Some Thoughts Collected After The Reader Organisation Conference

I am alarmed at how little time I have for the sustained-beyond-seconds-thinking I need to write – at least to write in public. I have made time for reading by getting up earlier and reading in the bath, but if I am to keep this blog alive (yes, it feels like having taken on a tamagotchi) I must find another time space in which to write. This last couple of weeks that has been hard, with The Reader Conference to prepare for and enjoy, and this last week, speaking at the Independent Booksellers Conference, and at Children’s Books Ireland.

For more on the Reader Conference and Marilynne Robinson and Maryanne Wolf – see our blog at

Meanwhile I attach a picture of those two wonderful women and my self looking at at a video clip of Marilynne’s four year old grandaughter dancing in an empty ballroom. Kvelling, a yiddish word I learned from my father-in-law, means a delightful and joyous pride in one’s offspring… here you see kvelling and transferred-kvelling.

The Cloud of Unknowing

I am re-reading The Cloud of Unknowing for the first time in more than 20 years, and because without a lot of re-reading my memory is poor, for me this is like reading for the first time… I am touched by the opening, in which the anonymous author addresses me, in his first line, as ‘Ghostly friend in God’.

I am reading on a Kindle and in the back of my mind is the thought that books are thought transference. Or perhaps not books but writing? And yet, yesterday I saw John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury talking about their co-produced book There’s Going To Be A Baby and I bought a copy of that lovely book on the basis of being moved by some of Helen’s deeply telling pictures. Are pictures a kind of language? Joseph Gold (The Story Species) would say no, only language is language; there is no language of music, no language of architecture.

Now here is this man, writing in 1375 or thereabouts, addressing me directly across 700 years and our two very different lives and lifetimes. To him I am ‘ghostly’ and to me, he certainly is. Is that an accident of language? Does ghostly mean something else to him? Probably – I remember Chaucer’s poem Truth, ‘hold the high way and let thy ghost thee lead’, where the word ghost means spirit, as in soul, inner sense.

But if that is the case, then the author of The Cloud has perhaps anticipated my thought even more than I realised. For isn’t he then addressing the essence of me? And as the writing is to its content, so I am to my body. You can’t separate them, but they are not the same. The one carries, is animated by, the other.

Other recent reading:

Legend of a Suicide, David Vann – of which more later

And re-reading:

Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf

Gilead, Home and Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Big Society, Jesse Norman

Praises, Elizabeth Jennings

Collected Works, Robert Herrick

The Oxford Book of English Poetry

‘Miracle on St David’s Day’, Gillian Clarke

‘And yet the books’, Csezlaw Milosz

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