I have and always will be a total ‘bah humbug’ when it comes to snow. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, never mind play it in. As a nation, we were updated continually on the advancement and impending implosion of the Beast from the East. Forewarned is forearmed, and so I sensibly prepared myself for the unavoidable Baltic conditions. It wasn’t a complicated military operation by any means, but it did require a certain amount of planning. I had my boiler serviced, panic bought an emergency supply of milk chocolate hobnobs and dragged my body and my duvet to my sofa along with a pile of books. Operation “snowed in” was successfully completed without a hitch. The Beast arrived. The world stopped. Others appeared to be more than happy sledging and throwing snowballs. I lay down and read. Bliss.
Every time I pick up a new book, I know that I am going on an adventure. One that I may or may not enjoy. I could be taken to a different country, a different place in time or a fantasy world. I may find myself inside the head of a murderer, a drug lord or a dying man. I can laugh, I can cry or on occasion, I can be haunted by what I have read. The journey of turning each page and being led safely into the unknown as the story and the characters unfold, is for me, the joy of reading.
Even though the snow caused travel chaos, I still managed to travel quite a lot without setting foot inside an airport or indeed a time machine. First stop Northern Iceland in 1829 and the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a servant woman in her thirties accused of a brutal murder. There being no prisons in Iceland at that time, the condemned woman is sent to work for a local family on a remote farm, to await her fate. Hannah Kent’s, Burial Rites is as bleak as it is beautiful, and chillingly based on a true story.
From Iceland, I found myself in Russia where I had the good fortune to meet (and fall in love with) a man of true honour, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. Amor Towles’, A Gentleman in Moscow is, without doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. It is 1922 and the Count has been deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik court. Instead of an all expenses paid trip to Siberia, he is put under house arrest in the grand Metropole hotel on Red Square, conveniently located opposite the Kremlin. I eeked out the last one hundred pages of this six hundred page book, wishing there could be six hundred more. The strapline for the novel is “he can’t leave, you won’t want to,” That pretty much sums up this delightful read.
From Moscow, I let Rohinton Mistry’s, A Fine Balance, take me to India in 1975 and story of two tailors, a widow and a student. These four characters get thrown together during the political unrest and human rights violations of Indira Gandhi’s, Emergency. An incredible, but traumatic story, I couldn’t help but become attached to the four protagonists, and emotionally invested in their fate. By the end I was sobbing, really, really sobbing and totally humbled. Yet again reminded of the priceless value of family and friendship, and just how incredibly lucky I am.
By the time I had gathered enough literary air miles, to fly around the world and back, the snow had melted (for the second time). I clocked a few subtle clues that spring could be on its way. The temperature hitting a scorching five degrees was one, and Easter eggs dominating every supermarket, another. If like me, this endless winter is really starting to get you down and you feel a desperate need to escape, pick up a book, grab a packet of hobnobs, and curl up on your sofa. Reading really can take you anywhere.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” —Dr. Seus