Noel Harrison once sang about “The Windmills of your Mind” – a place where you turn and keep turning like the sails of a windmill, chasing yourself in circles.
In a way our minds really are like this, labyrinthine corridors with doors wherever you turn – each requiring a special key before you can open it and savour the memories within.
The key could be a word; a few notes of melody; an aroma; a picture.
For me, this week, the key was a final late Christmas present from my darling wife, Marion.
I have previously referred to the elegant globe which she had ordered at least four weeks before Christmas and it arrived at least four weeks after.
This final gift was ordered at the same time from the British Library and arrived a full week in to February.
The present was much appreciated – it was a set of postcards depicting 16 original covers of books that are well known (well in my case 11 that were well known and one I had never heard of before).
Only two of them were on a list of books I have never read, at least not in full.
Other than the unknown title the set included a card depicting the original cover of “Pride and Prejudice“.
Its opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged . . . ” has gone down as the most famous line in any book – more well known than even the first line of Genesis.
I have tried, oh reader how I have tried, to read the book that so many people have swooned over in the last 200 years but I can never get past the first few pages without wanting to throttle the female Bennetts.
The other books in the set, ranging from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to “Frankenstein” and from “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” to “Robinson Crusoe“, led to doors I have entered and exited many times over the years.
As I have said before I am a voracious reader and have read anything I could lay my hands on over the years.
As a child we had a good selection of books at home.
There was a bookcase in the hall (it lives by my side of the bed these days) with three shelves stocked with books from “Coral Island” by R M Ballantyne to “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After” by Alexandre Dumas père.
In the living room was a large set of shelves, with games, an atlas and other large items on the lower section and a further set of shallower shelves above housing such delights as the Readers Digest Condensed books and book club volumes which included “Reach for the Sky” by Paul Brickhill (the story of legless flying ace Douglas Bader) and “The Moon and Sixpence” by W Somerset Maugham.
Added to this the municipal library was just at the top of our road with its plethora of books.
There were times, however, when I had run out of suitable books, or at least ones I had access to and just needed something to read.
Now we come back to that set of BL cards. One of them triggered that keycode for one of those long-forgotten rooms in the corridors of my mind.
As the door creaked open I saw once more “Little Women” and “Good Wives” by Louisa May Alcott.
It is at least 60 years since I last “borrowed” this book from my sister’s room where it rested alongside “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” yet as soon as I saw the card showing the book cover the memories poured forth.
Marion had read the books during her childhood and soon our recall of the stories and the characters just kept on coming.
Looking back at them with the value of hindsight it is amazing how many modern attitudes were highlighted in these books written when the American Civil War was still raging.
Feminism was way to the front in the character of Jo March but family loyalty to her sisters was also apparent.
The thought processes brought the other books in the trilogy to mind and I saw shy young Nat with his violin and the likeable rascal Dan with his loyalty to his musically gifted friends.
There was sadness as well as adventure in these books, young Amy’s death was particularly poignant, but overall it was a case of triumph over the odds.
I doubt if I will ever reread these books, once was enough apparently for their storylines and morals to stick in my mind, but it shows that any book well written can prove to be of interest.
Before I say farewell to the books I “borrowed” from my sister when I lacked other material I must admit that the Alcott memory tripped another switch in my childhood library.
There, below the Louisa May Alcott books were my sister’s other favourite source of adventure – “Cherry Ames – Student Nurse” with the character going on to be a “Senior Nurse“, an “Army Nurse” and in fact any type of nursing post you could imagine from “Rural Nurse” to “Flight Nurse” to “Island Nurse” and even – “Jungle Nurse“.
I won’t bother you with the plots of the 20+ books in the series – they didn’t really vary much – and all I can say in my defence is that sometimes I got really desperate for something to read.
But wait: “What was the book you did not know?” I hear you ask. Here you are: