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Read Yourself Well

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Sat quietly reading and listening to the rain do its worst outside, while the stove does its best inside. We considered the idea of reading yourself into a better place, when things look a little stark or if we were feeling blue.

Jo and I have been consciously revisiting books we read in easier times and have found it to be a direct way to shift our focus back into a more positive place.

There are known benefits to reducing ‘screen time’. Perhaps less time spent wading across a spate of generally depressing news reports and more time indulging ourselves in our favourite texts is a way to stay well.

Research shows that regular reading:

• Improves brain connectivity • Increases your vocabulary and comprehension • Promotes empathy with other people • Aids in sleep readiness • Reduces stress • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate • Fights depression symptoms • Prevents cognitive decline as you age

My chosen books are currently one about the relationship between Ancient Greece and Rome and a book called ‘Mani’ by Paddy Leigh Fermor. They both send me straight back to a sailing trip we took around the Greek islands before the borders of our own islands were restricted.

I remember reading somewhere that a person who reads lives more than one life.

We can perhaps gain from the experience of others without leaving the houses we currently find ourselves confined to. Reading can be a way to escape, have an adventure or to learn something new.

I’ve found when times are difficult you can ‘kindle’ (sorry) another part of yourself that needs nourishment with a well-chosen text, similar to ‘what would you like for supper?’

In the 90’s (when ‘Britpop’ was at its height) and I began touring for extended periods, books became a safe place to retreat to when things started to become unhinged, as they often did.

I was touring across America on a sleeper bus with the band ‘Black Grape’ when 24 hour drives were not unusual. We had a Texan bus driver who carried a pistol. His name has escaped me but I’d learnt whilst travelling, to call anyone with a gun ‘Sir’ (they seem to like it and I hoped happy people were less likely to resort to gunplay when situations or translations went wrong).

At the time I was reading the Tao Te Ching and its evocations of acceptance and ‘bending in the wind’ so as not to break and ‘flowing around rocks’. The pages were lifesaving. Or so it felt, to a twenty-something who had spent his adolescence aching to tour with a band, only to find the reality was some distance from the idea of having ’made it’. To unpack specific events would take a long lunch… but the words ‘legal implication’ are a reminder to ‘flow around that rock’.

Books have continued to be my companion as I’ve travelled the world. Long waits at airports, solitary lunches all made more bearable by the written word.

However the C-19 pandemic has impacted us, whether it’s the loss of contact with loved ones, travel or socialising, the ability to work, the list is endless. Loss, of some kind is our shared experience and we must find ways to fill in those gaps.

A well-known trope is that the anticipation of anything that makes us happy can often be sweeter than the realisation of it. Although in present circumstances I’m sure when we do meet up again, there will be few feelings of anti-climax… only joy, relief, and gratitude.

Until then, phone off, fire on and lose yourself in a book…

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