Reading styles

I do like the idea I’m multi-tasking, and lately, the closest I’ve managed has been in terms of reading materials. I’ve been recuperating, in a not very interesting way, for about two weeks.

When I first returned home, I binged on a collection of Brother Cadfael mysteries I was gifted last year. Ellis Peters, whose real name was Edith Mary Pargeter, wrote lovely, reassuring pictures of 12th century England.

These novels are set in a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, but within the confines of Shrewsbury Abbey, even murderous threats are unraveled, and set in order with calm good humour. No matter how brutal an attack has been made, how misguided the accusations against the primary suspect, Brother Cadfael can be relied upon to view it with generosity, and usually, play cupid to a romance that seems fated to failure.

In the middle of September of that year of Our Lord, 1140, two lords of Shropshire manors, one north of the town of Shrewsbury, the other south, sent envoys to the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on the same day, desiring the entry of younger sons of their houses to the Order.

One was accepted, the other rejected. For which different treatment there were weighty reasons.

So begins, The Devil’s Novice. How effortlessly I slip through the doors of the cloisters, to find out who, and which, and why.

These mysteries make soothing nightcaps, and I’ve worked my way through six of them. I had expected this would feel like too much of a good thing, but here I am, preparing to set out on a new adventure with trusty Cadfael.

Meanwhile, progress on my literary read, Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, is slow. After two weeks, I’m halfway through. I’m intrigued, even curious, but it’s a book that I can only take in one chapter at a time.

The first one begins:

The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus-driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called what he felt inside him ‘the silence of snow’.

He’d boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He’d just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul – a snowy, stormy, two-day journey – and was rushing up and down the wet, dirty corridors with his bag in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him that there was a bus for Kars leaving immediately.

My questions, this time, are all ‘who’? It’s not just the (so far) nameless character I wonder about, at first, I can’t figure out the narrator. He’s sidled up to me, getting increasingly close. ‘Our traveller‘, he says, and ‘So let us take advantage of this lull to whisper a few biographical details’.

Whoa, I try to tell him, haven’t you heard of social distancing? I’m not sure we know each other well enough to be so close. I don’t know that we share a common view of this world. But this narrator is pushy, doesn’t allow me to back away. Three pages in and he offers me some reassurance.

…I’m an old friend of Ka’s and I begin this story knowing everything that will happen to him during his time in Kars.

Ka, then, that’s the name of the central character. Something to hold onto, at last.

Ka enters the bus, and the story is properly started. I can ignore the intrusive narrator and focus on Ka, the poet. Something will be happening soon, that’s clear. What it might be is not predictable. Even the weather isn’t.

The road signs caked with snow were impossible to read. Once the snowstorm began to rage in earnest, the driver turned off his full beam and dimmed the lights inside the bus, hoping to conjure the road out of the semi-darkness.

This scene feels like a metaphor for the story. Ka is asked by one of his fellow travellers why he’s travelling to Kars.

‘I’m a journalist,’ Ka whispered in reply. This was a lie. ‘I’m interested in the municipal elections – and also the women who’ve been committing suicide.’ This was true.

What am I to make of this, that Ka is unreliable too?

Perhaps, he is more realistically human than the infallible Cadfael, though it’s hardly fair to draw comparisons. Both fictions do their job, in transporting me to other times and places. The conclusion I’ve reached is that, odd as it may seem, my daytime and nighttime reads compliment each other.

I wonder what other odd partnerships are waiting to be discovered.

28 thoughts on “Reading styles

  1. Both books sound amazing. I have been wanting to read the Brother Cadfael books and Orhan Pamuk for a long time. I am reading How Green Was My Valley, another book that had been gathering dust on my shelves for way too long. Now is the time to read these classics. Happy reading, Cath.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t believe that I still haven’t read any of the Brother Cadfael mysteries. I do like a cosy murder mystery. Maybe I’ve been overwhelmed by there being so many books. But the Orhan Pamuk sounds wonderful, the richness of the language… I’ll have to order a copy when lockdown’s over, it’s not a book to read on a Kindle.
    Happy reading, Cath, and enjoy you’re lovely spring weather!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Chris, I am enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.
      Yes, so many Cadfaels, and I’m not reading them in order, which is interesting. Last night’s story had been mentioned several times in one or two of the ones I’d already read. It doesn’t seem to matter.
      As to the Orhan Pamuk, I agree, I can’t imagine trying to read it on a screen.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Neil, that’s a tricky question, it’s constantly shifting, but some of the classics who haven’t moved are The Bronte’s, Lewis Carroll, Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Henry Fielding, Lee Child, George Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Taylor… Where do I stop?

