Dear Black Beauty,
First, let me clarify that I mean Black Beauty the novel, not Black Beauty the horse (though I am sure the latter would be an excellent and most cheerful correspondent). I know that you were written by Anna Sewell, but when an author only writes one book, in a way the author becomes the book and the book becomes the author, don’t you think?
It has been a long time, I know. You and I were firm friends when I was young. I used to take turns spending all my time with you, White Fang and Watership Down. Even though you all shared similarities, it was you who taught me that kindness and hard work was much more important than appearances.
Even though I loved you with all my heart, as time went on, we started to spend less time together. I was still very fond of you, and of course I treasured our time together, but I became busy with schoolwork and then eventually I moved away to university without you.
At university, I started meeting new books. Stuffy, self-righteous classics, popular fiction, fantasy books trying so hard to be original they end up identical in their non-conformity. I tried them all.
I had always been a fast reader, but after I graduated I became obsessed with reading as many books as possible. I started reading only one book at once before discarding it and trying something else. I stopped re-reading altogether, and every book only got as far as the first date.
It’s been like this for years now. Five years ago I started a blog, writing about all the books that I read just one time. Sometimes I churn through more than eighty a year.
Around the same time, a good friend of mine and I also started keeping lists of the books we try, marking new books in green and rereads in blue on our shared spreadsheet.
My friend has stayed much closer with her old books than I have, keeping beloved copies around the house ready to pick up at a moment’s notice. Her spreadsheet is an ocean of green and blue, whereas I have had several years of monochrome.
Occasionally I have picked up an old favourite. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2017. A handful of Roald Dahl’s children’s books in 2016. But you know what it’s like when you don’t see someone for years, and then when you meet them again, they’ve changed. Or, more likely, you have changed. You notice things about them that you never noticed before. A cruel sense of humour. Some problematic opinions. Jokes that punch down.
I want to say, Black Beauty, it’s not like I’ve forgotten you. I do have a beautiful copy of you, part of a matching set of children’s books in a box with a magnetised door. I also have a scarf and matching gloves adorned with your quotes that I wear proudly all the time.
So why haven’t I picked you up after all these years?
I’ll be honest, Black Beauty, I was frightened. It had been so long since I’d read you, I wasn’t sure what the right time would be. What if you weren’t how I remembered? What if you let me down? What if halfway through you said something racist and my happy memories of you were tainted forever. I didn’t want to risk it. I’d rather be estranged from you than resent you.
And then it happened.
The real threat of a pandemic that sent us all hiding in our homes. With everything cancelled, a lot of people, myself included, suddenly with a lot more spare time.
Somehow or another, in the wake of my own postponed wedding, I found myself reading a chapter from Great Expectations about the world’s most famous disappointed bride for a project.
One of my favourite things to do is to read aloud, and I enjoyed the experience so much, I decided to livestream myself reading an entire book on my blog’s Facebook page.
I needed a book I already had that wasn’t too long. That wasn’t still in copyright. That was appropriate for children with themes of kindness and generosity. I checked all my shelves, and the answer swiftly became clear.
Black Beauty, I needed you.
I started reading you, and it was like stepping into a warm bath. I read for a lot of reasons and although generally comfort isn’t one of them, Black Beauty, I felt comforted by you for each of the eleven evenings I spent reading you.
More people than I expected tuned in to listen to you, sharing their joy at your words of wisdom. I kept waiting for the moment where you would slip, where you would say something at odds with your message of kindness, but you never did. You made me laugh and, in some parts, you even made me cry.
I’m sorry I waited so long to revisit you, Black Beauty. I don’t know when we’ll next be together, but I just wanted you to know that you were one of my first loves, you never let me down and you will always be important to me.
All my love,
Angharad Lodwick runs the book blog Tinted Edges and was selected for the inaugural New Territory program. She has contributed to Feminartsy, Homer and the 2019 Digital Writers’ Festival. She is the producer of the podcast Lost the Plot, creator of the zine series AnghaRANT and current editor of ChinWag.