“It is a truth universally acknowledged that every rainy day requires a very good book”

I wish I wrote this sitting in the kitchen sink but I don’t, I write it upstairs and I write it staring out onto a grey and rain spotted day. The sky’s a smudge of sadness and the roofs are slat-dark with the rain that’s pounded on them since first thing this morning.

So what do we do on such days? We read. Books are made for rainy days; for days where the only thing that matters in the world is you and a blanket and a sofa and time, time, time to wallow and read and to lose yourself.

Here’s five of my favourite recommendations for such days.

1. Roland Barthes – “A Lover’s Discourse”

A dipping book this, one to pond-skim and then to dive in wholly and hold your breath until the text releases you. This is a book that reminds you of the quality and power that language can yield. It is a book of constant inspiration for me; a book for breathing, in and out, and realising just what words can do.

2. Frances Hodgson Burnett – “A Little Princess”

There is a part of me that could populate this list with just repeated references to this book. Rainy day reads are reads that should transport you, that should take you to other worlds and times and places, and do so quite ferociously and fiercely and vividly. The tale of Sara Crewe and her attic is that book.

3. Dodie Smith – “I Capture The Castle”

Grace, bold and lovely and heartfelt and awful, this book is full of grace and of heart and of romance and of love. Read it slowly, read it richly, read it slowly and selfishly and when you’ve finished reading it, read it again and remember how perfect a book can be.

4. Michelle Magorian – “A Little Love Song”

To talk of Michelle Magorian and her work, is to talk of a writer who is simply very very good. A Little Love Song is lesser known, I think, than ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ but it is, I think, better. Can books be better when they are all so good? I think so, yes, I think Rose and her seaside coming of age story is one of the most perfect books to ever dawn the world of children’s literature.

5. Susie Day – “Pea’s Book of Holidays”

A classic in the waiting, this series ; all of them are written so beautifully that I fall in love with them afresh each time I read. Day’s books and this one in particular sing of life and of warmth and of love and of people. What better to read on a rainy day than this book of sunshine and of humour and of Enid Blyton and of adventures and wish fulfillment in every sentence? These books are a constant, constant joy and ‘Pea’s Book of Holidays’ is a book that I am feverish with love for.

I Capture The Castle : Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleI Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are certain books which form the bedrock of British children’s literature. Tom’s Midnight Garden is one, Carrie’s War is another and I Capture The Castle is a third. Written by the great Dodie Smith (perhaps more well known for her books featuring dashing spotty dogs and evil ladies with amazing hair), I Capture The Castle is an oddly beautiful thing.

And oh, how it aches. The diary of Cassandra Mortmain (was this the beginnings of my obsession with this name? I think so, yes, maybe), is split into three different notebooks, and it is the story of her eccentric existence ( her richly English existence, too, living the very embodiment of ‘his home is his castle’) and her glorious life in the ruined castle she calls home.

It is, as I mentioned, a book which aches, for this is the time in Cassandra’s life where everything changes. She learns of a woman’s ‘power’; of what she and her sister can be, and how love is on the edge of their horizon. There are not many people that can write love so elegantly and eloquently as this. Adele Geras is one, KM Peyton is another, and Dodie Smith is a third.

I am suddenly intrigued about how I keep thinking of this book as a corner, as a bedrock of literature, of how I keep thinking of it as the brick in the wall of story. It is one of those stories which just is, so beautifully, it is. It is slow, rich, and far too swift in points, shifting from moments that I long to dwell on through to others that I’d rather pass. And it is confusing, and brave, and challenging and inconclusive; which is everything life is, it always is and will be.

I love this book. I love the fat, fat Sunday Lunch richness of it and the way it makes me long for a moat and a kitchen sink big enough to sit in. And I love how it proves that writing, that scratching words out onto a page (‘the squat pen rests / I’ll dig with it’) can find who and what you are so beautifully that there’s no point in ignoring it. We are, we are, we are.

We are living our story and whatever shape it takes, this is the way it has to be. Cassandra’s last, beautiful words sum that up so perfectly.

It is a sort of magic, this book.

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