Long for This World, by Jonathan Weiner

A few weeks ago my son mentioned that new medical research may well extend our lives significantly, even for those of us alive today. So when I saw a recommendation for this book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch, I jumped on it. I was prepared for some heavy reading but in fact the book flew by, the science delivered in small, easily digestible bites. Weiner has an outstanding ability to describe the particulars of the research being done such that a layman can easily follow it.

To my amazement, that research promises more than just many of us being able to live to 100. It may enable us, basically, to live forever. And not just as withered, decrepit shells, but with the health of our prime.

Of course, my immediate thought was a cynical conviction that these benefits would be monetized like everything else, so only the rich would live forever while we peasants would serve and die. I wondered if immortality was such a good thing: Strom Thurmond would have been a Senator until the end of time.

Luckily, Weiner doesn't avoid the tough questions. He brings in philosophy, art and literature. He looks at the big questions. Would such longevity bring massive overcrowding or would people have even fewer children or none? Societies whose life spans have increased dramatically in the last 60 years have also experienced dramatic declines in birthrates. He asks if we would become bored, if life would lose its meaning. He quotes moral philosopher Bernard Williams from The Makropulos Case where he argues that: “Immortality, or a state without death, would be meaningless …so, in a sense, death gives the meaning to life.”

Weiner asks what immortality would do to our sense of time:

Mortality is the central fact of our lives . . . We try to number our days, so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, as we are advised in the Psalms. And it is essential to us at any age to know or to guess roughly where we are in our time—because that knowledge does teach us how to live.

Our ability to exist in time may require our being mortal, although we can’t understand that any more than the fish can understand water. What we call the stream of consciousness may depend upon mortality in ways that we can hardly glimpse.

Even more interesting for me as a writer, he considers our universal metaphor of life as a journey. All stories are about journeys. We writers work hard at learning how to structure stories to be meaningful and interesting. One thing we know for sure is what Aristotle said: all stories have a beginning, middle and end. But what if they don't? How do we then understand the shape of our lives?

We are performers of the self, we are playwrights of our lives, and we need death to bring down the curtain, or the play will go on too long; the story will lose all shape and cease to be a story at all.

Weiner gives us not just the science behind today's search for immortality, but also some of the people behind it. These lively conversations and descriptions help to make the book even more readable. There's a lot here to think about, questions that go to the heart of what it means to be human. The book came out in 2010, leaving me eager to find out what new research has happened since then. I'm still not at all convinced that hugely increased longevity is a good thing, but I want to know more about it.

If you could stay healthy, would you want to live to 100? How about 500? A thousand?

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth

I’ve greatly enjoyed this series on PBS, but hadn’t thought about reading the books upon which they are based until my friend, Cynthia, advised me that they were even better than the show. I usually assume books to be much better than their film incarnations, if only because films must condense the story and often lose much of the subtlety and shading. However, in this case the films are so good that I couldn’t believe the books could be better. I was wrong.

In the early 1950s Worth, then Jennifer Lee, having trained as a nurse, was placed at an Anglican community of nuns to learn midwifery. The nuns belong to an order, which she calls St Raymund Nonnatus and their convent, Nonnatus House, in located in Poplar, a neighborhood in London’s East End. Together with the nuns and two other young midwives-in-training, Worth serves the vibrant but shockingly poor Cockney East-Enders, as a midwife but also on occasion as a district nurse.

Her stories of her fellow midwives and the characters she meets are funny and sad and enchanting. English has been known to treasure its eccentrics, but never did I imagine so many crowded into one small book. Worth gives them in all their glory, showing their faults and remarkable strengths, always describing them and their antics with dignity and respect.

I had not realised conditions were so bad in the East End during the 1950s. I knew that England, still recovering from the Second World War, struggled to find food and housing for its battered population, but I didn’t know that condemned tenements lingered on for decades due to the lack of alternate housing. Some of these densely populated tenements blocks only provided a single cold-water tap and lavatory for each level of flats. What with the docks and the railway terminus, the already-overcrowded East End had been targeted during the Blitz, leaving many to live in bombed-out buildings even during this period.

When I think of the prosperity I grew up in here in the U.S., I can now understand why my mother continued to send food parcels to her English friends throughout the 1950s. At the time, it didn’t make sense to me, conditioned as I was by my reading to think of England as a “green and pleasant land”.

