I was ill recently. Not anything life-threatening, but enough to put me down and keep me there, to change the world and leave me out of it.
Stuck in the house, in bed, I felt as though I were living in a parallel world and nothing I usually did seemed to make sense. I wondered how everyone else could carry on, shouting and running about, when I was aching so much and felt so useless. I couldn´t believe how much I´d taken my good health for granted.
When I couldn´t sleep I reached for the books I´d been reading up to that day and rejected them. They were for when I was well. No, I needed something different. Some comfort reading, perhaps, but not necessarily an easy read. Just a dependable one. An old friend.
This time I reached for Paul Theroux´s book about travelling the shores of the Mediterranean, The Pillars of Hercules. I have all of Theroux´s travel books on a special shelf at home, close at hand, in battered old copies which have criss-crossed the world and relationships with me.
I don´t know what it is about these books, why they comfort me, but I think it has something to do with the time I suffered a shocking bereavement, over ten years ago now. Nobody could console me then, no words or drink or actions: nothing but reading. That time it was The Happy Isles of Oceana, by Theroux, and I still have the same copy that I buried myself in, or swam in, or canoed in, all those years back. That book got me through a vile time.
I´m not sure about other people – about you, because I´d love to know if you have books like these – but these special books which we keep with us, keep handy, fall into a different class than the ones we think are great or odd. These are like mementoes, like gateways to times past in more ways than one. They are good, old friends, always the same and always different each time we meet them.
Now, getting better, I salute them.