefully curated photos on Instagram or status updates on Facebook that show distant acquaintances and their perfect families, homes, meals and holidays. I have fallen victim to reading those posts like novels with a happily ever after ending; just like I used to read my parents Christmas newsletters. Only now I sometimes notice envy rather than childlike curiosity (always a sign for me to stop scrolling).
Who would have thought that a short story, a mere eighteen pages in length, could cause such reflection on a mid December afternoon? Margaret Atwood explains it best; she wrote the introduction to this collection and describes how Shields can capture the hilarious surfaces of things, but also their ominous depths . I will look at the Christmas newsletters my mother receives differently this year.
How is your lead-up-to-Christmas reading going?
Germaine x
PS - I laughed thinking about pleasure for pleasure s sake and was reminded of a client who told me she was leaving her reading notebooks to her daughters in her will. She believed that favourite quotes from books or thoughts about her reading gave more insight into her private inner world than any diary entries would have done. Interesting that your client likened making love with reading. I wonder if that suggests the private, intimate depths within us where books we love reside?

Oh, how I loved being taken on that wistful family memory of Christmas with you!
Well, coming from a migrant family, where both parents grew up in rural Cyprus and barely finished primary school, the concept of Christmas newsletters remains foreign to me. Instead, aerograms were exchanged throughout the year between the homeland, i patritha , and the new country. My mother recalls one of the first she sent to her parents included a poem she wrote herself: on the mountains of Australia/there are two birds trilling/one says patience/the other two years - rather more melodic in Greek. You see, she was promptly sent to work to repay her uncle his fare for her passage. Her first job was peeling onions in a factory where the doors were kept open. In the dead of her first winter in Melbourne. Tears from both the heart and onion intermingled. This of course upset my grandparents, who had sent their beloved daughter, who had only known the confines of village life, alone on a ship called Patrice in 1968, at the age of nineteen, to the other side of the world. They believed she was going to suddenly live a beautiful life. This takes me to the Libyan writer Hisham Matar s evocation of that longing which never quite leaves you, that living without one s country is a kind of daily death, an endless mourning .
That s why reading means so much to me - that vital glimpse of interior lives, that there s more than meets the eye. As one of my favourite writers, Joyce Carol Oates, so elegantly proclaims, reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another s skin, another s voice, another s soul . So those pictures of people living their charmed lives seems unreal - and alienating. Perhaps that s why I don t engage in social media all that much, but if I did I would put posts up of me taking out the bins on a Sunday night or choosing sauerkraut in the canned veg aisle of the supermarket. Just to keep it real!
This is wonderful - sharing thoughts and ideas about books we re reading or about to read!
Oh, I have read Why Be Happy when You Could Be Normal? Can t think of a finer endorsement of why books matter.
Adieu for now x
PS - Perhaps it s also that urge to just be in the moment. That s another thing about reading: everything else recedes into the background. Nothing else happens except what is occurring on an intimate level between you, as the reader, and the book. A voluptuous surrender. Like sex. Good sex, that is!

Wow, Sonya.
I think we are onto something that should be turned into a public health campaign - the deep intimacy and connection of reading alongside its mindful escape has the same effect on the brain as great sex! Perhaps this understanding will get teens reading more?! It also reminds me of Montaigne s assertion that possible cures for loneliness were to have a lover and friends and read books. Although, he preferred books above all, as lovers could betray you and friends would die, so the only reliable lifelong companionship is our books.
It s hard to believe we have never met and yet I feel I already know you through this correspondence about our reading lives. This is the only Christmas present I need. Long may it continue!
I finished Diana Athill s Somewhere Towards the End last night, and it was wonderfully reassuring to realise her voice hadn t changed from when she wrote Stet . She inspired me then as she inspires me now. A reminder that you do choose how to respond to your life and the opportunities it presents. A perfect antidote to my client s life experience so far. I remember you saying it is a book you prescribe for clients who fear ageing, and I understand why. It s really a book about self-agency, which could be a useful guide for any transition when life feels predestined or stuck. I particularly enjoyed her reflection on Jean Rhys s turn of phrase, I was a bit drunk, well very , to describe Rhys s despair about ageing and how this informed Athill s own philosophy on being positive and curious about the process.

