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When I graduated I was firmly in the mindset of reading for learning, and went on a non-fiction binge – Blink, Lean In etc etc. This phase didn’t last too long though, because while non-fiction helps you learn more information, there’s usually a much more succinct way of learning that information. For me, the best route to that is online. So I fell out of love with non -fiction pretty quickly too, again because it felt almost dutiful.
I had tried reading books on the tube1
and found it impossible for sheer lack of room to open it at peak hour, not even considering the need to turn a page.
I received a kindle for Christmas, which solved that problem to a tee. I was initially unsure, because I love the feel, weight and aesthetic of books. But my first real success came from reading a book on there that I really wanted to read: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Once I’d got to a page turner, I was back in my groove. And there’s no more convenient time to read than the time spent on the tube. I now switch between kindle and books because one is handy and the other is lovely, and having the option is better. My work is actually moving offices which means a 2 hour commute for me. Lucky I’ve got an army of books to chew through! Reading fiction is now becoming a wonderful part of my free time again and it’s such a rewarding way to spend time.
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Question 1 (continued)
Text two – Prose extract from The Little Paris Bookshop
Monsieur Perdu pushed his tie between the top buttons of his white, vigorously ironed shirt and carefully rolled up his sleeves. Inwards, one fold at a time, up to the elbow. He stared at the book-case in the corridor. Behind the shelves lay a room he hadn't entered for almost twenty-one years.
Twenty-one years and summers and New Year's Mornings.
But in that room was the table.
He exhaled, groped indiscriminately for a book and pulled Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four
out of the bookcase. It didn't fall apart. Nor did it bite his hand like an affronted cat.
He took out the next novel, then two more. Now he reached into the shelf with both hands, grabbed whole parcels of books out of it and piled them up beside him.
The stacks grew into trees. Towers. Magic mountains. He looked at the last book in his hand.
When the Clock Struck Thirteen. A tale of time travel.
If he'd believed in omens, this would have been a sign.
He banged the bottom of the shelves with his fists to loosen them from their fastenings. Then he stepped back.
Then layer by layer, it appeared. Behind the wall of words. The door to the room where ...
I could simply buy a table.
Monsieur Perdu ran his hand over his mouth. Yes. Dust down the books, put them away again, forget about the door. Buy a table and carry on as he had for the last two decades. In twenty years’ time he'd be seventy, and from there he'd make it through the Ix Maybe he'd die prematurely.
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He tightened his trembling fist on the door handle.
Slowly the tall man opened the door. He pushed it softly inwards, screwed up his eyes and…. Nothing but moonlight and dry air. He breathed it in through his nose, analysing it, but found nothing.
---'s smell has gone.
Over the course of twenty-one summers, Monsieur Perdu has become as adept at avoiding thinking of— as he was at stepping around open manholes.
He mainly thought of her as—. As a pause amid the hum of his thoughts, as a blank in the pictures of the past, as a dark spot amid his feelings, He was capable of conjuring all kinds of gaps.
Monsieur Perdu looked around. How quiet the room seemed. And pale despite the lavender-blue wallpaper. The passing of the years behind the closed door had squeezed the colour from the walls. The light from the corridor met little that could cast a shadow . A bistro chair. The kitchen table. A vase with the lavender stolen two decades earlier from the Valensole2 plateau. And a fifty-year-old man who now sat down on the chair and wrapped his arms around himself.
There had once been curtains, and over there, pictures, flowers and books, a cat called Castor that slept on the sofa. There were candlesticks and whispering, full wine glasses and music. Dancing shadows on the wall, one of them tall, the other strikingly beautiful. There had been love in this room.
Now there's only me.
He clenched his fists and pressed them against his burning eyes.
Monsieur Perdu swallowed and swallowed again to fight back the tears. His throat was too tight to breathe and his back seemed to glow with heat and pain.
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When could once more swallow without it hurting, Monsieur Perdu stood up and opened the casement window. Aromas came swirling in from the back courtyard.
The herbs from the Goldenbergs' little garden, Rosemary and thyme mixed with the massage oils used by Che, the blind chiropodist and ‘foot whisperer.’ Added to that
, the smell of pancakes intermingled with Kofi's spicy and meaty African barbecued dishes, Over it all drifted the perfume of Paris in June, the fragrance of lime blossom and expectation.
But Monsieur Perdu wouldn't let these scents affect him. He resisted their charms. He'd become extremely good at ignoring anything that might in any way arouse feelings of yearning, Aromas. Melodies. The beauty of things.
He fetched soap and water from the storeroom next to the bare kitchen and began to clean the wooden table.
He fought off the blurry picture of himself sitting at this table, not alone but with--.
He washed and scrubbed and ignored the piercing question of what he was meant to do now that he had opened the door to the room in which all his love, his dreams and his past had been buried.
Memories are like wolves, You can't lock them away and hope they leave you alone.
Monsieur Perdu carried the narrow table to the door and heaved it through the bookcase, past the magic mountains of paper onto the landing and over to the flat across the corridor.
As he was about to knock, a sad sound reached his ears.
