Michael Cunningham’s The Hours was recommended to me by my best friend C, back when we were just on the verge of leaving high school, and each other, for what would be, we just knew it!, our real, extraordinarily adventurous, grown up lives.
Following the release of the movie, my paperback edition of The Hours had Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and an indecently red “Now a Major Motion Picture” label on the cover. I read it in a day and when C and I were talking about it afterwards, all I could come up with was something in the range of “It was sad. But in a good way.”. What can I say, I’ve never been much of a book critiquing pro. But hey, I bet you pretty much figured that out after one or two of these Top of the Pile posts.
Years later, I bought Cunningham’s Specimen Days at an open air book fair outside my faculty building in Romania. I knew nothing about it and pretty much got it because it was cheap and he wasn’t a stranger. As it happens, it soon became one of my favourite books ever. (Hey, I’ve even titled a blog post after it, that’s got to mean something!)
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that when I didn’t have anything to read for my flight back from Portugal this Sunday (I’d pretty much devoured Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant that morning, but more on that later), stumbling upon a glittery, aquamarine blue Michael Cunningham paperback among hundreds of brick sized Stephen King scary tomes in the Faro airport was infinitely comforting. €13.35 later (I know!!!), I was an immensely happier bookworm, and was already leafing through the double spaced, story book fonted first chapter.
I ended up only reading fifty or so pages on the flight back to London, as V wanted to watch a couple of episodes of The Killing together instead, but I’ve been making my way through it at a steady pace for the last couple of days, so it won’t be long before I spill the beans on it here.
I finished Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant on our last day in Portugal, chilling by the pool as V was sleeping on a recliner nearby mummified head to toe in colourful beach towels. He’d been up all night with a nasty stomach bug the night before, and I hadn’t had much sleep either, what with all the tea making and ever supportive You’re-not-going-to-die-I-promise. But I ditched the much needed snooze in the sun, determined to finish the book before we left for the airport in the afternoon.
Anne Tyler writes about the dynamics of families. Far from extraordinary, imperfect families, and as I read along I always get this feeling of familiarity, and more so, of belonging to a group I didn’t know existed. It’s strange how we grow up thinking we’re different than anybody else. Or at least I did. I was the one who thought the deepest thoughts. The one with the most daring dreams. The one part of the most deranged family, the one having to fight the hardest fights. Of course I’m none of that, I know it know (it’s only taken me 30 years to figure that out, but who’s counting), of course most of my problems are just as terrifying, if not significantly less so, than those of other people, and my hapinesses taste exactly the same as theirs. And yes, at the back of my mind I’m sometimes still convinced I’m special. Until I get my hands on another Anne Tyler book and can’t help but agree: everybody resembles everybody.
The fact that I identify myself, my friends and relatives with her characters is probably why I like her books so much. Oh, and also paragraphs like the below.
Early this morning… I went out behind the house to weed. Was kneeling in the dirt by the stable with my pinafore a mess and the perspiration rolling down my back, wiped my face on my sleeve, reached for the trowel and all at once thought, Why, I believe that at just this moment I am absolutely happy. […]
The Bedloe girls’ piano scales were floating out her window, […] and a bottle fly was buzzing in the grass, and I saw that I was kneeling on such a beautiful green little planet. I don’t care what else might come about. I have had this moment. It belongs to me.
I haven’t got any Anne Tyler on my reading agenda for the months to come, simply because I’ve got such a huge backlog of books to go through (your reading recommendations being just the tip of the iceberg) and so little time these days (flat hunting is in season again!), but I’ll definitely be keeping her in mind for those times when a book I feel has been written precisely for and about me is just what I need to keep going. In the meantime, my plan is to read some more stuff in French, perhaps even attempt something in German (a reread maybe? I’ve got a German edition of The Old Man and the Sea gathering dust somewhere), as I’ve very much neglected all my other foreign language affairs, what with all this obsessing over my less then perfect British accent.
Back to work now, or I won’t be able to keep the €13-a-book madness much longer. Happy reading, everyone!