Reading “Why I read”, by Wendy Lesser

9 07 2014

9780374289201Don’t you just love it when you open a fresh new book and, especially if you are the very first one to get it from the library and it has that scent of new adventure all over it, and you turn to the first page and realize the author is a friend you just haven’t met yet?

I’m on page EIGHT, for heaven’s sake and already I see the rest of the day before me, curled up with Ms. Lesser and a cup of tea and wallowing in her excellent writing and wisdom.

She starts off addressing the readers of her book, something she says she’s not done before, as usually she writes what she writes and hopes people like it at the end (apparently they do, judging from her publication list). This time is different, she says:

But with this book – perhaps because it so often contemplates the very relationship between writer and reader, speaker and spoken to in the works of literature I have loved – I find myself wondering about who you are? Are you a young person…, or are you an older person…? Do you come from a background similar to mine, or are we completely unlike in all sorts of ways? I would hope that the answer might be “all of the above”, and perhaps it can be, for the written word, at least as embodied in the English language, allows “you” to be both singular and plural. It’s not only the writer who can say, with Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. That truth applies to readers as well. (p.8)

I think I may just take my multitudes for a gentle stroll through this book for an hour or two before I start my writing day. I can already see tea with Ms. Lesser is going to be interesting, comfortable, and stimulating. How I love meeting a new literary friend!

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The lie that tells the truth that tells the lie, or how hanging out with novelists is bound to give you a richer life

4 02 2014

too-many-booksAnd isn’t it delightful!

Just reading the Paris Review interview with Julian Barnes, well worth a stop…

There’s something about reading writers talking about other writers that makes me wish I could go back and start my life all over again, waste less time watching the sitcoms on must-see Thursday on NBC back in the day, buy myself a good flashlight, and take to reading Russian novels in the dark under my blankets earlier in life. There’s such tremendous richness out there to read and I will never ever get done with it all. Why did I bother with university, with child rearing, when I could have immersed myself in a solitary world of such glory, me, the book, a light source…

My father would tell me I am too social a creature to hide myself away, and he’s right – I need regular drenching in humanity and nature and moving about life to keep my moods stable, and I wouldn’t have given up my kids for the world.

But there they are. The books. All of them, calling to me, begging me to peek under their covers. And the books I’ve already read, who call to me to visit them again, put my mouth once again under their thirst-quenching prose, gulp them back or sip them, masticate them, laugh and cry with them.

How can I leave Nancy Mitford on my shelf for another week? What of the latest Linwood Barclay thriller? Or the beauty of an author as yet undiscovered, who I just know has a book for me hanging out in Doull’s Bookstore down the way?

It doesn’t matter – short story or novel, these books cloak the truths of life in the cover of a make-believe story, so that as you read them, the truths slip out, unseen, barely felt, until your heart senses them firmly ensconced. The story may slip away, you might have the author’s name on the tip of your tongue at parties and never be able to satisfyingly retrieve it, but when the truths are there (see: Nuala O’Faolin, for example), the feeling stays with you.

And that’s the kind of book I want so much to write – one that does just that, curls up inside someone, providing comfort even after they forget my most common name (though I must say DA Brown will give me a great shelf spot, alphabetically speaking).

And I’ll get right on writing that book, just as soon as I finish reading this stack over here…





Suburban evils

11 01 2014

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Just finished Blind Crescent by Michelle Berry, a tale of a group of families living on a suburban cul de sac that follows well on the bizarre family relationships of August:Osago County. Initially in this story, you feel a bit like the suburban site is safely enclosing the residents, but decay is creeping ever closer. There’s risk outside, in the form of a sniper taking out random drivers, and there’s risk on the crescent in the form of a strange new resident and the shifting relationships of the families.
Unlike August, the characters do move, evolve, grow, learn about themselves.

For me this defines what is so much better about books than movies. The interior lives of the characters are explored in Blind Crescent, not so much that we feel we know everything about them, but enough so that each character becomes interesting to us, someone we can care about, feel for. In “August”, we get to know characters (mainly because of some excellent acting), but no one seems to change or develop or even question their motives. In each story there is suffering and angst, but in Berry’s story, the angst serves a purpose. The characters genuinely care about each other in their way, they learn to care more, they re-prioritize.

The book is excellent. At the end, although troubles still remain, you feel as if some sort of resolution is pending. The writing is luminous yet effortlessly so – you don’t pause, a la Stella Gibbon in cold comfort farm to star a sentence for its quality. Instead, you are inexorably drawn forward into the story, nailed to your seat by the details and heart in every sentence. You realize immediately that you are in the hands of a great storyteller and relax, let the story take you.

And then be forever grateful you have left the suburbs behind.








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