March 28, 2021 by Jean
I first got into the habit of reading a weekend novel during my hard-working years as a college professor, when I had to work six days a week to keep up with the workload during the teaching semester and when my one day off, Saturday, had to include grocery shopping, house cleaning, and cooking for the week ahead. I would start reading a novel when I got home from work on Friday evening – something light, often a mystery novel, that could be read quickly – and finish it before I went to bed on Saturday night. This fictional interlude left me feeling as though I had experienced some weekend relaxation and left me mentally refreshed as I got back to grading and class preparation on Sunday.
When I retired, I discovered that I liked having a rhythm to my week in which the weekend felt special and more relaxed. So, I revived the habit of the weekend novel. During the week, I read nonfiction, usually something with a serious purpose. Recently, for example, I’ve been reading Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s A Republic, If You Can Keep It, which is deepening my understanding of the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution and the theories of originalism and textualism as foundations for judicial interpretation of laws and the Constitution. But, when I sit down with my lunch on Friday noon, I set aside my serious reading, and begin my weekend novel. This act marks the beginning of my weekend and the delicious feeling of relaxation I still associate with weekends.
This weekend, I read A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier (Viking, 2019), an account of an unmarried woman making a life for herself as one of the “surplus women” of England between the world wars. The protagonist, Violet Speedwell, flees an oppressive life with her grieving and embittered mother to live and work in the nearby Cathedral town of Winchester. There she finds a community of women among the “broderers” creating beautiful needlepoint cushions and kneelers for the Cathedral, guided by the genius of Louisa Pesel. Although Violet Speedwell is a fictional character, Winchester Cathedral, Louisa Pesel, and the embroidery project are all real. Also real were the constraining expectations of appropriate social roles for women, which were so out of step with the realities of post-war social conditions. (These constraints are also explored, albeit from a different social class perspective, in the television series Downton Abbey, which I have been watching again this month).
I had borrowed this book from the public library once before, but never gotten around to reading it. This time, it grabbed me from the first page and was perfect for the last weekend of Women’s History Month. Having started reading my weekend novel over lunch on Friday, I finished it over lunch on Sunday. Now I’m ready to turn my attention back to some “serious” reading, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, which is the text for a six-week course that I am taking beginning this week.