I also hope Helen Garner s Everywhere I Look will act as another wise mentor for my client. This collection of essays and diary entries reads like an intimate conversation about Garner s life, relationships, careers and navigating ageing: The world bristled with opportunities for a woman in her seventies to take a stand.
I was also struck by the Hisham Matar quote about the pain of living without one s country. It made me think of the culture shock that must have hit your parents when they moved here and the distance so keenly felt in those days. The image of your young mum peeling onions on a winter s morning is vivid and brings a tear to my eye. I saw a client last week who has recently moved to Sydney from Europe and is struggling with homesickness; amplified at this time of year with the jolt of her first hot Christmas after a lifetime of white Christmases! I told her about the concept of homefulness . It literally means being full with the feeling of home and the idea that over time, home becomes about the people you are with rather than the place. I am hoping that after raising their family in Australia, your parents have found homefulness.

Having said that, I did include in her prescription Breath by Tim Winton and The Dry by Jane Harper, two novels that superbly evoke an Australian sense of place. I did this with the hope that by marinating her imagination in the landscape, this country will start to feel more like home.
Now to dinner, as a celebration of the end of the school year and the start of the holidays
Gx

Oh my, what a word! Homefulness Love it!
I suppose that is why my parents clung to the traditions of their homeland so tenaciously. One of these was sitting on our veranda on summer evenings - and fighting a losing battle with mosquitoes! - after they finished their tailoring in the garage, and chatting with the neighbours. Like the zany Hungarian grandmother across the road, who made the most decadent cakes with poppy seeds and plums. Everyone in the street called her nana , and she would waddle over in her nightie after her bath smelling like violets (remember those bath cubes - I think we are of a similar vintage?!) and talk incessantly, using phrases like stupid head and French lettuce . It took me a while to twig it wasn t something you added to a gourmet salad!
Years later, I read Zora Neale Hurston s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It begins with everyone sitting on their porches at sundown, after a day of arduous physical labour in the fields - the sun had gone, he had left his footprints in the sky - my summer dusk memories came flooding back. I so adore that book, with forty-something Janie sashaying to her house wearing a faded shirt and dirty overalls amid huddled gossiping neighbours. And what indignation she provoked by not stopping to chat. That dame sure knew how to make an entrance! She knew her own mind. Discovering later in the book that she had a tragic backstory meant the significance of that scene held so much more power for me. Apart from its mythic cadences. And the sheer poetry of the language.
How fabulous, to be able to share books and thoughts in this way! Long may it continue, indeed!
In keeping with the spirit of Janie in that opening scene, I leave you with lines from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley:

Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Such a cogent image of being harmed by others, felled by random circumstances, yet the head is held high. How rousing is that act of wilfulness.
Incidentally, it was the poem Nelson Mandela recited endlessly during his imprisonment - and kept him alive, I believe.
Heavens! Christmas is not so far, and the shopping has not even started

