Let’s face it, life can be a bit crap sometimes. Work; deadlines and to-do lists; traffic jams; DIY; precious time lost to things you ought to do, rather than enjoy doing. And that’s even without the backdrop of disaster and disease, unfairness and inequality of opportunity; wars and poverty and governments who fail to act or even make things worse.
Which is why when something surprising and refreshing and remarkable comes along, I believe you should grab it with both hands, turn it over a few times so you can see exactly how good it is, and celebrate it. We should all speak of remarkable things when we find them.
A little while ago I stumbled through twitter on something called “Books on the Underground”. It is breathtakingly simple, and goes like this:-
- Commuting is boring
- Books are wonderful
- Leave a book on the tube for someone to pick up and read
- They read it and in due course leave it for the another person
How simple, yet how powerful! I can imagine myself on the underground, thinking “Oh, someone’s left a book behind” and then discovering they did it deliberately, for me to find! An instant rainbow into the drudge of commuting, and a journey to… well, who knows where…!?
So you pick up the book, and – by whatever alchemy of the title, cover, notes and the couple of random pages your thumbs pick when you open it to glance over a few paragraphs – you may take it home and read it; or at least pass a more pleasant stop or two; or, decide it’s not for you, in which case just leave it for the next person.
And I then drift off into a reverie of the journey that book may take on its travels, and the people it will touch. Perhaps someone who may be newly-prompted to read, or who will discover a new author or genre, or who will learn something, or tell a friend about any of the above. Or maybe even tell a child of their mysterious encounter, and so create a new reader.
Quite remarkable, from such a simple concept.
I have a Shelf-of-Very-Special-Books, the ones which for some reason have particularly touched me, or perhaps represent a particular layer in the archaeology of my life. If I were to leave a book on a tube, I thought, the candidates would come from that shelf. (Not those actual books, obviously I could not part with them.)
Then this last week, something worked out Just Right. Twice.
I went to Waterstones to collect a book for my daughter and having earned enough stamps for a £10 voucher, I wandered back to the shelves. To my delight they had a copy of “If nobody speaks of remarkable things” by Jon McGregor. I had my first book for the underground, and it had not cost me a penny!
I have an upcoming three-day trip to London, so thinking that one book is not enough, I popped into a local charity shop. Not only did they have another copy of Remarkable Things, but to even more delight I also found four others from my shelf, plus one other that I would definitely use for the tube. So for less than £10 I am now armed with multiple rainbows for my trip, and have also made a charity donation!
So never mind the conference, the client meetings and the contract reviews… look out
These are the ones I found (the first three about to go on a journey):-
- If nobody speaks of remarkable things, Jon MacGregor. There is a dramatic incident at the centre, but the beauty of this book is the truly-remarkable nature of the absolutely-ordinary things going on in an everyday street.
- Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks. Overwhelming in its description of being at war (and especially impactful for me with family roots in mining.)
- The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy. A beguiling story and dramatic climax, enchanting characters and Small Things; but what makes this special for me is the language, which is hypnotic and like Mozart.
- The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Mark Haddon. A cracking story in itself, but more than that: an education, and a window onto a completely different view of the world.
- A Thousand Splendid Sons, Khaled Hosseini. Transports you to Afghanistan; makes you feel something when you hear the word “Taliban” on the news.
Each one of them remarkable. But, if you found one on a tube… and it had been deliberately left you you…! ! !