When I teach memoir writing, I encourage writers to find the balance of narration and dramatic scenes that best serves their story. Worth succeeds brilliantly at this. She gives us just enough narration to understand the social (and sometimes political) context and then jumps right into the action. Each chapter is devoted to a different person, either a colleague or patient, except for a few instances when one or two more chapters are needed to finish the story. While it may seem organised like a picaresque novel, just a sequence of episodes, there is a narrative arc, which only becomes clear when you look at the book as a whole, culminating in Worth herself being profoundly changed.

The chapters fly by, so entertaining and assured is Worth’s voice. These vivid characters will stay with you. Worth wrote the book, she said, to capture a way of life that disappeared during the slum clearances of the 1960s. There is still poverty but no longer is it quite so dire. I ponder, however, the ways that the vibrant working class life she describes has changed. I of all people will not romanticise poverty, yet must allow that when I lived in neighborhoods of working class families and those on public assistance, I found much that was preferable to the prosperous neighborhood where I grew up.

What novels or memoirs have you read that have vivid characters, people whom you can’t forget?

Hungover Poet, by Natasha Ramsey

This book left me reeling. Ramsey’s poems of love and anger and redemption explode from the page. Full of outrage, raw hurt and tender caresses, they command the reader’s attention and emotion.

Some poems are not as strong as others, but what fascinates me is the way they gather force as the book continues. In the middle sections, Ramsey takes on various personas—someone dying of AIDS, someone on death row—to explore even more intense experiences. And the poems in the last section are simply spectacular. Reading the book is like watching a poet find her voice.

I have heard Ramsey perform, so could hear her voice as I read and reread her words. Since we are friends, you may be right in suspecting that I am biased, but check this out:


I am not black, brown, white, grey or yellow
I am flesh. Red blood simmering,
White bone floating on a smoky stoned cloud.

I don’t belong here
Earth is no home
My mood matches mother moon.

A dark day equals this stormy night’s bruise.
I am not black, brown, white, grey or yellow,
I am life. Acceptance is my hue.

Or this excerpt from “2008”:

Updating my resume with poetic rhetoric, I petition for the creation of a White House Jester position.
License and paycheck will allow me to tell how it really is
Instead of recycling nifty 5 o’clock catch phrases.

Pondering, penning, sketching and spilling
Bloody messages from a war torn group that will be refuted by the faint of heart and some historians in part, while
sprinkling our food for thought with philosophically salted excesses
hoping to form opinions from the hardening of arterial stresses.

Ramsey’s courage and honesty jump from every page. She is not afraid to take on the most controversial issues: abortion, homosexuality, incest, abuse. Nor does she hesitate to draw us in to the most personal moments. I’ve sometimes found that spoken word poems lose some of their force when deprived of the poet’s performance. However, the poems in this collection, especially those in the final section, retain their passion. Ramsey invites us to experience the world fully, its joys and sorrows, and to rail with her against injustice.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

A History of Future Cities, by Daniel Brook

In this fascinating and readable book, Daniel Brook explores four cities—St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai—that were purposely built as gateways to the world. They do not seem to belong where they are located, but instead ignore native culture and become cities that could be located anywhere. Brook’s focus on their architecture brings this element to the fore: a room copied from the Vatican in St. Petersburg’s royal palace, Art Deco hotels in Shanghai that look like Manhattan, a university in Mumbai cribbed from Oxford, Dubai’s double Chrysler buildings. But what they really have in common is their purpose: to embody the future.

The four cities he chooses to discuss play a similar role in each of their countries: they were created to import and embody modernity. Architects and scientists from more modern—that is, Western—nations were brought in to create a city that would carry no hint of local traditions, but instead resemble and compete with the major cities of the Western world. The intent was not to create a slavish imitation, but to provide a window to the outside world and begin the task of dragging an isolated culture still set in ancient ways into the modern age.

Indeed, each of the four cities becomes an incubator for change, though not always the change originally intended. Rulers hoped to import scientific, artistic, and business knowledge without importing modern ideas about freedom and democracy.