Hi Sonya
How was your Christmas Day? Were there any violet bath cubes in your stocking?! If you were a child of the 1980s, then we are of a similar vintage - and I am guessing you were because I remember getting those cubes in mine.
Back to the present; are you relieved it s over?! I tend to relax into the Christmas spirit on Boxing Day, when I can open my Christmas books. Having said that, ours went well this year; we hosted and my husband, Stuart, enjoys cooking so he was in charge of the turkey. I was in charge of the roast potatoes cooked in duck fat. The roast potatoes are an essential part of Christmas lunch for me and they need to be crunchy. I agree with AA Milne s belief that if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow , so now is probably the time to tell me your feelings about the potato
Jeanette Winterson was another reason this year didn t feel quite so draining. I devoured Christmas Days in the lead-up and it slowed me down, reminding me of the importance of tradition and ritual. On Christmas Eve she has smoked salmon on dark bread, with a glass of pink champagne, while listening to carols on the radio. She suggests taking an hour out for yourself to make your own raft of time. Your own doorway into Christmas . That image of a doorway really struck me. I felt reading a chapter of her book each afternoon with a cup of tea and shortbread biscuit before the kids came home from school was a bit like opening windows into Christmas. I have decided that I will re-read this book annually as a ritual, and attempt to slow down and remember what really matters at this time of year. As an aside, she shares many hilarious pieces of trivia throughout, though my favourite one has to be her complaint about too much dried fruit and peel in Christmas dishes, and that in the 1970s there was a political party in England called No More Fruit in Main Courses . They would have had my vote!
I am looking forward to more reading time in January. I finished Graham Swift s Mothering Sunday today; what a wonderful way to reflect on a transformative moment in time. Deceptively simple, I think the real story lay in what was left unsaid. The characters are staying with me while I sit here contemplating their lives with a glass of wine! That s always a sign you have really heard a book, I think. I look forward to hearing your thoughts once you finish it.
Thank you also for the poem; it s one I love, too. The last stanza has always grabbed me and evoked Viktor Frankl s Man s Search for Meaning . A reminder of the sheer courage it takes to keep going. On re-reading it now, I am suddenly taken with the idea of an unconquerable soul . There is a self-belief in those words that I realise I have rarely felt
Hope it has cooled down in Melbourne; heat is on its way to Sydney.
Gx

Hi Germaine
I m sending you holiday greetings from a caravan park in Hamilton!
This is very much an impromptu escapade after a horrendous couple of weeks. I am going through a divorce. And it s been a time of unforeseen upheavals, with life taking on labyrinthine twists and turns, without a clear vista in sight.
And in the spirit of spontaneity, I completely forgot to pack my carefully selected reading stash. Quelle horreur ! One of which was The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams, who has been pronounced a funny nihilist. Sometimes. I need dark, unsettling stories for when I am feeling low in spirits. Short fiction for when I can t concentrate for too long, and just want to indulge in contemplation, to daydream recklessly, after the story is over - the story never quite ending, revealing itself in myriad ways in my mind, as if the writer is freeing me to go and ponder a while.
Just as well my girl was less distracted than me and there were books in her satchel. So here I am loving Eleanor Park by Rainbow Rowell. I found them so endearing, these two teenage sweethearts who grapple with their deep-seated insecurities, misfits in a small town. I desperately wanted to throw them a lifeline from my favourite food writer, AA Gill (just googled this as I couldn t remember the exact wording): The interesting adults are always the school failures, the weird ones, the losers, the malcontents. This isn t wishful thinking. It s the rule. After finishing it I realised, my god there is a lot of coarse language - which is probably not appropriate for my eleven-year-old daughter!
And today I bought David Bowie s bio, Starman , from Target Country. He was famed also for being a bibliophile, and I am curious to learn of the books which ignited that amazing mind. So I am going to look up his book list, despite the talk between us about ripping up book lists!
Well, I m thinking about Christmas now every year we spend it at my parents house; they love having the family over, surrounded by all the grandchildren. And my mother goes to town with the food, making stuffed zucchini flowers, wild herb pastries and various cinnamon- and cumin-scented Cypriot dishes. We had lamb and pork on the spit over the charcoals. Usually I make the Christmas cake, but not this year. Oh yes, we love crunchy roast potatoes! But I am not sure how my cholesterol-obsessed dad would react to duck fat.

For more adolescent angst, Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknovitch is unflinching and fast-paced. The institutions that have failed this teenage girl are recalled with unbridled rage and farce, in mocking homage to Freud. Thankfully, all is not lost as Dora manages to re-create herself amid the wreckage.
It s like the Bahamas in this sleepy town - wet and hot. There s no air conditioning in this caravan, either. But I am counting my blessings, there s a fully functioning fridge, albeit noisy. So a chilled ros is in order. The combination of wine and a good book is unbeatable, isn t it?!
Have to go as the wi-fi is a little bewildering here
Happy drinking and reading!

