Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

September 2017

 - Friday, September 01, 2017

Robert Dessaix, like David Malouf, is a genial writer. He invites you into his company, amazes you with his erudition and disarms you with his humour. The Pleasures of Leisure, his latest book, is indeed a pleasure to read—from its inviting cover to its genial contents. He begins in Darjeeling at the Mayfair, an establishment with hand-embroidered sheets, where he is sitting by a window looking out at the thick fog. Despite the fog his fellow guests busily get on with seeing the sights. This sets him thinking about leisure. Do we, he says, really enjoy our leisure? Don’t we rather put a premium on being busy? Pushed to extremes, isn’t this like opting for enslavement? Why not, for a change, do nothing, or try a bit of people-watching, or go for a walk with no destination in mind? He then invites you to think about the gentle activities of nesting, grooming, gardening and cultivating friendships, and extols the joys of reading, for me the Prince of Pleasures. This is an elegant and amusing book with chapter headings like ‘loafing’, ‘doing nothing’ and ‘non-competitive play and hobbies’. In this last category Dessaix has things like learning Italian, knitting a sweater, or ‘at the fluffier end of the spectrum’, dressing up as a knight or a hobbit or collecting Coca-Cola bottles. 
One time, thinking he was dying, Dessaix treated himself to a first-class plane trip around the world and found himself sitting next to a millionaire who did busywork all the way. The millionaire asked him: ‘What do you do?’ and was greatly nonplussed at the reply: ‘Nothing. I do absolutely nothing.’ A marvellous read.

In 2010 Ailsa Piper, writer, teacher, theatre director and one-time actor, walked 1,300 kilometres across Spain from Granada to Galicia. Her destination was the pilgrimage shrine of St James at Compostela. She partly paid for her walk by offering, for a modest fee, to carry people’s sins in her swag along with her spare socks: ‘the seven deadlies a speciality’. The resulting delightful book Sinning Across Spain brought her plaudits and fan mail. An e-mail from Catholic priest Tony Doherty caught her interest, she replied and an unlikely epistolary friendship was the result. Doherty had himself walked parts of the Camino several times, but he felt that sins were his territory and she was encroaching. Some of their e-mails have been collected in a charming book called The Attachment. At first glance the pair make unlikely friends. Ailsa is a good 26 years younger than Tony, he is a man of faith and she a lapsed Catholic, and she was born on a sheep station in Western Australia while he is a born and bred Sydneysider. But similarities gradually emerged: their liking for the poetry of Mary Oliver, a preference for ritual, a common interest in food and good conversation, and above all a shared sense of humour. During the course of the correspondence each endured a bereavement—he of a much loved brother, she when her beloved husband died suddenly while she was away from home on a writing engagement. They both found the sexual abuse scandal in the church scarifying and sometimes argued over the best way to deal with it. This book made me reflect on the priceless worth of friendship: Ailsa and Tony took the time to stop for each other, look over the fence into each other’s very different worlds and find enrichment in the process. Highly recommended.
I’ve always thought A Change in the Lighting was Amy Witting’s best novel and I am grateful to Text Classics for re-issuing it with a foreword by Ashley Hay. It begins with Ella sitting up in bed watching her husband knot his tie. He calmly announces that they can’t go on like this and that after 32 years of marriage he wants a divorce so that he can marry the young colleague with whom he is having an affair. Ella’s pleasant life in their lovely home, cooking beautiful meals, making lamingtons for charity and being the ideal mother to their three children ends with that knot of hubby’s tie. The best $12.95 I ever spent.

My bedside book this month is Music at Midnight by John Drury, a biography of George Herbert with insightful comments on Herbert’s poems. This is a perfect introduction to a 17th century parson-poet whose verse has never gone out of fashion. An excellent companion-piece to this book would be Ronald Blythe’s Divine Landscapes, provided you can get hold of a second-hand copy. Incidentally, Vikram Seth now owns Herbert’s old rectory at Bemerton.   Sonia