I read. If I’m not doing anything else, I’m reading. Few things in life come close to time spent with a good book. But it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that touched the very heart of me, one that I’d like to see on a prescribed reading list for anyone in need of some soul sustenance.
And no. It’s not a self-help book. It’s not a true-life-beat-the-odds inspirational one either. It’s a little gem. Not since I put down Mr God, This is Anna about 20 years ago (an all-time favourite), not since then have I had such a book afterglow.
Billed as a middle-grade kid’s book (mmmm….), My Name is Mina is a jewel from the mind of David Almond. It begins:
There’s an empty notebook lying on the table in the moonlight. It’s been there for an age. I keep on saying that I’ll write a journal. So I’ll start right here, right now. I open the book and write the very first words: My name is Mina and I love the night. Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line? Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.
Through the eyes of Mina, Almond deals with topics like death, old age, birth, fear, education, depression, social isolation, single parenting … and he does it with humour and creativity.
Weird how I can feel so frail and tiny sometimes, and other times so brave and bold and reckless and free, and . . . Does everybody feel the same? When people get grown-up, do they always feel grown-up and sensible and sorted out and . . . And do I want to feel grown-up? Do I want to stop feeling . . . paradoxical, nonsensical? Do I want to stop being crackers? Do I want to be destrangified? O yes, sometimes I want nothing more – but it only lasts a moment, then O I want to be the strangest and crakerest of everybody.
Mina gives the reader extraordinary activities to try, like making a circle of your thumb and forefinger and then looking through it at the sky to see what passes through your universe. Or filling a page with a sentence that doesn’t end. Or writing a poem that repeats a word until the word loses its meaning. It’s a joy.
If you’re a teacher – it’s a wonderful resource – and the Scottish Book Trust has done all the work for you. Mina herself is home-schooled and through those lessons, we learn. I never knew that Wordsworth used to compose his poems as he walked – stepping the words apparently helped with the rhythm. I didn’t know that Picasso was a fan of Paul Klee and once said to his detractors something along the lines of it takes years to learn to paint as a master, but a lifetime to learn to paint as a child. And I didn’t know that birds descended from dinosaurs or that dust is mainly composed of particles of human skin. And there’s lots more.
It’s beautifully designed with telling chapter titles like: Ernie Myers, Rubbish, Dust, Metempsychosis & a blue car; or Sprouts, Sarcasm & the Mysteries of Time. If you’re in need of some cheering up, treat yourself.