For a while I was walking the fine line between reading FG and not reading FG because Say Her Name had been sitting in my bookcase for six months and I’d decided it was one of my phases and I probably wouldn’t be interested in it anymore. And then I picked it up Sunday afternoon in the middle of a heat wave.
There for a while I didn’t know if I could finish it. I was waist deep in this book, being tugged out to sea in what felt like a gargantuan undertow. The pull was incredible. I felt what I hadn’t felt for so long—when a book scoops you up and carries you away and you don’t so much read as surrender.
I didn’t think I could bear it. What is it about loving someone that makes you so terrified of loss? All I could think was that one day this would be my beloved and me. After death, missing each other so terribly. I almost put it down. I didn’t know if I could take another page. Another sentence even, sometimes.
It made me wonder why I put myself through books I really can’t be bothered with. Life is too short. Why don’t I do this more often? Search for that book that will tug me under?
Even if it leaves me weeping in its wake.
The reason for this is partly of the festive kind—Christmas hit, and so did not-getting-to-bed-before midnight and an unprecedented and crazy-itchy desire to go running. (Where did it come from? I am so confused.) I fell asleep with my mouth open on the way to Christmas lunch and got spectacularly grumpy. Also, I keep dashing off on mini-breaks. Damn.
I also bit off more than I could chew. Case in point: the books on my bedside table:
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad
Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Fated by SG Browne
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
Lunar Park by BrettEaston Ellis
Beating Your Eating Disorder by six people with long and boring names
And Wicked. Again. Because it was supposed to be a Christmas present and then I bought it online because it was cheaper which meant it didn’t arrive on time and now it is sitting in my bookcase staring at me and I am parched for just a taste of Maguire, just one sip. Parched, I tell you. We keep looking at each other.
But I’m still here. The Project sallies onwards. It just might take a while for me to a.) wake up, b.) finish something and c.) post a witty review that makes me proud—have I mentioned I’m a perfectionist?
Stay tuned! Stay tuned. Stay tune—zzzz.
We stopped through on our way from the Great Alpine Road to the Great Ocean Road and we lined up with the kiddies to goggle at the Myer Christmas windows, wrote postcards by the Yarra, fossicked in stinky second-hand bookshops, bought Christmas-themed frappuccinos and held hands from start to finish. (Who says the honeymoon’s over after six months? Boo to that. Eleven-month butterflies anyone?) And of course there were donuts. There are always donuts in Melbourne.
Anyway, the whole point of this is to tell you that we also stopped past Typo (one of the shops with which we are both exuberantly in love) and saw that someone very arty (and with way too much time on their hands) had decorated one wall with the yellowed pages of second-hand books. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.
All of which has been an unnecessarily long segue into what I’m really wanting to write about today, which is about the only room in my house that will ever matter … the library. Der.
So. Dot points!
A feature wall papered with yellow pages. Shakespeare, Plath, Neruda, Rilke, Brooke, Owen, Hughes, Browning, Atwood, Woolf—the mind boggles.
A brown suede recliner with a rainbow rug.
A bar heater.
Books all the way to the ceiling with a little ladder on wheels. Books stacked sideways and right-ways. Books in surprising corners. Books crammed into shelves and piled three deep on the windowsill. Books in boxes; books under the coffee table and on the highest rung of the ladder. A deep, still pool of paper-scented happiness.
Candles that smell like cake.
An enormous oil painting of nothing-much-at-all that means nothing-much-at-all to everyone else but me.
Lush leafy trees all the way to the window.
So. What’s your fantasy?
I’m currently ploughing through Joyce Carol Oates’ Mudwoman and I don’t yet know whether I hate it or I love it. Who knows what will happen on Friday? Who can tell which way the wind will blow? The Project is exciting like that!
However, the fact of my love or my hate is irrelevant right now anyway because today is Metaphor Monday and incidentally Oates writes a mean metaphor. So! Enjoy these golden blooms before I wither them with my disdain or conjure them into blossom with my adoration and forever ruin Mudwoman for the rest of you. (See what I did there?)
And what relief, to have left her laptop behind on the hotel bed! She was attached to the thing like a colostomy bag. Her senses reacted in panic if it appeared to be malfunctioning for just a few minutes. A flurry of e-mails buzzing in her wake like angry bees.
Farther to the west, at Carthage, in layers of crusted shale there were fossils M.R. had searched for, as a girl. Ancient crustaceans, long-extinct fish. Her biology teacher had sent her out: he’d identified the fossils for her. M.R. had drawn them in her notebook, with particular care. A string of A-pluses attached to Meredith Neukirchen like a comet’s long tail.
Lush: Or dense, fresh, beautiful and happy-making. Reading McCarthy is like wading through a rainforest. So much word art! So much happiness!
Scary: There are just way too many men with chains and knives for my liking. There are also crazy, twitchy people and corpses-around-corners and cavalcades of baddies. No thankyou.
Sad: And I don’t mean the ending, although it is sad (but also surprisingly hopeful! Just so you know). I mean the bass notes, if this book was old wine, that is. The aftertaste. All blue and bruised and wistful.
Unsettling: What if this really happened? It doesn’t really bear thinking about. My chances of survival don’t really bear thinking about either. My fitness, for example, or my type 1 diabetes or my hankering for wheatbags or the soft spot in my heart for books and beautiful things. Here’s hoping the apocalypse holds off till I’m past caring.
Moreish: I almost forked out twelve dollars (TWELVE DOLLARS, PEOPLE!) for a second-hand McCarthy that was far too big and unwieldy and second-hand. This is how good he is.
Know a book that just won’t let itself be loved, however much you’re aching to do it? Look no further! Follow these seven steps of seduction and the driest doorstopper will be putty in your hands.
