When I first arrived in Cape Town last October, before me lay 9 months of free time. Endless. Inviting. Luxurious. To get me to Cape Town with the 24 hours of travel, I knew all I needed was a book – but a good one. It was A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Arriving on a Tuesday afternoon, I hadn’t quite finished it, but quickly forgot about the story within as I had my own story to live – indulging completely in every sense of my two boys whom I had missed so desperately over the past months spent apart.
However, the next morning we took Niles to school and Chuck went to work. And before me lay 9 months of free time. So I found my book, made a cup of tea, went in the backyard and sat in a Cape Town winter sun shine and read. And read. And read … for most the rest of the day. Interspersed with making a couple more cups of tea and a batch of cookies and soaking up the sounds and warmth of the garden, was the realization that I could spend every day like this through June. Endless.
When that good book was done, I went inside and soaked up the benefit of living in the house of people who love books. With shelves of paperbacks throughout the rooms and titles – both recognizable and new – calling my attention, I feasted with my fingers on the smooth covers of 100 and 100s of books throughout the house, noting which I had to consume immediately, which I ‘should’ read and which told a story just in their organization on the bookshelf.
I caught myself making mental notes on the process through which I would ‘attack them’- and then lovingly made a mental correction, allowing myself to enjoy the spaciousness they invited. No need to plan. No need to justify. No need to organize. Plenty of time to peruse and choose and go with what comes next. Inviting.
As months passed and I allowed life to take over (as I always do even when living in a time and place where I have no life to take me over), the long days of endless reading opportunity transitioned to settling into routine while navigating a new place and accomplishing daily to-do’s as well as adventure to-do’s. Suddenly, I was looking forward to reading in the car while waiting for Niles at school or during the precious hour of his saxophone lesson. Occasionally I steal away to a café with just a book. And sometimes I even go out into the back garden and sit for … just a bit. It is in these moments that I interrupt the day, anchor my restlessness, and simply read.
It’s not surprising the first thing on my list was to read books – and 50 was an easy goal. I probably reached that half way through 47. But it is in recent months that I have moved beyond the lust of reading out of the hunger to know, to be transformed, entertained, or to escape… to find the luxury of reading to create spaciousness in life. Reading all afternoon in the backyard in the warmth of the sunshine with a freshly made cup of tea while anticipating loved ones coming home – that’s what reading will be for me now, wherever and whenever it occurs. Being lost in a book as part of everyday of life. Luxury.
Lesson One: Reading makes every day a vacation
It is true, however, that it’s best to pack well for a vacation. Can we collectively pack a bag of 50 fabulous reads? Here are my 5 for the day:
1. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Memoir of a crazy English alcoholic mother with tremendous charisma and related life growing up during the last vestiges of colonial Africa.
2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Wonderfully recommended to me by Ann Ostwald as Jesuits in space. Fabulous. It gets rough, but lots to think about.
3. The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Easy reading on still relevant stuff and I could even now tell you about derivative trading …. maybe. I can definitely explain the housing- mortgage crisis.
4. Let My People Go: The Autobiography of Albert Luthuli, Nobel Peach Prize Winner, is the story of South Africa’s recent past through the eyes of a humble teacher turned leader who died in 1967 long before the change he envisioned came to pass.
5. An Instant in the Wind by Andre Brink, South African writer who was banned in the 70’s for using the government language of Afrikaans to write against apartheid. Based on a collection of journals, chronicles the story of a runaway slave and white woman lost in the hinterland of 1750 South Africa, who rely on one another to make it back to the “civilization” of the Cape – but why?
Here is our collective list made over the course of a month with contributions from women all around the world: