Over the last 18 months or so, one word has figured heavily in the press, on television screens and in social commentary generally – and that word is recession. Who would have even thought to have put together the words ‘credit’ and ‘crunch’ two or three years back? Now it seems strange to prise them apart. Yet the dark clouds of recession may be dissipating to allow a glimmer of light to creep through – in the UK at least, the economic downturn is reversing ever so slightly in the other direction. Across the pond, a poll has revealed that books have been a form of somewhat necessary relief for American citizens in the face of economic adversity; book-buying came out on top of a list of ‘top indulgences’ for US adults during the recession, with three quarters of correspondents prizing books over fine dining, retail therapy or cinema going.
Though I can’t admit to indulging too much in the luxury of buying books myself – being on rather a tight budget, my cost-me-nothing library card is a best friend – it’s really heartening to find that a considerable amount of people are turning to, and indeed turning the pages of books while recession bites. I hope the book love continues as the slow, steady recovery happens. Those behind the poll commented upon how it indicated “a shift back to life’s simplest pleasures” and I think that’s what makes books really stand out amongst other, perhaps more frivolous purchases. Of course reading is rewarding, enlightening and life affirming but at the bottom of it all, it’s enjoyable. I cannot personally think of many easier ways to derive a lot of pleasure and relaxation that to sink into a sofa and absorb myself in a good book. I could quite succinctly sum up what reading does for me in times of confusion or distress using the words of Charlotte Brontë from this week’s featured poem: “Then a calm, solemn pleasure steals/Into your innermost mind;/A quiet aura your spirit feels/A softened stillness kind.” Very apt words indeed, and I find this poem quite peaceful also. Bronte completely embraces life’s simplest pleasures here – in observing nature, hearing a bird singing, watching the skies overhead – and it goes to show, if you have but little in your pocket or purse, you can still find something to amuse, delight and quite likely fascinate you.
True pleasure breathes not city air,
Nor in Art’s temples dwells,
In palaces and towers where
The voice of Grandeur dwells.
No! Seek it where high Nature holds
Her court ‘mid stately groves,
Where she her majesty unfolds,
And in fresh beauty moves;
Where thousand birds of sweetest song,
The wildly rushing storm
And hundred streams which glide along,
Her mighty concert form!
Go where the woods in beauty sleep
Bathed in pale Luna’s light,
Or where among their branches sweep
The hollow sounds of night.
Go where the warbling nightingale
In gushes rich doth sing,
Till all the lonely, quiet vale
With melody doth ring.
Go, sit upon a mountain steep,
And view the prospect round;
The hills and vales, the valley’s sweep,
The far horizon bound.
Then view the wide sky overhead,
The still, deep vault of blue,
The sun which golden light doth shed,
The clouds of pearly hue.
And as you gaze on this vast scene
Your thoughts will journey far,
Though hundred years should roll between
On Time’s swift-passing car.
To ages when the earth was young,
When patriarchs, grey and old,
The praises of their god oft sung,
And oft his mercies told.
You see them with their beards of snow,
Their robes of ample form,
Their lives whose peaceful, gentle flow,
Felt seldom passion’s storm.
Then a calm, solemn pleasure steals
Into your inmost mind;
A quiet aura your spirit feels,
A softened stillness kind.