Oh, Sonya, I am sorry to hear you have been going through a divorce, and meanwhile I have been prattling on about books. I hope this trip away gives you a break from the relentlessness of such difficult times, and that the noisy fridge keeps the ros chilled
I love your spirit of spontaneity and how it led to the right book falling in your lap at the right time. Not something you would usually turn to but something that has offered glimmers of hope, by the sounds of it. Perhaps hope for those teens in their futures beyond this book, not yet written? This reminds me of a poem I love, by Alison Luterman, called I Confess , which is also about looking to the future when feeling lost in the present. The poet sees an older woman with snowy braids in the aisle of the supermarket, who seems to possess some knowledge by the way she holds herself and places food in her basket. The passage that stops me every time - and which I relate to, feeling myself observing others in the supermarket, school playground, parks, cafes, restaurants - is: I wanted to ask, What aisle did you find/your serenity in, do you know/how to be married for fifty years or how to live alone . This makes me feel such a mixture of emotions: a reminder of the loss of footing we all feel when life changes, and the need to be reassured, but also the hope that other people have been there before and coped (and even found serenity)!
I will leave you with your glass of ros and an AA Gill quote in return for the wise one you sent. Apparently he loved books as you love the dead , and gained this appreciation from his father: Loving books was the allegory we had for loving each other. I hope books continue to bolster, comfort and provide serenity (and remind you of a growing friendship) during this time.
Take care, Sonya.
Gx

Beautiful sentiments, thank you. All I can say - you made me look up that poem, and I read it aloud so many times, and what succour it gave me. I love the compression of a poem, how it can convey a world of feeling in so few words. Poems possess a kind of universal silence that touches me across feelings of deep despair. To me, it is akin to being led to a place I can t reach ordinarily; an awakening to an otherness that exists within the depths. I venture that s where all the good things are: fortitude, resilience, compassion. Is that what Jung means when he proposes we need to go into the cellar to find the gold? Here I am, cogitating out loud!
I just loved Mothering Sunday ! I felt it had a similar atmosphere to Virginia Woolf s Mrs Dalloway - with the sparse prose, the adept probing into the interior worlds of characters who seem to be contained; yet there is dislocation and haunting fears, threats lurking beneath. It was written around the same time period as Swift s novel was set. Those empty spaces, people who had lost loved ones in the Great War, the loss and longing imbued the feeling of that novel. And, like you, the characters in Mothering Sunday are still with me. Like the fabulous Jane Fairchild, who adapts to the constraints of the time and manages to refashion her life from being a maid to an accomplished writer. I know it has helped some of my middle-aged clients who expressed restlessness about what next, questioning how they will bear the rest of their life, to make some courageous decisions. It s one of those books I like to call slight but not light .
Speaking of which, I need to hang the washing out before the light fades
bient t x

Hi Sonya
Maybe poetry is the key that opens Jung s cellar? Freud once wrote that wherever he went, he discovered a poet had been there before. Isn t that amazing to consider? That poets can reach depths psychoanalysts dream about?! Or maybe it s the precision of poetry; it captures a moment in time, or more eloquently, an essence , as May Sarton says. Whatever it is, I am glad it is working for you right now.
Slight but not light is a great way to describe Mothering Sunday . As is the idea of empty spaces. There was something very loud about the quietness of that story, I found. I had my first session of the year this morning and plan to add it to the prescription. My client, a young woman in her twenties, is struggling with making decisions in all areas of her life. She wondered if she had enough courage to make them or if she was destined to let life just happen and make the decisions for her. She reflected that until now, her path had just happened. She did well at school, went to university as her parents expected, did well in her degree, had friends (who seemed to choose her rather than her actively seeking them) and now realises that her passivity is stopping her from learning who she really is. I hope this story shows her how courage can be lived in the most quiet and unassuming ways, and even just the reflection that she wants to live more intentionally is seen as an act of courage in itself.

