Making Meaning

This week has been very diferent for Wigtown. Instead of the usual Book Festival when the town has ten days of live events with authors talking about their latest publications, we’ve been seeing it all happen online.

This has had the advantage of being able to catch up with events that clashed with other appointments or that we had missed but then heard enthusiastic reports from others, making us decide it was one we must listen to after all.

It’s possible to see the whole programme of events and watch them wherever you are if you look for the Book Festival website –

The festival started on Thursday 24th September and continues until this coming Sunday. One memorable event was with Richard Holloway discussing his book Stories We tell Ourselves with the subtitle Making Meaning in a Meaningless Universe. I think that there are millions of folk trying to make meaning out of the world where so many aspects of life are causing us to wonder just when life will revert to being more sane.

In his latest book, Richard Holloway shares his search for meaning and quotes poets, philosophers,scientists and fictional characters. It truly is an exceptional, thought provoking and at the same time reassuring read.

His talk was one that we had to catch up on the next day because on Sunday morning at 11.00 – the time for his event, we were attemting to climb The Merrick . This is the highest of our Galloway hills – just short of three thousand feet. It has been some time since we last reached the summit and we decided that it was time to see if we were still capable of doing it again.

The last time we were there we met just four other people. On Sunday there must have seen about fifty in the eight hours we were walking. I should rephrase that as we had a number of stops to rest and refuel – coffee, first lunch, second lunch, mid-afternoon break – very hobbit like!

It seems that people of all ages are now needing to get out into the fresh air more, get up into the hills and just appreciate the beauty and serenity of such an environment. Standing on top of a mountain or hill with a panoramic view over lochs, beautiful countryside and beyond to the sea, it helps to get things into perspective. It helps to feel at one with the natural environment, to get away from the uncertainty that seems to prevail in life at the moment. We search for meaning in a meaningless universe and somehow it’s easier to find peace of mind up in the wide open spaces of mountainous countryside.


Re-reading Books


There are some books that we read when young – perhaps because we had to as students. We might have enjoyed them but reading a book because it has been a set text is approached with quite a different attitude to one that has been recommended by a friend.

It might be decades, many decades later when we return to one of those books and how different they seem. Some books are meant to be re-read when you’re older. When they’re read again it’s like discovering new paths through a familiar woodland or looking at a painting and finding details that you’d overlooked before.

Poetry that was studied when young takes on quite  a different aspect years later. Tastes change and taste for literature alters just as much as tastes for certain wines or spirits.

Our bookshelves reveal much about our lives – looking along them we can see how certain subjects dominated different times. We can see developments, we can see how some authors retained our interest for longer periods while others appear just once. The non-fiction books might say a lot about how our interests developed over the years, but perhaps some ended up in charity shops rather than gather dust on the shelf as they were no longer relevant.


Books around the house

become our biographies.

Looking along the shelves

are stories of our past.

Old childhood favourites

now dog-eared and faded.

Books on flowers, trees, birds

show interests that we shared.

Reference books for holidays

on canals or among mountains.

Weighty books on furniture,

and other texts reflect careers.

New Age, Buddhist and Quaker

themes reveal  spiritual journeys

and changing philosophy.

Novels of the sixties, spines faded

on collectable orange penguins –

memories of student days.

Many recent texts on gardening

hint at a change in emphasis.

Now there’s more time,

poetry books never gather dust.

Giving books away is like

parting with our shared past

and that’s hard to do so

more shelves are added.



A Love of Books

At the end of this month, we will be in the midst of the 21st Wigtown Book Festival. Ten days when the population of our small town increases enormously as book lovers of all ages flock to indulge in this amazing feast for bibliophiles.

Books are often described as a friend that you can take in your pocket, take to a cafe, or on buses, trains and even to bed – anywhere, any time. They can certainly comfort as well as inspire, provoke thoughts and just simply inform.

I came across this quotation by Rebecca Solnit (from her book  A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.)

The books of my childhood were bricks, not for throwing but for building. I piled the books around me for protection and withdrew inside their battlements, building a tower in which I escaped my unhappy circumstances. There I lived for many years, in love with books, taking refuge in books, learning from books a strange data-rich out-of-date version of what it means to be human. Books gave me refuge. Or I built refuge out of them, out of these books that were both bricks and magical spells, protective spells I spun around myself. They can be doorways and ships and fortresses for anyone who loves them.

I can’t imagine a life without books. They have been my constant companions for as long as I can remember.


You pick me up after just

a few words of introduction.


As your hands clasp me

tightly. I come open.


I am forced backwards

so my spine cracks.


You smooth me, talk

quietly. Look at me.


Then crack!. You’re pushing,

bending me back again.


My spine suffers once more.

You lick your fingers


press them against me

bend and fold me over.


I can’t speak. I am dumb,

can only succumb

to your abuse.


Hear my plea!

Books deserve better,

much better treatment.


Reading – not a waste of time

How many parents have told their children not to sit with their noses in books, How many people think reading is a waste of time? How many people are critical of the ‘trash’ that some read these days?

Anything that encourages children to read is worthwhile. Reading habits will change over the years and hopefully readers will discern what is good and what is mediocre. Some will enjoy what others deem to be lightweight and worthless, but it is still possible to learn about relationships and human behaviour generally by reading what has been termed Victorian dross and the chick-lit of today.

Steven Gambardella’s blog about Seneca and time prompted the development of a train of thought that had started after an ‘Exploring Literature’ meeting this morning. We are still reading The Divine Comedy by Dante and very conscious of the fact that we are merely skimming the surface. Yet, we do feel enriched by reading and discussing a text which we could spend endless time studying.

In his blog today, Steven Gambardella reminded his readers of the value of time spent reading

We accumulate knowledge over time, but books allow us to accumulate the time the writers have given us. Think of books as condensed time.

Time spent reading good literature is a means of absorbing knowledge that was gained over many years.

Distilled and compressed in the pages of books are years, decades and even centuries of knowledge and wisdom. If you read a good book, you are concentrating the time you have.

I would add that if children are reading whether it be comics, Harry Potter or Jane Austen – they will be learning. Boys in particular are very often reluctant readers so I would never discourage them from limiting their reading to comics. That isn’t time wasted. Reading is a habit that needs to be nurtured. They might one day find the joy of learning from more weighty works. Better to read the lightweights than never to read at all.