Entranced by Amsterdam’s technical advancements and domination of world trade at the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great created St. Petersburg from scratch on a marsh far from Moscow. He expected that the architects and scientists and artists whom he brought in would inspire his people to learn new ways and prepare to compete in the modern world. That happened in St. Petersburg itself, but did not spread to the rest of the country, creating friction and unrest. Once the home of the new, the city was quickly pushed out of favor after Peter’s death. We follow St. Petersburg through its turbulent history (and name changes), the city’s story helping us to see Russia’s familiar evolution from serfdom to revolution to the Putin era in a new light.

Similarly, Shanghai was China’s window to the world in the mid-19th century. After losing the Opium War, China found itself forced to allow the Western powers do whatever they wanted. And what they did was create a modern city with abundant appurtenances, but these were only available to Westerners. Again we come to a new understanding of China’s changes through the story of Shanghai’s evolution.

Mumbai (then Bombay) also was built up and run by the British. Yet by attracting and training natives to the point where they felt adequate to take over, the Raj helped to create its own demise. Now a city of “slumdogs and millionaires”, Mumbai hovers on the brink of change. The 2011 census shocked Mumbai by showing that its population is in decline. Yet its tremendous wealth could be used to achieve the greatness of its promise.

The most recent city to be examined is Dubai. Centrally located for trade it languished until the 1970s when a forward-looking Sheikh Rashid armed with oil money and air conditioning set out to create a modern city. The story of how he and his son Sheikh Mohammed succeeded is a fascinating one.

Used to the idea of cities growing slowly over the centuries, I had not realised before that these four cities were conceived and created so quickly. Nor that they were envisioned to be a threshold between a country isolated in the past and the modern world. The plan to confine within a city’s limits such modern ideas as free speech and general suffrage seem in hindsight obviously doomed. Authoritarian governments may think that they can contain change, but may find that a little change can lead to a revolution no one expected.

This thoughtful book recognises the great cost of creating these cities. The peasants who actually built the first three perished in scores, being considered expendable in pursuit of the ruler's dream, while Dubai's imported labor doesn't fare much better.

I highly recommend this fascinating view of history through the fates of these four cities. As Brook says, “They are places to be reckoned with because they are ideas as much as cities, metaphors in stone and steel for the explicit goal of Westernization.” Seeing how utopian dreams play out fascinates me, but here those dreams affected whole countries and empires.

Have you ever been to a city that did not seem to belong in the country where it was located?

Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata

This 1956 novel takes place at a hot spring in the western part of Japan's main island, where winds from Siberia dump up to fifteen feet of snow in the winter. The long snowbound months create a sense of isolation, even a time outside of time. As the story opens, Shimamura is traveling by train to a certain hot-spring inn to see a woman he'd met in the spring when he'd come to climb the mountains. During this time in Japan, the hot springs were not like spas in Europe or the U.S., but rather places where men enjoyed the attention of geishas, leaving their wives at home.

When he arrives, the wealthy dilettante is surprised to see from her clothing that Komako has become a geisha. On his previous visit, she had an uncertain status, a woman who would sometimes help out at parties if all the geishas were busy, but was not a geisha herself. In the Introduction, the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, says that unlike geishas in the city, for hot-spring geishas “the pretense that she is an artist and not a prostitute is often a thin one.”

Shimamura and Komako have connected on another level, though, and he cannot stop thinking about her. He promises to return in February, but does not return until the autumn when he finds that her situation has changed once again. This is a peculiar love story. The two seem to talk past each other a lot of the time and behave abruptly and unexpectedly. They obviously care for each other, despite the difference in their stations, but seem incapable of love. It is as though in each there is an empty space that keeps them from coming closer.

Seeing how Komako has aged (though she is only 24), Shimamura speaks of wasted beauty. Once a dancer, she now studies music and plays the samisen, wasted effort in this isolated place to Shimamura. He himself has devoted much of his time to studying western ballet, though he has never seen one performed and has no wish to.

Seidensticker calls this a haiku novel, like The Tale of Genji. Although written as prose, this style is austere and somewhat fragmented, as poetry gives you space to think and reflect. It is up to the reader to be present in the novel and find the connections.

