Thursday, 7 March 2013

Reading is dead good

A few years ago, during a Philip Roth reading phase, his book Everyman appeared. Somehow I picked up that it would be one of his best, but avoided reviews, planning to reward myself with it after a particularly difficult period - the imminent death of my father. It was, as the Irish say, a good death though my ambition to make him read a novel before dying failed. He was widely read in poetry and non-fiction, especially history and biography, but saw novels as a waste of time. How did he know if, as claimed, he'd never read one? Standing over him with an Ian McEwan shouting "Repent!" did not work and he left the world unshriven, in a literary sense. On the train home from his death I pulled out Everyman to cheer myself up. Roth fans (or friends, who know all my stories as well as I do by now) will know that there could have been better choices as the novel focusses on a man in his fifties who has a heart attack on the way back from visiting his dying father.
I tried to read on, but started to have breathing difficulties and chest pains... Unfortunately the only other book in my bag was a new book on London cemeteries by Catharine Arnold, so the long train journey passed without reading.
I was keen to get home as we had a Five Leaves launch event that night, expected to be well attended. The publication was by Cathy Grindrod, a poetry collection called Still Breathing, a rather excellent set of poems being responses to... the death of her father. Cathy is a wonderful reader, but I can assure you I did not listen to a word.
The next day, calling in at my County Hall office (I was balancing being Nottinghamshire County Council's Literature Officer with running Five Leaves), a review copy of Matt Haig's latest novel  arrived in the post. One of the secretaries, Lu Blackband, was a big fan of Haig and I asked her if she wanted to borrow it and I'd read it after her. She blanched when she saw the title, which I had somehow overlooked in passing it straight to her - The Dead Father's Club.
Friends will know why this cameo came back to mind.

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