I am a reader of books. Always have been, always will be. And yet, over the past few months, I seem to have gone back to the way I read as a child: hungrily, greedily, savouring every last word. Rushing through the last chapters of a book, wanting the ending, hating the end. I have read more books in the last few months than I can remember reading for many years. I have reverted from someone who will enjoy a few good pages each night before sleep to somebody who sits and reads all Saturday afternoon. Who wakes up on holiday mornings and goes back to bed for the next chapter or two or three.

I couldn’t think what had brought this about until I waved the children off to the school bus this morning and realised that it must be because I am no longer knee deep in toddlers. My friends and I talk about many things, but a current favourite is book recommendations. What are you reading? we ask one another. The conversation has shifted over the years from nappies to schools to bedtimes, and now we can talk about books again.

The book I opened last night came out a few years ago. I remember hearing about The Shore, probably on the radio, but it wasn’t until I saw a copy in the library on Monday that it came home with me. Three chapters in, I am transfixed. Short stories are a joy. They are the rock pools of the literary world: all life in microcosm. And The Shore is a whole coastline of them, linked by the tides of family life, by genes and marriages, affairs of the heart, and bloody determination. I am planning our next sojourn over a lunchtime sandwich.

In the meantime, I have knitting to do, and a pattern to work out. It came to my mind in fits and starts all weekend, so that by Monday morning all I had to do was sketch it out and begin on the work of explaining it. I am loving writing these new patterns, and this one, just like Snow Day, is aimed at new knitters. How, I thought all through Monday afternoon, do I make this as simple as possible? The challenge is in rethinking traditional solutions to create something that a person who can just knit and purl can make. To make something simple is devilishly elusive: it is the knitters’ equivalent of those equations that have to be simplified, reduced, distilled to their purest form. You puzzle and frown and then – oh! – you have it, and even the newest knitter can make sense of it all.

I suppose that’s what I’m loving so about The Shore. A book about many generations of a Virginia family, it could so easily have been a multi-volumed saga, full of extraneous details of who said what to whom. Instead, each tale strikes to the heart of its protagonist, so that we know, from a single encounter, who they are, what they stand for, where they came from. I can’t wait to find out more.


What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations?

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

11 thoughts on “Distilled”

  1. This captures that childish delight in reading brilliantly. Thanks, Madeleine. I’m going to request The Shore now, and look forward to devouring it whole! I love your book recommendations – eclectic, enlightening and always enjoyable.

  2. I have always been a devoted reader; however, for a good ten years it would takes me ages to finish a book. I think I was spending too much time on the Internet. (I admit that very sheepishly.) Recently, I have gotten my zest back for novels. I always have two books on the go now—one I read, the other I listen to while driving, gardening, and doing chores. Three books I’be enjoyed are A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kaddish, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Cathleen McCarron.

      1. Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll order those through the library too. I like your approach to novels – one to read, one to listen to. I listen to a lot of drama and novels through BBC iPlayer while doing chores, and have ‘read’ a lot of classics that way. Do you have a similar radio outlet in America?

      2. I actually listen to BBC iPlayer via the Internet. Since getting an Audible subscription, however, I’ve been listening to more books. I’ll have to look over the BBC offerings again. Thanks for the reminder!

      3. I’d really like a subscription to Audible, actually. It would be lovely to listen to hours and hours of unabridged novels. Maybe I should mention that to John…?

  3. It has been a reading year for me. I always loved reading, but vowed this year to always have a good book. I’ve never been one to handle 2 books at a time, but have found this year i can do it with one fiction and one non fiction.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I have also dug my knitting projects back out and hoping to hunker down with some of these projects as our weather cools off.

    1. I’m not very good with two fiction books at once either. I tend to read my favourite, and ignore the other, and by the time I come back to it I’ve lost the impetus to carry on. I do read a lot of non-fiction though, and like you, find that it is perfectly compatible with a novel. Good luck with your knitting projects. I hope you find the time to enjoy them over the coming weeks.

  4. I also have always loved reading,from being young and a member of the Puffin club,(Penguin books for young readers )to more recent years when I seemed to be mainly reading books about Craft,informative books,however one of the girls gave me a book a while ago which I could not put down! It’s called”Where did you go Bernadette?”.I will say no more except I loved everything about it but mainly the characters! The author is Maria Semple. If it’s in your library,borrow it,you won’t be disappointed!

    1. I’ll order it straight away – thanks for the recommendation! We’re really lucky in York to have several interconnected libraries, so that I can order books from all over town to the library down the road. I’ve been reading huge amounts of non- fiction, also mainly about craft, for the last ten or even fifteen years, but I’m just loving fiction again at the moment. And I remember the puffin book club! X

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