I also love the beautiful prose and sometimes startling imagery. For instance, in that first train ride, as night falls Shimamura watches the reflection in the window of a girl—Yoko—seated opposite him caring for a sick man. Yet behind her reflected face, “the monotonous mountain landscape” continues to flow by, as though showing a world outside time. “Shimamura had the illusion that the evening landscape was actually passing over the face, and the flow did not stop to let him be sure it was not.” What a remarkable image of time's passage!

Much as I enjoyed this book, I never quite understood these two people who love or try to love each other. Perhaps I could not come close the them because they cannot come close to each other. Wasted love, wasted opportunities.

I have been thinking a lot about the influence of place—not just your geography but your family and your cultural context. This novel eloquently conveys people struggling to become themselves within the environment of the hot spring, the restrictions of the seasons, and the boundaries of the classes into which they have been born. It is a love story, yes, but an unusual and complex one.

What love story have you read that surprised and intrigued you?

This Isn’t Easy for Me, by Julian Berengaut

I came to this novel with a certain wariness. For one thing it is written entirely in dialogue, which in itself is not an easy thing to pull off and further complicated by not having any dialogue tags or chapter breaks. For another, the two people talking are women and the author is a man. On the other hand, it had been praised by Jen Michalski, an accomplished author herself and a friend.

I needn’t have worried. The two women’s voices are sufficiently distinct that I knew who was talking without counting back. Also, if more should be needed, their different situations provide clues. The setup—the reason for their meeting—comes across naturally, without the strain one might expect. And their wide-ranging conversation held my interest through the last page.

Sabine, a German physicist, has requested a meeting with Renata, an economist and philanthropist. Although famously reclusive, Renata has agreed and arranged for them to meet in a hotel lounge. They are in Boston where Renata and her husband Mark, a famous mathematician, live and where Renata has come for a conference.

The conversation between the two women strays naturally from one topic to another, Renata’s strange diet, Jewish jokes, quantum physics, dancing, the BRCA mutation that causes breast cancer, Pushkin and Dumas. They circle back to Sabine’s reason for asking to meet Renata, but then another fascinating topic leads them off again. Not unexpectedly, this conversation between a German and a Jew must eventually lead to talking of the Holocaust and their respective parents’ experiences, but they approach this subject with care and mutual respect.

These two strong and unconventional women circle ever closer to each other despite their differences. Even Sabine’s reason for contacting Renata, when she finally discloses it, is treated with intelligence and surprising generosity.

While there are no hard and fast writing rules, we are discouraged from using dialogue to convey narrative. For example, the excellent writer Chuck Wendig says, “Expository dialogue is a pair of cement shoes.” Writing teachers everywhere caution about info-dumping in dialogue. It is awkward and boring. As Wendig says, the way to make it work is to “Limit the information learned; pull puzzle pieces out and take them away to create mystery. Let characters be reluctant to give any info, much less dump it over someone’s head.”

This is the secret to Berengaut’s successful use of dialogue here. He gives us bits of information that raise more questions and cause the conversation to veer off in another direction. He also varies the pace effectively by using longer and shorter bits of dialogue.

The other reason for the success of this unusual novel lies in the depth and complexity of the two characters. I wish I knew these women! I love conversations such as theirs, ranging through highly literate and learned subjects as well as through popular music, jokes, and television shows. I found their exchange as addictive as following links across the internet.

My only quibble with the book is that I came away feeling that I did not in fact know the two women. Perhaps because of the form or because they do not know each other at the beginning, I felt a certain distance. I knew a lot about them by the end, and the face they presented to each other, but they seemed a bit artificial to me. I didn’t know what they looked like, what they thought about in the middle of the night, what secrets they were not sharing. Of course we never do know everything about another person, but I missed seeing them in action, hearing their thoughts. Perhaps it is my own failing, but I don’t quite trust what characters say about themselves. I love when a tiny gesture betrays the unspoken thought contradicting what was said.

Still, the novel is without doubt a tour de force. The conversation between Sabine and Renata makes absorbing and fascinating reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Andrew Wyeth, Looking Out, Looking In

I spent hours at the National Gallery’s show of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings of windows, “Looking Out, Looking In”. Entering these four rooms of paintings felt like coming home. The rooms are grouped by place: the Olson House, the Kuerner Farm, Wyeth’s Brandywine Studio, and a final room called Variations.