Select the edition with the best cover. The one with the prettiest picture or the creamiest pages or the nicest scent. Chemistry is everything.
Vintage is important. You don’t want a book so new it stinks of paint and glue or one that smells like mould and dark corners. You want one with a biddable spine, a subtle scent and just the right amount of wear.
Bookmarks are no place to cut corners. Folded pages or post-it notes are one of the biggest romance killers. Take time to find the perfect marker.
Think about the time of day. Too early and you’ll start associating reading with eye gunk and weariness; too late and it will become a chore. Read when you are most awake; read when you are happiest.
Location, location, location. Quietness is always in style. So is sunshine. Leather chairs. Dappled lawns with just the right amount of regrowth. New rugs. Old blankets. Riverbanks. A cheap romance might enjoy open skies and sunlight while a long-winded hardcover might appreciate a wood fire and candlelight.
Choose the right beverage. Some books respond well to wine and cheese platters while others are more easily seduced with hot chocolate. Follow your instincts; pick the choice that sings to you, just make sure the beverage adds to the romance, not distracts from it.
Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Take as long as you need. Turn pages slowly. Close the book often. Repeat sentences aloud. Circle favourite moments and metaphors. Pencil poems in the margins. Think. Stretch. Yawn. Luxuriate. Every love story takes time.
And when it is yours? Don’t forget it. Put it in your bookcase. Touch it now and again. Remember the romance.
I don’t know. Something to do with wanting to prove to myself that I really am the classy little scholar I say I am in my head.
In Tolstoy’s defense however, there were some gems. (And here I draw your attention to the following: He had attained to such strength that … he was as fresh as a big, green, waxy Dutch cucumber. Also: His quiet words and smiles worked softeningly and soothingly, like almond butter. Who knows? Maybe I’ll take a turn towards culture next Monday. Maybe I really am that clever. Maybe I just like living life on the edge like this.)
I kicked off on a Nick Hornby bender which I have so far been powerless in stopping. I’m currently sloshing drunkenly through the dregs of High Fidelity (read it read it READ IT) and the metaphors in this amazing book practically leap off the page and slap you in the face.
Happy Metaphor Monday!
I tried not to run Phil down too much - I felt bad enough as it was, what with screwing his girlfriend and all. But it became unavoidable, because when Jackie expressed doubts about him, I had to nurture those doubts as if they were tiny sickly kittens, until eventually they became sturdy, healthy grievances, with their own cat-flaps which allowed them to wander in and out of our conversation at will.
He’s got long blond hair, and cheekbones, and he’s well over nine feet tall, but he’s got muscles too … and a voice that makes that man who does the Guinness adverts sound sloppy, a voice so deep that it seems to land with a thud on the stage and roll towards us like a cannonball.
And something from Julie Powell’s Cleaving for good measure:
He kisses me once more as the cabbie waits, which makes my heart blossom and die.
Anna Karenina is officially over.
I have spent the last twenty-four hours in a fog of feverish page-turning (not the good kind) and as of 12.05pm today, I officially laid the novel to rest. I have to add that I turned so desperately to the next Julie Powell instalment that the bookmark was still warm and I have been curled up in a big leather armchair ever since like an assault victim, giddy with the concept of warmth and safety.
Yes, I tamed the beast and lived to tell about it.
This says many things about the state of my mind these days. I am skittish and fidgety, always trying to get comfortable, never quite settling in. I am fussy about lighting, and the amount of warmth coming through big windows, and about the texture and size of the blankets I use. In other words, I’m sadly lacking when it comes to Those Kinds of Books. (And by that, obviously, I mean the good ones.)
Would I read it again? No.
Am I glad I read it? Yes.
Why? Because I couldn’t live with myself if I died without reading Tolstoy.
Am I proud of myself? No. Unlike my 12-year-old self, I couldn’t make it through 800 pages without whining, which means I am fast declining. Hello, dementia. (Joking. I hope. Either way, it is not reassuring.)
Best part? When Anna commits suicide. And no, it’s not because it was indicative of the book’s long-awaited end but because it was poetic and happened at just the right moment, scoring Sarah’s Tick of Approval, however much I hated everything else.
Worst part? When Levin decides to take up scything. Because that is never a good time.
Accompanying beverage? Something so rich and fatty that you’d read something far worse to experience it. (Personally, I’d go for a cookies and cream thickshake—yep, I’d even sacrifice veganism at the altar of Getting By Without Screaming.)
The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris. I lost my vampire virginity at the hands of this book and as such I’m not likely to think any other vampire novel comes close. Not only because The Evil Seed was my first (*blush*) but also because Joanne Harris is always going to be the Best Writer in the World and is clever enough to weave gothic horror into anything.
Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett. Obviously if you’re after serious scariness, go away. Probably don’t even look at the cover. Mr Pratchett is merciless. He is also funny. Read this if you want to be the cool cat in the back of your fantasy lit class laughing at the nerds in the front row with their Lord of the Rings carry bags.
Dracula by Bram Stoker. I reviewed this classic a few weeks ago, but there’s no way I couldn’t add it to the list. This book is the original. The black widow. The mumma bear. So it goes without saying that Dracula is so fresh it’s practically the rebirth of vampires, cellophane-wrapped, air-sealed and still in the original packaging.
The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice. I’ll be reviewing Anne Rice a bit further down the track (and if you’re harbouring even the slightest dregs of respect and/or love for this author and her work, I wouldn’t advise reading said review—I already know her books ain’t high art), but I have to mention The Tale of the Body Thief, because while Ms Rice is kinda responsible for making vampires so popular (What did she unleash?) she is also responsible for one of the best trashy books I’ve read in a very long time. I’m sorry.