Stifled sobbing, as if through a cushion.
Someone was crying behind the green door.
A woman. And she was crying as though she wanted nobody, absolutely nobody, to hear.
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Question 1 (continued)
Text three – Opinion piece
Pluto, we love you. We're sorry that we banished you from our orbit
The Guardian, Thursday 16 July 2015
It was the Roman poet Sextus Propertius who said: “always towards absent lovers, love’s tide stronger flows
.” We see now the prescience of these words. Their true meaning. Now it is too late, we finally understand.
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The events of the past few days have caused us to reassess so many things. Our eyes, long closed by hubris
, foolishness, a pig-headed compulsion to categorize the uncategorisable, are now open. Pluto, we mistreated you, we see that now. You deserved better. Deserve
better. We are truly, truly sorry.
When we met on that fateful day on the 18 February 1930, as Clyde W Tombaugh spotted a flicker in the obsidian blackness of the far reaches of the solar system, it was as if all our dreams had been made solid. A new planet – mysterious unexplored frontiers. But finding you hadn’t been easy. Any love worth anything never is.
Bostonian astronomer Percival Lowell devoted the last decade of his life to searching for you, dying unfulfilled. Yes, he gave the hypothetical you a name, Planet X, and perhaps you saw this as our first breach of your trust. But please, please believe us when we say the letter X didn’t take on its salacious, pay-per-view connotations until decades later. Our love for you, even then, was pure. And, unlike said smut, free.
Once discovered, our relationship blossomed. The excitement. The thrill of the new. The whirlwind of newfound fascination. This is how we want you to remember us: at our best, when we bathed you in the admiration and respect that you spent centuries believing you would never receive – centuries we gawped at Saturn’s ostentatious tiara and Jupiter’s junky trunk. You were our ninth planet, but no less exciting for that. That we were able to fulfil your lifelong wish and welcome you into the Sol family remains something about which we remain eternally proud. That we named you Pluto after the mighty god of the underworld – a handle romantically coined by an eleven-year-old Oxford schoolgirl – likewise made us giddy.
But, through no fault of yours, the honeymoon wasn’t to last. Human nature, our infernal nit-picking, was to be the undoing of our union.
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Firstly, Walt Disney named a cartoon dog after you, an animal renowned for thunk-headed, spittle-chinned bone headedness and appalling personal hygiene. We don’t know how many times we can say we’re sorry, Pluto. If we ever manage to thaw our Walt
Disney’s head, we’ll ask him why he did it and demand appropriate recompense on your behalf.
This wasn’t all: through numerous revisions, we gradually determined your mass wasn’t quite as large as we thought it was. Between 1931 and 2006 our best guesses had deflated from roughly on a par with Earth’s mass to 1/459 of Earth’s mass. It shouldn’t have changed our feelings towards you, but it did. We’re coming clean, so hopefully we can start anew – we’re petty, short-sighted and enamoured by the new and extreme. This isn’t your fault. It is a fault of our nature.
In 1992 the unthinkable happened. We discovered similar-sized objects to you in your area: the hussies of The Kuiper Belt. Did you try and hide them from us? If you did, we understand why. You could feel us slipping through your fingers, and we’d barely laid eyes on you – not really. Nevertheless, in August 2006, the International Astronomer’s Union duly stripped you of your planet status: it was the ultimate indignity, our final insult, the sash unceremoniously ripped from the prom queen.
We wake up in the night sometimes, distraught about how you must have felt – think about how much more attention we’ve paid to that idiot Mars simply because it lives next door – and we weep.
But as we long and beg for your forgiveness, we need to know something: in January 2006, months before the IAU’s heartless, gonkish meddling tore us asunder, we launched the New Horizons probe. We’d looked at you for so long, we realized, but we’d never really seen you. Our time together had been precious – more precious than any life blobbing about in Europa’s oceans and more precious than all the cheese on the Moon – so we set off on the three-billion-mile journey to come and show you how much you meant to us. Despite everything, we were coming.
That tiny speck you’d seen hurtling towards your face for nine-and-a-half years was us; it was proof we still cared. We’d been hasty, Pluto. Stupid. The beautiful pictures of your surface beamed back by New Horizons – the ash-and-tan wondrousness, the coquettish pockmarks of meteor collisions, the adorable heart motif – showed us this.
We were so wrong to let you go, Pluto. Please, please take us back and things will be just like they were before. You’re all over the news – the talk of the town, belle of the ball, just like those halcyon days back in 1930 where we ran wild and free. We’re fascinated again, because we’ve realized what we should have always known: you’re brilliant and we love you.
Without you, we’re the hollow, necrotic husk of a lush oak that once stood proudly, the initials symbolizing our bond etched into its trunk for all time. (You don’t know what an oak is because you’re three billion miles away and you have never seen a tree. But you must take our word for it that this analogy is both logically sound and deeply moving.)
Let’s not throw away all we had and all we could have again, Pluto. Please forgive us. Let’s rebuild, rekindle. Soon we could be laughing at Uranus’s ridiculous name together, just like we used to.
Yours until the end of the universe,