(Yes, there are good arguments for filling those hours back up with DIY. Or housework. Or cooking fancy meals. And occasionally I do those things. But, temporarily at least, sanity dictated a break).
Anyway, back to reading. I've been eating my tea, sometimes doing the washing up (and sometimes leaving it to the morning, when I curse myself for not doing it the night before), and then curling up on the sofa with a book. Autumn evenings do that to me sometimes - I think I'm trying to avoid thinking too hard about the nights drawing in, and outdoor adventures after tea being a thing of the past for the next few months.
So, this month, I've been reading...
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Barbara Ehrenreich)
This book was published in 2002 so is getting on a bit now, and I picked it up second hand (I'm not even sure why I'm telling you that - it's very rare for me to buy a book new). The author is a journalist, and this is her account of trying to find out how people actually manage to survive in low paid jobs in America. The answer, unsurprisingly, is that they barely do - people often need two jobs and even then end up in all kinds of inadequate living situations with nothing left over for the smallest emergency. Depressing.
Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain (Polly Toynbee)
I picked this book up at the same time as the last one, and it's equally depressing. Published a year later, in 2003, it's another journalist's account of living on one of the worst council estates in Britain, and taking whatever minimum wage job she could get. It doesn't contain anything surprising if you've ever done a minimum wage job yourself, but I think what distressed me the most was the sheer disregard for people's time. The author regularly turned up for interviews for jobs that didn't exist, or had meetings cancelled right at the last minute, forms needed to be taking by hand, during the day, right across town, for jobs which then turned out to be 'speculative'. The most basic equipment (like latex gloves in a care home) was often missing, making a difficult job even harder, often for the sake of someone higher up being miserly over a small amount of money. You can read the first chapter here.
If This Is A Man, and The Truce (Primo Levi)
Continuing this month's non-deliberate gloomy theme, I made a start on this account of the author's year in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and his months-long journey home after it was liberated in 1945. Primo Levi is one of those writers I'd heard of, but never read anything by, although I always had a niggling sense that I should have done. A few weeks ago I caught a few episodes of The Periodic Table (another one of his books) when it was serialised on Radio 4, and I was intrigued by mentions of his experiences, so when I spotted this in a charity shop, I picked it up. It's compelling, all the more so for the lack of too much emotion. It's just an account of the day to day life inside a concentration camp, with details that had never even occured to me - how he learned where to stand in the queue so as not to get the watery soup from the top of the pan, but not be so far back that it ran out before he reached the front. How a complex system of bartering sprung up between the prisoners (and occasional civilian outsiders). What it feels like to be slowly starved, and how to retain a sense of who you are, almost impossible in such a place. The vexation of having to do hours of hard labour in mismatched shoes. It's well written and both easy and very difficult to read, and I'd highly recommend it.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Rebecca Solnit)
Slightly more cheerful this time - this is a book I started way back in August and have yet to finish. In some ways it's an fairly interesting account of different forms of walking (pilgrimage, trekking across the wilderness, wandering through the city) - a topic which I'm predisposed to be interested in - but I confess it's just not capturing my imagination, and the only time I'm still reading it is when I've left my other book downstairs and it's the only thing left by the bed.
Vinland (George Mackay Brown)
I love George Mackay Brown. I was first introduced to him by my auntie (introducer of many good books), who bought me a copy of his autobiography one year. That book was the reason I first went to Orkney, and his other books contributed to me falling head over heels for the place and going back year after year after year. This book isn't my favourite (although now I say that, I don't know what is), but I came across three of his books in a charity shop this week and acquired a couple of them for my auntie (she already had the other one). I already have a copy, but it's packed away in a box in the cellar, and not been read for a good long time, so it was a pleasure to lose myself in this one for a while. I don't know what it is about these books, I'm really not that interested in Vikings and sea voyages on the whole, but there's just something about the writing that gets me every time. I'll have to sneakily read the second book before I pass it on.
So there we are. A motley, not-awfully-cheerful month of reading. I really must try for something more upbeat next month. It's funny, I've never really taken people's recommendations for books to read as I'm an odd mix between 'quite fussy/hard to please' and 'I'll read anything that's in front of me'. Mostly I read whatever takes my fancy in a charity shop or the library on any given day, which is why sometimes I have a bit of a theme for a while, and sometimes I dot about all over the place.
It's been good to keep track over these last few weeks - wonder what I'll end up with next?