Of Birds and Butterflies, Books and Differences! - Pauline Chandler

Do you love birds? I wouldn't have one as a pet in a cage, but I love to see them in the garden, especially finches. They're like bright little jewels.

Recently, I was struck by how different birds pick out different foods. Usually we fill up the feeders with sunflower hearts, to the delight of the finches. Then, one morning, we put out a pile of stale bread, pulled into chunks. The finches weren’t the least bit interested, but a great flock of jackdaws came down and took the bread away, every last scrap, within a couple of minutes, like pro burglars on an easy-peasy heist, in and out, roundabout, thank you very much. They left a most confused squirrel, frozen, beneath the bird table, eyes lifted to the skies and a speech bubble issuing from its mouth: ‘Wha.at? Wha.at? Wha.at sort of a cheese sandwich was that?’ (Love that ad!)
Put that bread back or else!

There ain't room in this town for both of us..

Did you know that butterfly larva eat their own special plants? No, neither did I, until I read about it in the paper this week. 

For instance, 
the Grizzled Skipper lives on agrimony 

 the Brimstone on buckthorn 

and the Fritillaries on dog-violets

It’s all very specific, which makes it easy to see why some butterflies are at risk, when their food plants are decimated.

But to the point of this post: all my reading life I’ve had a worry at the back of my mind about reading the 'right' books. Maybe this was planted in my school days when we had lists of ‘suitable’ books to read, to prove that we were well-educated.

As a teacher, I’ve often been asked by anxious parents and students what books to read, in preparation for exams or university entrance, in other words, what to read to impress.

Look, I’d like to state publicly now, that, in spite of having spent my working life as an English teacher and writer, that I have not read War and Peace, Proust or Ulysses. Nor have I read the complete works of Dickens, Thomas Hardy or Shakespeare. I’ve read some of each, of course.  Yet, always at the back of my mind, was this prodding anxiety: ‘You should know it all…you should have read more…learned more’.

What codswallop! It’s only now in my sixth decade, that I'm able to take a step back from the rush of a working life and see things in a more balanced way.  

We are all different, with different appetites for different food plants and different books. 
I used to be disappointed when friends hated the books I loved and confused when I just couldn’t see what the critics were raving about in the bestsellers. Now, I know it doesn’t matter a jot. 

We’re all different. I have a catholic taste in books and read all sorts from murder mysteries to humour to biography, to historical fiction to ‘how to’ books. I like what I like. (Look, I just wouldn't admit that to everyone. (And, no, I haven't read '50 Shades of Grey'.) 

Currently reading:

Kate Atkinson : Life After Life, which is beautifully written, in an almost spoofy way, verging on caricature at times, considering the subject matter. (Is that the point? I still haven’t quite squashed that worm of doubt in my own judgement). The book’s incredibly dispiriting, though. Just when you’re in love with the characters, they pop their clogs! It’s upsetting me no end. Superb writing though, so I’ll persevere.

Just read:

Marc Levy: The Children of Freedom, a gut-wrenching account of resistance fighters during Hitler’s occupation of France. Absolutely rivetting.

Pauline Chandler
September 21st 2014


Brian said…
I agree with most of this post, but would like to add a puff for one particular book.
When I reached 35 (some time ago now...) 'intimations of mortality' began to haunt my days. The thought occurred: 'I can't die without having read War and Peace - the great novel.' So I bought the paperback of the first half of this monumental tome, and prepared to suffer.
Three months later I emerged, with great reluctance, from Tolstoy's wonderful world. Towards the end I was reading less and less every day in a desperate effort to extend the pleasure.
What had started off with what I thought would be the kind of battle that I had lost with Proust, had almost immediately plunged me into that wonderful world that only a good book can conjure. The driving narrative, the fascinating characters all kept me carrying the book - and then the second volume - around with me all day so that I could fit in some precious moments wherever I was. I soon learnt there were rather boring philosophical 'bits' at the end of some chapters and would skip lightly over them. Enthusing to long-suffering friends I would gush: 'It's more like Dallas' (it WAS the 70s after all') 'than a worthy novel!!'
So I urge you, don't wait for 'intimations of mortality' to scare you - read it NOW, don't delay your gratification!
Ah, how wonderful! Of course, I knew there had to be something about War and Peace that would engage me. Too many people, whose opinions I value, have said so. But do I have the time! Three months! Brian! I'm even busier and time-poor now than ever. I might take it with me on my hols, some time, but somehow I might have to pass on Tolstoy's masterpiece. Lovely to hear your comments though. I'll certainly encourage others to read it. Not sure I would say the same about Ulysses.
Brian said…
I was running a theatre at the time - an 11 hour a day job, six days a week, plus the odd Sunday. That's why it took so long. You could do it! I know this might be anathema to you, but these days I do almost all my reading on Kindle on my phone while suffering those long journeys on the Tube. I had given up reading novels, except at Christmas, when my family would give me book vouchers. My pension didn't allow of buying books otherwise. Amazon and Kindle (the app, can't afford an actual Kindle) have reinvigorated my reading life. I wrote a book on acting a couple of years ago and one of my ex-students said he had read the whole thing on his phone. I asked, ungenerously whether he had gone blind. He showed me how to enlarge the text. Liberation!! I have subsequent been able to buy and read nearly 60 books in the last year (almost back to the days of my pre-TV youth when I read at least five books a week and lived in the library). So you can tell which side of the pro/anti Amazon divide I'm on...
Sitting on a rowdy Tube and being able to disappear into the world of Jane Austen for 20mins is bliss.
I lasted approx two pages into Ulysses...
Mm..I must admit, I'm tempted. Thanks, Brian.
glitter noir said…
Pauline, only you could write a post about birds that isn't *for* the birds. Delightful. And, yes, I guess it's time for me, too, to read War and Peace.
Thanks, Reb! Now I have to read W&P. Heck! I'll get my pencil and notebook ready to make some sense of all those Russian names!
Lydia Bennet said…
reading is for pleasure after all, and we can't read everything and still DO anything much less write anything! big fan of birds too, I put out all kinds of food for them and watch them watching me watching them as they scoff it.
Susan Price said…
Brian - we are the Authors Electric! Reading on a Kindle is anything but anathema to us! - My experience of e-books and, indeed, War & Peace is like yours. Approached both with caution, expecting to be disappointed - but fell in love with both almost immediately. W&P is, truly, a hugely entertaining read.

And no one could part me from either my word processor or my Kindle.
madwippitt said…
My W&P still sits, spine barely creased, on a shelf. I start, I stop. It's the size of the thing (and I LIKE big fat books) with it's tiny print. But of course! On a Kindle it's not a problem. Doh!
CarolS said…
I read Ulysses in a group. It was marvellous, important too. I really got it. And then went to Dublin for Bloomsday - where people know it by heart! It is both life changing and a romp. And I'd read it again. With guides, just not this year.
Ooh, CarolS, perhaps I am missing something by not reading Ulysses. Don't you think it's a shame that it's unreadable without a guide though? Surely writers have to reach out to readers using a common language.. Maybe that's a discussion for another day though!
CarolS said…
But think how you read poetry, perhaps wearing a slightly different hat?

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