But it was the paintings themselves that so appealed to me. Spare and austere, with little color, they all include windows but no people. As Nancy K. Anderson describes in her catalogue essay, “Wind from the Sea: Painting Truth beneath the Facts”, Wyeth went through a winnowing process, deleting elements from the scene in order to better convey its essence. Preliminary studies in the show illustrate this process. For example, in the centerpiece painting, Wind from the Sea, he cut out half of his original study, concentrating on just the window frame.

Wyeth’s goal, as Anderson says, was “to enrich his composition with layers of metaphor and personal symbolism.” Wyeth called Wind from the Sea a portrait of Christina Olson. Famously seen in Christina’s World, here we don’t see the person herself, but we do see the sturdy window frame, the worn shade, and the floating lace curtains embroidered with birds and somewhat tattered.

Wyeth said that he thought intensely about the subject of each painting, letting it “‘go through my imagination until it became a symbol to me.'” The challenge then becomes conveying the personal symbol’s meaning and this heightened emotion to others.

Aside from intensifying the emotion, his method of subtracting elements from the paintings also allows their abstract construction to show through. I had not thought of him as an abstract painter before, but these paintings brought it home to me. The other essay in the catalogue, “Through a Glass: Windows in the Art of Wyeth, Sheeler, and Hopper” by Charles Brock puts Wyeth’s experiments on the border of abstraction and figuration into context.

In all my thinking over the last fourteen years about thresholds and liminal spaces, I’ve always thought in terms of doors, never until now about windows. Yet, as Brock says, for these artists, “the window serves not so much as a mechanism for rationally organizing space but as a threshold between self and other, body and mind, being and not being, and in the most profound sense between life and death.”

Brock traces the underlying abstraction in Hopper and Sheeler’s work, as well as Wyeth’s. He also grounds their work in the larger history. Wyeth, for example, was born in 1917 and grew up between the two world wars among local veterans of World War I. He was also well aware of his Pennsylvania home’s experience of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Brock says, “In ways analogous to the plight of soldiers on a battlefield, the role played by the figure in Wyeth’s art, whether it was included or excluded, present or absent, was fraught with existential implications.”

The variety of the paintings shown is stunning. Sometimes we are inside looking out, sometimes outside. Sometimes the view is elaborate and others it is barely sketched in. I realized that the small landscapes we glimpse through a window or a barn door fascinate me in the same way that I have long been fascinated by the miniature distant landscapes behind a Madonna or outside the window or door of a dark Dutch interior. I love the sense of life going on in the background: sheets being spread on the grass to dry, icicles dripping outside the window. My imagination soars, constructing the life taking place just outside the painting.

Of his own paintings Wyeth said, “‘a lost presence makes the environment timeless to me, keeps an area alive. It pulsates because of that.'” These paintings are indeed timeless and alive. The show runs through November 30.

Do you have a favorite Andrew Wyeth painting?


Monday Morning Books is one of many blogs initiating a #BloggerBlackout in response to Kathleen Hale’s article in The Guardian. Previously published content will still be accessible during #BloggerBlackout.

Bibliodaze: An Open Letter to Kathleen Hale & Guardian Books: Stalking Is Not Okay.?
Bibliodaze: #HaleNo, Blogger Blackout and the Non-Existent War?
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: The Choices of Kathleen Hale?
Alex Hurst: Hale vs Harris, and the Breach of Online Ethics

The Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 29, Number 2

There are a lot of changes going on, and I don’t just mean the cold wind that blew in last night. Granted, some of them are still just whispers, but I know they will manifest themselves sooner or later. I don’t like change more than the next person, but I’ve learned to treasure my moments standing on the threshold, to love the liminal spaces that hold so much promise.

One thing that hasn’t changed, despite reams of blogs and tweets and status updates, is my love of long, closely reasoned essays about writing. I love when they take my ideas about what I’ve read and turn them upside down.

I added The Writer’s Chronicle to my pared-down list of subscriptions a few years ago, by default, when I attended an Association of Writers and Writing Professionals (AWP) conference. I’ve kept it because it consistently delivers the goods.

