I've blogged before about this series of books (https://www.reloten.com/post/back-to-the-beginning-part-2) and its author (https://www.reloten.com/post/writing-a-picture-how-the-themes-style-of-susan-cooper-and-kate-mosse-have-influenced-my-writing) so will endeavour not re-cover old ground in this post. Instead, I want to talk about a different aspect of this particular book.
A number of years ago, I stumbled across something online that had the hashtag #thedarkisreading and it was close enough to the book title I loved to pique my interest. In doing so, I discovered a whole community of people who love these books as much as I do. I also (re)introduced the books and the Facebook page to several friends and we spent December of a few years ago reading the book in real-time together, laughing about the fact that we were all becoming impatient and were reading other books in the series at the same time. It created a real sense of sharing something between us and it's this I want to focus on.
In late spring last year I was approaching 40 and I suppose I was taking stock a little bit. My youngest son had started pre-school, I was partway through the first module of my MA and I was beginning to do things that were for me - things that were purely for pleasure rather than with some end goal in sight. One of the things I did was to join a local reading group. I'd seen it advertised when it was first set up, but having a very small and very clingy child who didn't like bedtime and who left me with little energy to read anything new had meant that I'd dismissed it as one of the many things I'd love to do but didn't have time for. However, the amount of reading I was getting through for the course and the struggles I was having in trying to get myself out of the reading rut I'd fallen into (1920s female detective stories) convinced me that now was the time to join.
This was a huge step. I actually find putting myself into new situations incredibly stressful and I have to force myself to do it because I'm naturally a bit of a hermit. I don't find it easy to make friends and stress over the smallest 'errors' I think I've made when talking to people. However, none of this manifests itself externally the way it does in my head. I either go into 'listener' mode (where I say very little and then worry that I've come across as stand-offish) or 'gabble' mode (where I don't stop talking and the voice inside my head is screaming at me to shut up). Then I have to remember which mode I've been in so that the next time I meet them I can try to do the opposite so they don't think I'm a complete lunatic! Thankfully the book group I joined accepted me and my freakish devotion to books just as I am. They gently rib me about how passionate I get about all things book and writing related and take me for who I am. Over the course of lockdown we've all been in daily contact on our WhatsApp group and they've been there to bolster me when I've had a meltdown over my parenting abilities, or when I've struggled with homeschooling, or with the offer of a spare room when I've simply wailed about the lack of peace in my own house and I've been trying to work. These ladies have been my rock over the last four months and we've continued our bi-monthly meetings via Zoom. We still can't meet in person, but I can't wait to see them all again in the flesh soon.
Reading is something that brings people together in a way that nothing else does. Just having read the same book as someone else can bring hours of discussion, whether you have the same opinion on its merits or totally opposing ones. I know that some of you who have been reading these blogs have bought books as a result of the posts I've written about them and I'm genuinely delighted - not just because it means that someone is reading what I write - because I really hope you get as much pleasure out of them as I have. I get a real kick out of it when someone reads something I've recommended and loves it.
To return to the book though - I joined #thedarkisreading community on Facebook and along with many others re-read The Dark Is Rising every December/January in real-time, but the page is active all year round and we share news about Susan Cooper or thoughts on the books and things related to them. Sometimes this is in the form of recommendations for university courses, sometimes it's things people have made or bought that have been inspired by the series, occasionally it's other books they have read that are in a similar vein to this series.
When I posted a picture of something I'd created, it got almost as many likes and nice comments as it did when I posted some official artwork I'd found for the study. It's a group of people who are drawn together through their shared love of the books and politics, real life and everything else is left in the real world.
And actually, that's the beauty of a good book, isn't it? A well-written book can transport you anywhere in the world at any point in time. In the last few weeks, I've been to Pittsburgh in the 1980s, Egypt in the 1930s, all over England during the reign of Edward III and Richard II and I'm about to embark on a trip to post-war America and 1970s Dublin. My husband hates in when I find a good book because I get so engrossed in it that the real world ceases to exist for the time I'm reading. He wants to discuss shopping lists while I'm holding back tears when Katherine Swynford is 'abandoned' by John of Gaunt. He's in the car, but I'm in Pontefract Castle in 1381. He can talk as loud as he likes, but I don't hear him. He's never quite convinced that I'm not just ignoring him, but I honestly am so involved in the story that I become deaf to everything around me. It's like the book places noise cancelling headphones over my ears.
I can't remember the last time I didn't have a book on the go - as soon as I finish one, I start the next one. They are a refuge when life gets tough, a comfort blanket or a reminder that actually my life isn't so difficult at all and other people have gone through the same troubles I am and survived to tell the tale. Many books become like old friends - the ones you return to when you're in need of something only they can provide, whether it's a laugh to cheer you up or an excuse to release the tears and they NEVER let you down.