For me, there are a few authors that bear re-reading, year on year, and of those, I have been, over the past few months since moving to Spain, steadily going through two favourites from way, way back. With all our books and other belongings stored back in Bonn, and the only things we have with us just the barest of essentials, and no English books in the public library or the only bookshop in town, and not wishing additional clutter, I’ve had to be content with what has been stored in our hard drives. And two sets of books have been keeping me company since I devoured the modest library of this flat we’ve been renting.
They are both mystery series: the first being Rex Stout’s, who features the incomparable Nero Wolfe, whose preoccupations other than detecting wrongdoers are quite close to my own – eating and cooking well and tending to plants; in Wolfe’s case, orchids. Ten thousand of them under glass in a brownstone in New York – an extravagance, especially with a gardener to assist in caring for them, as with a Swiss chef to concoct elaborate dainties for Wolfe’s not so delicate sixth of a ton physique. I could never hope to have such luxuries as ten thousand orchids nor a live-in chef and gardener, but it is a wonderful escape, nonetheless, for my imagination to dwell on, especially when I am ill. And during those two weeks recovering from flu, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, his cheeky assistant, as alike as night and day in their character and approach to life, have kept me excellent company. One thing I can say for reading a series in chronological sequence: it is an excellent way to see how characters evolve and grow in their author’s hands.
And so I find it true as well of the second series now keeping me company, this time as I recover from the bronchitis acquired during my bereavement trip to California. I have mentioned more than a few times before of my affection for Brother Cadfael, the apothecary detective of Ellis Peters’ medieval historical series. And re-reading them now in their chronological order, I am enjoying, not only the triumph of good and justice and truth as the wrongdoers are uncovered, but also the unfolding of history, during the internecine wars over the throne in 12th century England. As well, I am taking further, and greater pleasure surely, in reading about the traditional herbal remedies that Brother Cadfael concocts from the herbs that he grows in his garden: pellitory for skin sores, Lady’s mantle and mulberry leaves for burns, and so much more besides.
But above all, I treasure the pearls of wisdom and grace that embroider Ellis Peters’ writing. And among today’s reading is this from the fifth chronicle of Brother Cadfael, The Leper of Saint Giles: “Here I begin to know that blessedness is what can be snatched out of the passing day, and put away to think of afterwards.”
May this day be graced with such blessedness that will warm hearts and minds when we contemplate them afterwards.