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Book doctors and reading remedies

Medicine spoon

The last three books I’ve read have all had mighty themes. My soul is creaking under their weight. No need to worry though. There is a book for every mood, a reading cure for every ill.

I’d like to have my own personal book doctor: a librarian in a white coat. She’d take my pulse and peer at my tongue. Then she’d pick up her pencil and scribble out a wonderful prescription:

“Hot baths and Armistead Maupin for a week.”

“Nothing but PG Wodehouse till your symptoms subside.”

“Gorged yourself on Jane Austen? A dose of Emily Dickinson for you!”

Right now, I’m looking for a literary potion to delight my mind and soothe my soul: like that cherry red syrup that used to gloop on the spoon. What would you prescribe?

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The particular sadness of lemon cake by Aimee BenderWhat if you could taste the emotions of the person who made your food?

A few days before her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into a piece of chocolate lemon cake and tastes her cheery mother’s despair. It is a gift she doesn’t want and she can’t make it go away. Every meal is a minefield. The novel follows Rose through adolescence as she unravels feelings her family can’t express and slowly comes to terms with her extraordinary palate.

Beautiful, truthful and weird. I ate the whole book in two sittings.5 stars

Sydney Smith on book reviews

“I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.”

Sydney Smith (1771-1845) quoted by Hesketh Pearson in The Smith of Smiths.

Sea haiku madness at THE IRON AGE festival

Stormy Sea at Cullercoats by John Falconar Slater, North Tyneside Council Art Collection

Stormy Sea at Cullercoats by John Falconar Slater, North Tyneside Council Art Collection

On Saturday I set sail on the squally seas in a Cullercoats fishing boat. I sit in my warm study, contemplating the weather. Wind whips round the yard, rattling the chains of the hanging baskets. Rain lashes the window. This trip is going to be more of an adventure than I’d reckoned.

The trip is the brainchild of publisher Peter Mortimer, founding editor of IRON Press, now celebrating its 40th anniversary at THE IRON AGE festival, Cullercoats (15-19 May).

Sold as ‘sea haiku’, the lure of boat trip plus haiku workshop was too strong to resist. The promise of a fish and chip dinner sealed the deal.

Fish and chips firmly in mind, I am psyching myself up for wind and water. I shan’t be alone. There’ll be six poets per sailing, under the eye of seasoned fisherman John Stock.

What is the collective noun for poets? A brooding? A kerfuffle? A groan? The local News Guardian dubbed us ‘his strangest cargo’. Probably right.

I’ll be ready. I’m hunting down my waterproofs and swotting up on haiku. The Iron Book of British Haiku offers a lucid introduction to the form and includes my favourite haiku by Seamus Heaney. To say so much, so simply, and to say it all in the spaces between words. Now that’s something I want to do…

Join IRON Press alumni Melvyn Bragg, David Almond, Ian McMillan – and many more – for 5 days of words, music, sea, sand, snooker, fish and chips at THE IRON AGE Festival (Cullercoats, Wed 15 – Sun 19 May). 

Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle

Stillness speaks by Eckhart Tolle

I overdid it this winter. Hunkered down. Feasted. Forgot to move.

A whiff of spring and I’m waking up. My body craves soup, my heart, simple nourishment. No doorstep sandwiches or difficult novels for me. I’m writing haiku and reading slim books by spiritual masters.

Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle is such a book. It is wholesome and easy to digest. Short meditations, arranged by theme, carry you effortlessly into wordless calm.

No need to read it from cover to cover. It’s a book to dip into. How delightful. I leave you with a quote:

“The present moment is as it is. Always. Can you let it be?”

(Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks)


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