When I'm stressed and/or depressed and/or panic stricken with the horrors of daily existence I find it easy enough to work, because it's mechanical and forces me to concentrate on something outside of myself.
But I find it incredibly difficult to read.
Reading has always been my succour. It is my pleasure and my relief and an escape from the world that has always had far more impact for me than TV, films or, let's face it, people. So to not be able to read is painful and unhelpful and marks times that are Not Good.
For the past few months I have barely touched a book.
Just lately I have found the urge to read returning. I just needed something that my restless mind wanted to get into. I have picked up and started about 10 books over the last few days, everything ranging from Agatha Christie to stories of vampires. And I haven't been able to settle on anything.
The feeling of not being able to read is something I find incredibly disconcerting. It feels like I'm not me. Like my mind is skittering around in my head like a particularly unpleasant scuttling insect. Chasing my rotten thoughts around and around and around until they're tangled into a knot of filth in my brain and all that is left to do is to keep working in the hope that it'll untangle itself somehow.
And then a book will catch my attention and break the darkness and I'll be able to read again. It feels like I'm giving my brain a bath, followed by a nice massage. It's relief. Like drinking water in the desert.
I found one yesterday. From watching Pointless, which, by the way, is one of the best programmes on TV ever. It's a book called Trilby by George du Maurier. I knew of him as the grandfather of Daphne, and I knew he'd written some stuff. But I didn't realise he'd written the book that introduced a character everyone has heard of - Svengali.
And I didn't realise it would prove to be just my thing. Gaston Leroux based Phantom of the Opera on it, a hat was bloody named after it, it's about artists in 19th century Paris and mesmerism and death and grief and lost love and, ohhhhhhhh, basically everything I like in a novel.
So popular and wide reaching was this book that 'svengali' is commonly used to describe a manipulative git who manages to somehow make people do what he wants, for his own nefarious purposes. In the book Svengali is Jewish, very much in the manner of Fagin. All dirty, unkempt and grasping. Very much the Victorian stereotype. But we'll gloss over that (and actually du Maurier makes a point of talking about how we all have such mixed blood that we're all the same, which I feel redeems it somewhat, but then I'm not very au fait with being politically correct and that).
Last night I read over half of it and felt like my brain came back from the dead.
Next on my list is Moby Dick. I've been feeling distinctly Captain Ahab like lately.