I Read Therefore I Am
At the moment I am living partly in Louisiana and partly in Los Angeles, although last night I moved to New York for a while because my boyfriend needs surgery. My name is Jude Winston and I am a young black medical student with a mother who lives as a black woman in a hick town called Mallard, whilst my mother’s estranged twin sister, Stella is living as a white woman in LA.
The reason I am immersed in this world is because I am reading ‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett and so compelling and rich are the characters and the writing that every night before sleep I can lose myself completely in their world and their reality. I often think that this is how I have managed to get through seventy-three years of life so happily, and it is certainly how I got through the past fifteen months since the pandemic hit us. For my whole life I have rarely, if ever, been without the companionship of a book so that at odd moments during the day my mind will wander to the fictional world that I am currently inhabiting and I will be consoled, inspired or maybe intrigued whilst looking forward to what happens next in the story.
Above all I will be reassured that in a few hours, after I climb into bed and before I fall asleep, I can join my fictional companions and be transported to another world entirely.
In my long(ish) life I must have read many hundreds of books. I like to think that I have a fairly catholic taste in modern literature, although as you will see in the following list, I read mostly female authors. My other tendency, having discovered a new author, is to then read their entire oeuvre, so I can honestly say that I have read everything that Hilary Mantel has written, or Rose Tremain or Elizabeth Jane Howard. A new choice however is to abandon a book if I am not enjoying it very much, something that would have been unthinkable when I was younger. Maybe I saw books a bit like spinach, nourishing even if not at all to my taste. Now I just think ‘life’s too short to waste on something that feels like hard work’ and give myself a break. I have also stopped buying physical books. I realise that this will be anathema to many of you and I apologise to the whole book selling industry, but there are just too many practical reasons why I now read novels exclusively via my Kindle, not least the ease with which I can change the font size if my eyes are particularly tired after a long day.
I thought that for the purposes of this celebration of books in my life I’d share with you the books or authors that have meant the most to me, starting with two books which I first read as a young teenager. The fact that I still reread them from time to time and that they are so firmly lodged in my consciousness must say something of their power to excite my imagination. The first Is Orwell’s ‘1984’ and the second is Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. As usual I have read all of Orwell’s novels including his more autobiographical writing like ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and ‘Homage to Catalonia’ about the Spanish Civil War, but it is to ‘1984’ that I return over and over. Why? Possibly because it is a warning to be vigilant about the ways in which we are governed. When something happens in the political realm I often feel that Orwell would be able to point to ‘1984’ and say “I warned you about this!”.
And why Austen as my all-time favourite female author? Well, I recently read Barbara Pym’s modern comedy of manners ‘Excellent Women’ written in the 1950s and found it dated and unrelatable, yet Austen’s novel, written over a hundred years earlier, feels sharp, fresh as a daisy and is wickedly funny. It is also the reason that 88 million people watched ‘Bridgerton’ on Netflix during lockdown.
I am currently emersed in 'The Vanishing Half' by Brit Bennett
'A Country Road, A Tree' was recommended to me by a friend belonging to Cambridge book clubs
I highly recommend Mary Lawson's new book 'A Town Called Solace'
My favourite route to a book is via recommendations from people I love and trust. I came to ‘The Vanishing Half’ because my daughter Anna told me about it and at the same time she told me about another US novel called ‘Standard Deviation’ by Katherine Heiney which was laugh-out-loud funny. Another friend belongs to two book clubs in Cambridge and is a great source of fantastic books. Recent ones were ‘A Country Road, A Tree’ by Jo Baker and ‘Now We Shall Be Entirely Free’ by Andrew Miller. I enjoyed this last one so much it set me off on an ‘Andrew Miller’ binge and I read everything else that he’d written. She also recommended a book by Kent Haruf called ‘Plainsong’, so I then read all his other books as I did the books of Mary Lawson, a Canadian author whose book ‘Crow Lake’ was recommended to me by someone whose makeup I was doing and who just happened to run an independent book shop! Mary Lawson has just published a new work called ‘A Town Called Solace’ which I can, in turn, thoroughly recommend to you.
I am also aware of best seller lists and sometimes I will read something to see what all the fuss is about. That’s how I came to read stories like ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine’ by Gail Honeyplan, ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, and ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens. Sometimes a book like ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman is a disappointment and feels over-hyped. You may disagree because you love Richard Osman (I do, too!), but if I want to read a really good crime thriller/mystery I much prefer Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo (super grisly Scandi-noir) or good old JK Rowling, moonlighting as Robert Galbraith, whose Cormoran Strike has to be one of the all-time great private detectives with his Brillo-pad hair, missing leg and challenging backstory. Somehow JKR also makes him super-sexy and incredibly attractive to the very beautiful, if somewhat troubled women in his life.
There are certain authors whose next book I await with impatience and will read as soon as it is published. Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book ‘Hamnet’ didn’t disappoint and neither did Rose Tremain’s ‘Island’s of Mercy’ or William Boyd’s ‘Trio’. However, occasionally a fantastic series like Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose books are followed by a turkey like ‘Double Blind’ as if his writing star has flamed over five brilliant books and then fizzled out. My bankers are anything by Deborah Moggach, Tessa Hadley, Joanna Trollope, Claire Tomalin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Strout and Clare Chambers. I am never happier than when I discover a new-to-me but long established author and discover that there’s a fantastic back catalogue of wonderful stories for me to download and explore.
Reality has been very tough on us all over the past few months. Life has lost its colour, variety and richness against a backdrop of fear and trepidation. Consolations for us all have been some zoom-type connections with our loved ones, various brilliant shows on TV like ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ and good old ‘Bridgerton’ and access to some great films on Netflix or Curzon Home Cinema. But the one thing that has made all the difference, not only during this pandemic but for the whole of my life, has been the companionship, solace and nourishment provided by the written word in the form of a wonderful, compelling page-turning story.
Tonight, as on every other night of my life, I will climb into bed and be transported to an entirely other time and place and this will calm and soothe me. I honestly believe that all the books I've read over my life have made me the person I am. Descartes may have said ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ but I prefer ‘Lego Ergo Sum’ or ‘I Read Therefore I am’.
I had a really wonderful chat on Tuesday this week with Dymphna Flynn who, for twenty years, was the producer on the monthly programme ‘Book Club’ on BBC Radio 4. She’s just been asked to be a judge for the new author category of books for the Costa Book Awards.I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UhX6wZy0s4&t=2s.
Upcoming Event Information:
Teatime with Tricia - Susan Johnson, founder of Bella di Notte
I am delighted to announce that in our next virtual Teatime with Tricia I will be talking to founder of lingerie and clothing brand 'Bella di Notte'. Susan went to Italy in search of a husband but fell in love with Italian vests instead. Knowing that the UK would love the quality of the vests as much as she did, Susan decided to find an Italian manufacturer and to set up her own company designing and selling vests, lingerie and now a full clothing collection.
Day: Tuesday 22nd June
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
Film Club - Amour
Available on Curzon Home Cinema or Amazon Prime
Day: Friday 2nd July
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
You can also keep an eye on the weekly schedule of Events which will be updated every Friday at 5pm (GMT) here: https://www.lookfabulousforever.com/a-bright-spot-for-your-day