Books, which are usually a multi-purpose cure – solace, distraction or balm, exciting or soothing as required – have not been doing  it for me lately. Perhaps I needed one of those bibliotherapy experts to prescribe exactly the right one. The unexpected death of a very dear friend in the first week of April has had me borrowing piles of books but not finding the right one to transport me.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with fiction for a while. Finding it hard to actually care enough about the people. Which is awful. I’m a fiction writer, after all! I’d been looking forward to the latest Ann Patchett, but I only made it half way through Tom Lake. The same goes for our book club choice, Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall, but even more so. New York and smart gallery owners and artists seemed so far away and I didn’t like any of them. Lauren Groff’s Matrix was possibly fascinating, but the effort of imagining life in an English nunnery in the middle ages was beyond me. I nearly finished A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild.

Non-fiction, then. A few pages of Stuck Monkey; the Deadly Planetary Cost of the Things We Love by James Hamilton-Patterson, and I shied away from too much reality. Retreating to the past, I tried The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons by Cat Jarman and The Road:A Story of Romans and Ways to the Past by Christopher Hadley but made no headway.

I did actually finish Some Shall Break by Ellie Marney, and Slough House and Bad Actors by Mick Herron, and they certainly passed the time and took me away to somewhere else. To be honest, the fact that the ‘elsewhere’ was somewhere fairly horrid probably didn’t do me all that much good. I started feeling pretty dark. I need a book! I need to read!

Cookbooks to the rescue. Especially Darina Allen’s massive tome The Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Allen is a famous Irish chef, with many honours and prizes and cook books to her name. She runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School at her  family home, Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork. I borrowed it for the baking, not the advice on foraging (no Crispy Puffballs for us) or skinning and gutting rabbits. Allen’s Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread – made every day at Ballymaloe House for over 60 years –  has been keeping us in toast for weeks. I am looking forward to trying Irish Porter Cake (with Guinness in it!) and Irish Tea Barmbrack (in which the dried fruit is soaked overnight in tea.

When I got the news that my friend had died, I cried for a bit and then went to the kitchen and made a cake.  Making cakes and bread is soothing and positive and life-affirming.

Plus, you get to eat your therapy.


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2 Responses to APRIL READING

  1. Kate C says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your friend. That is so hard, especially as it was unexpected. Perhaps when we are feeling such deep raw emotions as recent grief, it’s hard to be interested in fictional people. For me, children’s books (old favourites) usually provide reliable comfort, but I’m glad that cookbooks are doing the job for you.
    All the best xx

  2. susan says:

    Thank you, Kate. Dru (Drucilla) and I had been friends since we were both at Melbourne State College, training to be primary teachers, way back in 1980. She was one of those people who really, truly, lights up a room. Warm and loving and generous. Unconventional, hilarious, rude and amazingly creative. When someone has known and loved you all that time, through all the changes of young adulthood and middle age and into the 60’s, it’s losing the beloved person and losing a part of yourself as well. Sigh.
    I put her into two of my books! She was in one of my early teenage novels, and became Miss Drucilla Deane, Verity’s governess in the Verity Sparks novels (it was her 50th birthday gift; what else do you give someone who has everything?)

    And yes, thank you, I have taken your advice and as well as cooking, I am am reading children’s books. But not all old favourites, or authors I’ve read before. I’m taking a punt on some complete unknowns!

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