Words! Books! Reading!

How do you read? Where do you read? What do you read?

I enjoy hearing about people’s reading habits. I spend a considerable amount of time each day, sitting in the quiet, reading. It is integral to my sense of well-being, of achievement, of curiosity, of crucial time spent just by myself. Books, a bit like walks, or favourite pencils, become like old friends. I rarely throw books away because I know that I will read them more than once. I use my local library but, more often than not, I will buy a book to add to my ever growing reference library that I use daily. For me, reading is a time to meditate. It quietens my thoughts. It is an enjoyable daily discipline in my life. To spend an evening sitting in silence, reading either fiction or a heavier academic tomb, or simply looking through images in exhibition catalogues, is something I can really look forward to at the end of a day. As a child I would often fall asleep whilst reading in bed, or have a torch hidden under my pillow so I could continue living inside a story long after the lights had gone out.

I have upstairs books and downstairs books. They never intermingle. My upstairs book pile is full of nature books, and fiction. They live within easy reach of my pillow, waiting to be delved into for a couple of hours each night before falling asleep. Sometimes I have two books on the go at once, and the stories become fused together in my memory years after I finish reading them. At the moment I am reading ‘December’ by Alexander Kluge with photographs by Gerhard Richter. This small but dark, heavy book makes me hesitate occasionally when I open it to read another of its short, succinct stories; snippets of moral tales which leave me feeling slightly unsettled, mirroring the disconcerting snow laden trees that illustrate the tale. In contrast I also have ‘Wildwood’ by Roger Deakin on the go. This feels more uplifting to read; a kind of history of trees, and our reliance upon and relationship with forests, woods, and individual giants. These stories are autobiographical, and have a sense of freedom and connection with nature.

My ‘downstairs books’ feel very serious at the moment! I make use of my Art library every day, and my growing collection of books on much admired artists is full of charcoal thumb prints, folded back pages and damaged spines. Books are used, not simply objects with which to adorn walls. To me, they are living, breathing things that, ever more so at the moment, feel like a lifeline to other artworks. Some books I look at weekly; for example exhibition catalogues of Peter Doig, Richard Diebenkorn, Mamma Andersson, William Kentridge. My book pile at the moment is full of more academic books, and the dictionary that is constantly next to me, to look up so many words I am unsure of. I never see this as a hindrance; I relish a word that is new to me! I read and research to find a context for my work, to place myself somewhere in between other artists and to find my own way.

In the evening, after a day of drawing, of reflecting, or of academic reading, the thought of sitting on the beach, or at home with a favourite author fills me with excitement and relief. Writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, with her unfaltering respect for nature, and strong yet empathetic female characters, Tove Jansson’s quiet stories that reflect the pale, harsh yet beautiful nature she was surrounded by, or Annie Proulx’s sometimes disturbing and vivid short stories that leave me feeling unsettled, and suspicious of the sparse, empty vistas she places her characters in, have as much impact on me as walking through a gallery does, or reading an art book.

Books are an important extension of my real world. They inform my views of the world, they shape who I am, how I feel, and what I want in my life. They are a window into my internal existence.