An in-valid reading prescription

Okay, so I’m not asking for sympathy, but it was my turn for the lurgy this week.  Not flu, just some nasty, energy-sapping, head-clogging virus, that made me add logs to the fire and snuggle under a blanket sipping cup-a-soups and eating oranges.

The only way I know to speed along those kinds of miserable hours is reading, but it has to be the right book.  For the first day, to counteract shivers and headaches, I want something easy and comforting.

pixabay woman readingLondon, The Novel, by Edward Rutherford has been taking up a huge amount of space on my TBR (to-be-read) shelf for a long time now.  I flicked through the pages, a good size font, short-ish chapters and fairly thick pages.

The plus about heavy novels, when it’s possible I’ll fall into a feverish doze, is that there’s more space for my resting arm to mark my page.  Small books, I find, slip off my lap and Rusty, loyally and comfortingly curled up on my feet, isn’t keen on getting brained. That happened several times with my next choice, E.V. Thompson’s Chase the Wind, a 1982 Pan paperback, on day two.

Yes, I was speeding through them, despite my infectious state. The Thompson was a good read, but not a keeper.  By now I had a plan.  If I had energy to do nothing else, then I was going to tidy my bookshelves.

What next, though?  Not something classic, or challenging, nor anything I’ve looked out for especially.  It must be interesting though. I wanted entertainment, and there, half forgotten, was a biography of Rudolph Valentino.

Non-fiction, picked up on a whim, perfect.  A bit of history with a lot of Hollywood glamour, gossip and scandal, and it wasn’t a big book.

I romped through it in an afternoon, and without a second thought, dropped it into my discards bag. An unofficial biography of Richard Burton came next.  After that there was Jean Harlow, then Cary Grant.  Phew, I should be getting quite a good overview of Tinseltown, wouldn’t you think?

I like fiction because there I understand the rules about narrators.  In those biographies I got lost.

Often they seemed to be aiming for distance.  There are masses of dated events with long lists of accompanying names. This is a piece of solid research, that suggests, backed up by quotes from contemporaries of the subject.

Take George Burns, who claimed, “Gracie loved scandal.  I didn’t.  Those things didn’t interest me.  I’m not interested in anything that happened yesterday.” Good for him, said I.  Except, he was included precisely because he would dish the dirt: “I vividly recall… What are you going to do about Archie’s…homosexuality?…’

So now I’m lost.  Did Burns tell the truth, or spring some kind of joke?

Then, there’s Jean Harlow, who according to the CG biog ‘…died as a result of a clumsy abortion done by her mother with knitting needles…’ Horrifying, but I’d probably have accepted it if I hadn’t just finished reading a harrowing account of kidney damage caused by beatings from her first husband.

What’s a reader to do? I checked the internet. Harlow’s medical records, sealed until the late 1990s, say kidney failure as a result of scarlet fever caught in childhood.

If that’s not tricky enough, the impartiality would keep slipping.

Photographs of him at the time show a softer, rounder, less ruggedly masculine face than millions of women would soon respond to in motion pictures.  In some costumes, he even looked positively effeminate, as though he were aching to appear in drag.

Really?  ‘Aching’?  How can the authors know?

It’s been an interesting convalescence.  I’ve cleared space on my shelf for some of the heap of TBRs by my desk, and have decided that on the whole, I prefer the reality of fiction.

*image from pixabay.

9 thoughts on “An in-valid reading prescription

  1. At least you can rely on the reality of fiction,.
    “Real life” is much more tricky – one person’s “physical assault” is another’s Heimlich manoeuver. Carl Bernstein advocated finding the best obtainable version of the truth – but when documents are sealed for 30 or more years what on earth can you do?
    The answer is to drag out a novel or two (provided always you don’t have an unreliable narrator ….. Oh help, give me David Attenborough!!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or maybe, even autobiography. I really don’t mind bias when it’s consistent, and I relish unreliable narrators in novels. I’m not convinced they work in biographies though. Perhaps someone will be able to convince me.


  2. Lot of it about, Cath, hope you’re better now! I also prefer fiction on the whole but the lure of biography is hard to resist. One I’ve just read, on the actor Oliver Reed, focused mainly on a huge number of reminiscences and anecdotes – the man came across powerfully, infuriating and loveable by turns, and … well, human! I like it when they present the evidence and leave it up to you, admitting what they’re not sure of …

    Liked by 1 person

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