Reading Doesn’t Need To Be ‘Classic’ To Be Useful

I really hope I don’t give the impression that I only read books that are termed ‘classics’ or that I am snobby about any genre. True, there are books I’ve read that make my toes curl, as the writing, in my opinion of course, feels so dreadful. However, I have learned that in the world of reading, the saying ‘horses for courses’ most definitely applies. What I find to be awful, might appeal to others. I have good friends, whose opinion I respect, recommend books to me and which I found  to be boring, or confusing, or I simply couldn’t ‘get along with’. There are also  times when I recommend a book I enjoyed to someone who later tells me they hated it! There was a time when I would be aghast that a friend could possibly hold a different view to mine about a book, but I guess I’ve matured enough to accept that we can differ – it need not divide us though.

All reading is useful. A bold statement, I know, but I do believe it is. Even the terrible reads I have mentioned have been helpful in leading me to discern more clearly what sort of reading I am most likely to enjoy in the future. No human being has time to read everything that’s ever been written; we need ways to learn how to filter. Whatever we read adds to the refining of that filtering system. Sometimes this might mean we filter out books that we may well have liked, ‘if only we’d known’, but we simply have to have ways of cutting that pile of ‘books-still-to-read’ down to a manageable size.

The MOST useful reads though are those that make us think, no matter what genre they are described as. They might stop us in our tracks (thinking tracks, that is) and lead us to reflect on what is being said, or to make an association with some other experience we’ve had, or connect us with other thoughts we’ve had. We may not even be clear how the association is made, or why a word or phrase halts out thinking, or sends us down a new thought-track. It doesn’t really matter why or how it happens – it’s just brilliant when it does. Even better is when that thought won’t let you go; when you put the book down and it still has hold of you. You find yourself at a party, perhaps, or on a bus, or out on a walk, and there you are, thinking those thoughts that sprang to life in your reading and they’re with you now, changing the way you look at others or how you see the world. And you find yourself asking questions, saying words, telling stories, thinking more thoughts – that were never in your head before. And that’s so exciting. That’s learning. That’s useful.

What has been the most ‘useful’ book you’ve read recently?

“A heavenlier world than this?”

garden 2017Joy struck me again today – right in the heart – as I turned into our drive and walked towards the house. My sloping garden welcomed me with splashes of colour and reached towards me with an embrace of loveliness. How could I fail to smile at the sight of scarlet and bright yellow primroses? Or delight in the tightly clenched buds of the President Eisenhower rhododendron beginning to release their gorgeous magenta flowers? Newly placed rocks too sheltering the azaleas pleased me – they looked so ….. right, so absolutely right.

Then on the steps leading to the side garden, the white hydrangeas in pots and the newly planted lilac violas there – all just with nothing to do but give pleasure. I stand on the drive smiling at it all and then enjoy it all over again later from the kitchen window. There’s even another moment later, while having lunch, that I think, “I must go and look at the garden.” I can’t get enough of it!

hydrangeas 2017There are those days when I’m perhaps ill or tired or just plain fed up (not so many, I hasten to add!) and I know that simply looking out at the garden will lift my spirits. Last week, I was with a friend dealing with a very challenging situation. It was a painful one and it drained something from me. “I feel the need to go and buy bedding plants”, I said to him as we parted. Later, preparing the spot where they would go, positioning them carefully, patting them into place, watering them and then standing back to enjoy them, it was as though I was being replenished from what I had poured out. In every little face of those violas, I saw a smile that cheered me and spurred me forwards. Nature has the gift of restoration.

garden 3 2017So yesterday, as I prepared for my reading group, perhaps that’s what led me to choose some chapters from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story of a rather unlovely (and unloved) little girl, Mary; raised in India by Ayahs, as her parents found her sickly and unattractive, and brought to England by her uncle when the community is wiped out by Cholera. She is a strange little thing, with no social skills, little interest in anything at all, but is somehow stirred by thoughts of a garden.

“She could not help thinking about the garden which no one had been into for ten years. She wondered what it would look like and whether there were any flowers still alive in it.”

garden 2017It will be this secret garden that eventually helps to restore her, but for me, yesterday, it reinforced the thought that there is a deep connection between us folk and gardens. Perhaps it’s to do with having been placed in a Garden at Creation? God wanted us to simply enjoy and care for that place. We ended up messing that up, but for millions, tending to gardens, labouring in them, watching them grow and looking at the fruits of that hard work are what sustains and nourishes them. I love the connection that little Mary grows to have with the old, gnarled and grumpy gardener, as he too, sensing the draw of the garden for the child, reaches out to her, in his own, plain-speaking way:

We’re neither of us good lookin’ an’ we’re both of us as sour as we look. We’ve got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I’ll warrant.”

It’s the first step for the girl at developing self-awareness and it all begins in a garden – a place where she will find solace and healing eventually.

It wasn’t therefore hard, given all these thoughts, to choose the poem “In the Fields” by Charlotte Mew, to read with the group.

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,

Under old trees the shadow of young leaves

Dancing to please the wind along the grass,

Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;

Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?

And if there is

Will the heart of any everlasting thing

Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?

They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent

of hay,

Over the fields. They come in spring.

There’s the thought I have! “Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?” Yes, that’s it, I guess, because within me, I believe there is that God-placed yearning for ‘something more’, which I know I will share in- when all things come to pass. Until then, we seek out the beautiful things that grow and dance “to please the wind along the grass”. Our gardens, our parks, woodlands, hillsides, forests, seascapes – all these places of loveliness, where flowers, trees, shrubs grow and dance in breezes, show us glimpses of what it will be like. They are tantalizing promises of better things to come and meantime, in the here and now, they do more than cheer, they lift our hearts and souls to a place of delightful, energising joy.

Pass me my spade and my wellies!!