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  3. Great post, Cath! I still haven’t read any of the Brother Cadfael novels, nor Pamuk’s Snow, but I can see where your associations are coming from and where they are leading you – and now I’m tempted to read both of your inspirations 😉

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  4. How have I missed out that you’ve not been well if you’re recuperating, Cath? Glad though that you’re now on the mend. Books are a sure way to exist vicariously, that is unless you’re one of those reporting that reading has — temporarily one hopes — ceased to be a balm and a consolation.

    By the way, your latest post has comments turned off; if not deliberate on your part I do know that the WP app had a glitch that randomly turned comments off on posts for me for a while, though now seemingly corrected.

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    • Thanks, Chris. Deliberately turned off, I’m afraid. Books are certainly helping with my mental recuperation, but my energy levels fluctuate, so every so often I’m conserving it. I hope normal services will resume, but I’m not clear how shortly. This surgery business is a new experience for me, and I seem to have misjudged how much it knocks one off course!

      I’m trying to be compliant with the advice, and take things slowly 🙂

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  5. A really lovely post, thank you! I haven’t read Brother Cadfeal but they sound appealing and Snow sounds intriguing – I do like it when we don’t know who anyone is, but I can see how it would take a long time to read,in fact I find that quite reassuring, since I’m such a slow reader! I hope you continue to get well

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    • Thank you, Jane. Glad to have entertained you. Cadfael has been perfect, and I’m quite sorry to have reached the end of my selection.

      Snow, on the other hand, continues, and proves to be a satisfying, if slow journey.

      My recuperation continues to follow predictable lines, I’m assured. Thank you for asking 🙂

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  6. Hi Cath, for some reason couldn’t reply to your next post so thought I’d thank you for the theatre streaming recommendation here – as to Cadfael, didn’t Derek Jacobi portray him on TV? Pamuk is someone I’ve meant to read, so thanks for that. I often read chapters of different books alternately, doing that now with Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’ and Hemingway’s ‘Fiesta’ …

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    • Hi Dave. I’m afraid I closed the comments on the next post, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to respond for a couple of days, and forgot to mention it in the blog!
      Yes, Derek Jacobi was Cadfael on tv. On radio it was Philip Madoc, and his was the voice I heard while reading, perhaps because I’ve not seen re-runs of the tv series.
      Greene and Hemingway sounds like an interesting combination.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. HULLO! I can’t believe it’s been this long since I’ve visited you. Hugs, Cath! Are you done teaching online for the term? I’m a little worried how July will go–while I’ve got high hopes for editing and writing, the kids’ summer school is going to be online for July again. You can imagine their excitement (as in, lack thereof) about this. Plus I’ll have to monitor them while I do my own teaching. Blech! I’m knocking on all the wood that they get to return to schools for the summer session in August.

    I also just need to give you a hug for reading Cadfael. I love those stories! You know, I’ve not studied those mysteries in so long that I really ought to give one a go. But which one? Hmmm.

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    • Hello, Jean. It’s lovely to have you back, which I presume means that some of the pressure on your time has eased. Given that the kid’s will have summer school in July, I presume the answer is that your work commitments have eased off, though you say you’ve still got teaching commitments, so I guess you’ve really perfected multi-tasking.
      I’ve got a couple of on-line classes continuing into the summer, just enough to provide a focus for my week, and as we’re going to continue our isolation, I’m really appreciating these human-interactions.
      Ah, yes, Cadfael, an old favourite. It was lovely rediscovering them, and what a lot of useful lessons about providing pure, quality, entertainment, something that never dates. In my opinion, any of them will provide a worthwhile break from reality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • They certainly do! July should hopefully be a little less stressful, but August may ramp up again. We shall see there! 🙂 I’ve been working out some realistic writing goals for the month, and it’s making me excited to get back into the storytelling groove…

        Ah, we are so excited for interactions here. Isolation and hyper children do not go well together. 🙂

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