This October/November 2014 issue is no exception. I won’t go over every essay and interview, though each rewarded scrutiny. One standout is Gregory Orr’s essay on “Foundational Documents and the Nature of Lyric”. After anecdotally describing the ecstasy of writing—being “transported by the words in a world that the words were creating”, he points out that our western tradition, unlike India, China, Japan, does not encourage the lyric poet. Plato’s attack on poets as “weak and womanish” stood for hundreds of years until Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads granted us the freedom to feel. I condense, but truly the entire essay is fascinating, and the final reference to Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels blew me away.

Having just participated in a symposium on GeoPoetics: the intersection of geography and poetry, I paid close attention to “The World of the Story”, by Eileen Pollack. She rescues the story element of setting from mere painted backdrop and restores it to its place as creating an entire world, with its own cultures and communities. She offers an inspired reading of stories such as Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” and William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Speaking of mashups, I also enjoyed Lisa C. Krueger’s “_Ars Poetica_ and the Talking Cure: Poetry, Therapy, & the Quest to Create”. I had not before considered the common factors of poetry and therapy.

Best of all for me is Sue William Silverman’s “Memoir with a View: The Window, as Motif and Metaphor, in Creative Nonfiction”. Coming on the heels of the stunning National Gallery show of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings of windows, “Looking Out, Looking In”, this essay fed my fascination with these mythic structures. They may be transparent or reflective; there may or may not be a person present, but always “two worlds are in play: the confined interior world, and the sprawling exterior world.” She examines how each speaks to each. For example, in Joyce’s classic story “The Dead”, “the more Gabriel envisions the world outside the window, the more his interior state is revealed to the reader.”

And Silverman takes us even deeper. She reminds us that the person gazing out of the window may also be seen. She talks about the temporal aspect of a window frame in addition to its physical aspect; what we see outside may be a past or possible future. And here I’m only scratching the surface of her insights.

I highly recommend this journal if you want to exercise your mind and consider what you are reading in a different light. Change is hard for everyone, but accepting the uncertainty of the threshold can result in powerful insights.

What journals do you read regularly?

Miss Buncle’s Book, by D. E. Stevenson

When the seasons change, I sometimes get a cold, but this one couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I had a number of author events scheduled for the coming week, including three full days at a book festival where I would be reading and helping out at various booths while also chatting about my books with one and all. Time to get serious! Falling back on my most reliable remedies, I put aside all my plans and spent the day curled up on the sofa with endless pots of tea, herbal supplements, and something to read. Desperate times call for comfort reads, and what could be more comforting than a D. E. Stevenson novel?

In this 1934 novel, recently reissued by Persephone Press, Barbara Buncle is worried about money. The dividends, which up till now have enabled her to continue living in her childhood home in the quiet village of Silverstream, have suddenly dried up. Some didn’t come in at all while others were only half the usual amount. Casting about for a way to earn money she hits on the idea of writing a book.

She has a lot of fun writing it, using her neighbors—thinly disguised—as the characters. But partway through, she realises that not a lot happens in Silverstream (Copperfield in her book), so she starts inventing twists that wake things up.

Much to her surprise, Mr. Abbott wants to publish it and summons her to his London office. He’s not entirely sure whether it is satire or in earnest, but he enjoys reading it so much that he is sure it will be a big hit. Newly rechristened Disturber of the Peace, the book will come out under her pseudonym.

It never occurs to Miss Buncle that her neighbors in Silverstream might get their hands on the book, much less that they will recognise themselves in it. She is shocked by their reactions: a few are delighted but most are angry and determined to find out who “John Smith” is.

The fun continues. Stevenson handles her large cast with ease, making each so memorable that I never got confused. How they handle this vision of their alternate lives entertained me right up to the last page.

Miss Buncle’s confusion and fear that she will be found out made me think wryly of when my memoir came out a few years ago. I wasn’t trying to be anonymous, but I did wonder what people who were in it would think. I was also a bit taken aback when I realised how many of my friends were reading it. There was a resounding silence from my family (other than my sons who had pre-approved it). I don’t know if any of them even read it. Luckily, they didn’t play a large role in the events covered by the memoir.

Any writer, whether working with fiction, poetry or memoir, reveals herself. If you don’t take that risk, you won’t dig deep enough, leaving your words to lie lifelessly on the page. It helps to laugh in the face of fear, and Miss Buncle’s adventures certainly gave me plenty to laugh about. I think all the laughing drove away my cold.

What are your comfort reads?