I also prescribed When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, a story filled with many characters who will make her laugh out loud, get frustrated and cry when she feels their sorrows. I hope these characters help her realise she already has the courage to find her own way.
Speaking of slight but not light, I m currently enjoying Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie, under the nom de plume Mary Westmacott. Have you read it? Again, an empty space and time for a character s deep reflection this time the character is much older, on her way home to England after visiting her adult daughter in the Middle East, when she becomes stranded due to flooding. This time alone and away from all she knows allows her to view her relationships from a different perspective, and she begins to learn much about herself and about how she has misunderstood those she is closest to. It s an uneasy journey towards insight and that is what makes it such a compelling read. I had no idea Agatha Christie wrote anything besides mysteries until I found this book. Interestingly, she cites it as the one she was most fulfilled by. It s one I will definitely be prescribing, not least of all because it has an ending that feels perhaps more real life than many books.
Gx

Hi Germaine
Oh dear, school holidays do disorientate me so!
I ve been meaning to get in touch to proclaim: I ve just read When God Was a Rabbit for the first time after you suggested it. Sheer magnificence! Wise, humane, captivating I love how adeptly Winman captures and crystallises moments that would otherwise seem so insignificant, a photographer with words. It felt like a clarion call to pay attention. It goes to show that writers not only notice words, they notice worlds with such precision. I had a client yesterday who recalled a beautiful connection with her brother, so very close when they were growing up together, and now she is left feeling bewildered as to how divergent their paths have become in adulthood. There was a wistfulness in her tone as she reflected on how threadbare their connection is. I ll include it on her prescription; the sensitive way it charts family dynamics, and how they shift and mutate over the lifespan, will offer solace.
Absent in the Spring sounds beautiful, just by its title alone. There s a wonderful second-hand bookshop nearby, up the road from where I live, where I get most of my classic texts. The owner, Jeff, is every inch the quintessential, eccentric bookseller. Towers of books everywhere, scattered on every available surface. So comforting to be in a place that is a physical manifestation of the chaos of my mind! I love asking him what he is reading, as I can never anticipate his reply. Once it was a high-school chemistry textbook circa 1994, another time a Wilkie Collins detective novel. He s not one for reading the latest bestseller. In fact, he once told me that when he first began, he was sick of people asking for The Liver Cleansing Diet and anything by Jeffrey Archer. But then he succumbed and now they are making him rich!
On my most recent visit, I picked up Somerset Maugham s Cakes and Ale . It was such an enjoyable read, with the satirising of the literary set in London and that divine barmaid, Rosie, defying social conventions in preferring the company of men. Here s a favourite quote from her, an accolade to hedonism: Why not be happy with what you can get? Enjoy yourself while you have the chance, I say, we shall all be dead in a hundred years and what will anything matter then? Let s have a good time while we can. If I was a person who was committed to uttering mantras every day, that would be the one for me! Imagine, I would never feel anxious again. About anything!
Just started Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein, and enjoying his comical musings on life and ageing so far. It is mostly set on the Greek island of Hydra. I love knowing that it was once inhabited by a colony of creatives, including the fascinating Charmian Clift and Leonard Cohen.
Wish I could creatively conjure what I am going to cook for dinner! I ll have a couple of shots of retsina to clarify my thoughts
But before I do, I am going to play some Leonard Cohen, Dance me to the end of love
Sonya x

