Last Friday, as I pushed the buggy up Causewayhead, I faltered at the new bookshop. I was emotional, and I was emotional because money was tight, and when emotional, I spend money. (The day I resigned from my well-paid job in London after moving to Cornwall to study during a sabbatical year, I sent the email to HR and then went straight out and bought £100 worth of new clothes.)
Right near the open door were two paperbacks. The first was the new Philip Marsden book on searching for the spirit of place. The second was the latest novel by Sarah Moss, who taught me for my MA. I wanted both. I’d earned them; having a young baby is wonderful and life-altering and joyous, yes yes all of those things, but also bloody hard at times. My identity is shattered, my time to myself each day lasts under 20 minutes (the time spent having a shower and getting dressed). I want back the ability to think.
I walked out with neither in the end, because of how difficult it is to read physical books with a baby. I’d never thought about it before my son came along, but you need both hands to read, just as you need both hands to butter toast. The thumb of the right hand wedges the book open, placing pressure on the spine and so releasing the pages to the light, the other four fingers support the book’s back, while the left hand, on call for the page turn, gently pinches together already-turned pages by their bottom left corners. (At least I think that is how my hands read, from memory; on my lap sleeps a baby.) Hardbacks are even more taxing and, for me, require a table or a lap: another no-no.
Realising this soon after the birth of my son, I asked for an e-reader for my birthday. It has helped when an opportune moment turns desperate, and I can now read during the night feeds, but my hands can’t take to its light, slender inertness. They feel uncomfortable, the right thumb gripping the base, the little finger joining it to form an awkward, splayed cradle. I’ve still not worked out how best to tap the pages on; sometimes my thumb tries, sometimes my index finger cranes round from the back and gives it a go.
I haven’t yet bought the books I saw on my e-reader. I know I could, and I’d certainly read them, but I want to hold out. I want to give my money to the new bookshop at the top of Causewayhead. I want to enjoy them. I can be impulsive and want things; I am also learning, thanks to the child who has now woken and is stretching up and over my shoulder, about patience.