One in twenty

One way or another, a newly-acquired book or two must come into the house most weeks. So in a year, that’s much more than a shelf’s worth. After a few years, even with occasional donations of books to Oxfam, there are far too many books in piles around the place, on furniture, on the floor, slotted in randomly here and then. So there comes that time again when Something Must Be Done. Perhaps one in twenty really needs to go. And this time, everything ought to be taken off shelves and dusted down …

So that was a week’s worth of mornings, just for the books at one end of the living room. “Will we ever read this again?”, “Good lord, I’d quite forgotten we had a copy of that”, “Do you remember finding that book in …?”, “Oh, it is more than time to reread …”, “Oops, we seem to have bought two copies of …”, “Hold on a moment, let me just remind myself what this is about …”, “Do you remember that exhibition …?”. And so it goes. It all takes time. But job done, and the shelves look a lot tidier. Bags of books line the hall waiting to be distributed to charity shops. Not one in twenty of course. But enough.

A recent report of research from Imperial College indicated that one in twenty are affected by, as it were, Very Long Covid, with symptoms lasting even a year. I seem to be in the unlucky group. Over six months on from catching Covid on a lovely trip to Perugia, I’m still getting chest discomfort and fatigue, of a pretty annoying kind. So, some days, a morning’s book clearing is stupidly tiring. Not much writing then gets done on matters categorial …

But I can read. What has been particularly enjoyable in the last few weeks? I don’t think I can put it better than this, from the blurb: “In Thunderclap, Laura Cumming reveals her passion for the art of the Dutch Golden Age and her determination to lift up the reputation of Fabritius. She reveals the Netherlands, where – wandering the narrow streets of Amsterdam, driving across the flatlands, or pausing at a quiet waterfront – she encounters the rich reality behind the shining beauty of Vermeer and Rembrandt, Hals and de Hooch. She shares too her relationship with her father, the Scottish artist James Cumming, who had his own deep connection to Dutch painting, and who taught her about colour, light and the rewards of looking deeply. This is a book about what a picture may come to mean: how it can enter your life and change your thinking in a thunderclap, a sudden clarity of sight. This is also a book about the precariousness of human life – the way it may be snatched from us in an instant. What can art do to sustain us? The work that survives tells its own compelling story in these pages.” I thought in advance that that must be over-selling the book! But I did find it hugely engaging. Especially when read with iPad to hand, to find reproductions of more of the paintings Laura Cumming mentions. Warmly recommended. Thunderclap stands out among books I’ve read recently — one in twenty, perhaps.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top