Hello from Dangar Island!
We have been staying in a little fibro shack on the Hawkesbury River for four days, and it has been lovely to escape the city, be paddling on the water and literally stranded from the mainland Back home tomorrow, back to nagging children to get off devices, and on to writing up a bibliotherapy prescription from last week.
Thanks to you, I ll now be adding Travels with Epicurus to the prescription. I had my Kindle with me, so downloaded it after reading your letter and I ve just finished it - I really enjoyed his musings on life and philosophy. My client is a man in his seventies and, although content now, is nostalgic for earlier years and feels that he lacks a passion or meaning for this next chapter of life. I wonder what he will think of Epicurus s belief that old age is the best it gets: It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness. I think he is of a similar sensibility to Daniel Klein, too; I can imagine him enjoying a glass of wine at a taverna and chatting to the locals on a Greek island. There s a lot to be said about the right book recommendation coming at the right time, and it was fun for me to read a book about escaping to an island while on an island. Sadly not Hydra, but there is still wine and sunshine here and, unlike Greece, goannas!
I was also reminded about how subjective reading is after chatting to a close friend of my parents on the phone yesterday. She is in her seventies and as glamorous now as she was when I was a child. I mentioned the book and she had already read it. And hated it! She didn t agree with the premise - Daniel Klein deciding against spending thousands of pounds on getting a broken tooth fixed and instead choosing to spend that money on travelling to Greece. For her, when you stop caring about your appearance that s a sign you are giving up on life. She has a friend in her nineties who still has her hair done, is always elegantly dressed and beautifully presented. This is a sign of hope and that there is still life to be lived, she said emphatically. Perhaps I will suggest she reads Diana Athill s Somewhere Towards the End . She would love her feistiness! A good friend of mine also tells a story of seeing a woman in her nineties and hoping his old age will be reminiscent of hers (without the pearls). He regularly saw her Friday lunchtimes in the city at the David Jones Food Hall. With her French chignon, lipstick and pearls, she would have a plate of oysters and glass of champagne on her own for lunch. That s living, he recognised!

My client did enjoy Travels with Epicurus , despite knowing nothing about Epicurus or his philosophical leanings when he started reading. He loved the reflections and observations Klein made about ageing, and felt uplifted when anticipating what was to come in this post-retirement life stage.
I am also going to prescribe my client Elizabeth Strout s Anything is Possible. I think these quiet stories that tenderly explore navigating the present while trying to understand the past and think of the future will be helpful while he feels lost in this transition time. I had thought about Olive Kitteridge but decided he needed some quieter and calmer characters in his life at the moment. I know we both loved Olive precisely because she is difficult and very real; one of my favourite descriptions was, Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology. So wonderfully true; however, I got the feeling he would do well with some more introspective characters to accompany him on this contemplative journey. And remind him that Anything was possible for anyone.
Pleased to hear you loved When God Was a Rabbit . You described it beautifully - a photographer with words is so apt. I ve prescribed it a few times, too. Whether it be for clients exploring the messiness of family dynamics or the realisation that while bad things can happen to good people, good things can also happen to them, too.
Gx

Hi Germaine - your holiday by the Hawkesbury sounded idyllic. Not sadly at all. Goannas have their charms!
Well, you ve done it again! You mentioned a writer I adore: Elizabeth Strout. Such mastery in her observations of the lives of others, detailed with a minimum of ostentation. I ll never forget when as a little girl the title character of My Name is Lucy Barton is locked in the truck with a rattlesnake. The sheer terror of that incident; in fact, her whole childhood was suffused with trauma. Yet in her mother s last days, she sits with her and they commune in fragments. They exchange presences , as Robert Dessaix would say. Oh, and how that attests to a love that surpasses understanding!
Just finished reading another microcosm of marvel, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa . I love how all these disparate characters - the single mum, ten-year-old Root and the brilliant maths professor - share a deep-seated need to connect and become a family. It gave me comfort in understanding that there are blood families and water families , as termed by the wonderful activist and writer Elif Shafak, and they can be as strong as steel.
When I moved out of the marital home with my children under difficult circumstances, and we transitioned from being a nuclear family to a single-parent family, it was healing for me to come to an understanding that there are many permutations to what constitutes a family. We were not a broken family - so glad that that term is no longer used. Like spinster . Or on the shelf . Luckily for me, I moved into a locale where there are families of every description - step-families, child-free families, single-parent families, rainbow families. It was normalising and it helped my children feel that we were not less in any way. Well, we do experience less - money, if truth be told!

A tender tale of intergenerational bonds, The Summer Book by Tove Jansson pirouettes around an old woman and her grand-daughter, who visit an uncultivated Finnish island every summer. They explore, tell stories and have adventures. A book so small and quiet, yet it contains a world s worth of joy and sorrow - a gentle exhortation to live and love playfully.
I am just about to take the kids for a bike ride, so I better get them to fill their water bottles and find their helmets.
Adieu for now
Son x

Hi Sonya
Language holds such history and assumptions, doesn t it?

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