Poem to Start the Week #16: There are Days

There are days when
one should be able
to pluck off one’s head
like a dented or worn
helmet, straight from
the nape and collarbone
(those crackling branches!)

and place it firmly down
in the bed of a flowing stream.
Clear, clean, chill currents
coursing and spuming through
the sour and stale compartments
of the brain, dimmed eardrums,
bleared eyesockets, filmed tongue.

And then set it back again
on the base of the shoulders:
well tamped down, of course,
the laved skin and mouth,
the marble of the eyes
rinsed and ready
for love; for prophecy?

 

John Montague

Remembered: First Friendship and Other Sailing Vessels

When Dana was four, her mother turned into a Siamese cat.

She’d been one good looking lady, her mother, but just a lady, you know. Long hair, lipstick, high heeled shoes. No hint of magic. No promise of how she was going to make her sudden, high heeled exit and subsequent soft pawed entrance into their lives, changing everything.

Because things really change, you know, when your mother is suddenly a pet. Pets don’t need raincoats and dresses and their own half of the family king size bed, they don’t cook you dinner or check your socks for holes. And it really seemed that Dana’s mother had used all of her magic on growing fur and whiskers, and had no special powers left at all. She was just a cat, and that’s what she was fated to remain, a quiet creature by the name of Mama, who sometimes came when you called her, but most often just looked your way from a distance and decided she had better things to do.

In time, Dana’s father gave away his wife’s dresses, threw away her lipsticks, and took to sleeping in the middle of the bed, his limbs stretched out to form a snoring human starfish. He had no magical powers of his own either, and found he couldn’t possibly keep up with his daughter’s curfews, homeworks and tattered socks. So Dana came to spend her days in her grandmother’s house, chasing her mother through tangled forests of living room table and chair legs. It was there I met them both, the morning my parents too gave me away.

– Come out from under there, child, say hi to your friend.

The old woman leaned towards the patch of darkness under the dining table, her hands reaching wide. She was a big lady, thick legs wrapped in wool stockings under a dark skirt and white apron. Her hair, a dust coloured braid reaching down to her lower back, ended in a green ribbon which looked pressed and starched six times over, and like it could cut your finger off if you weren’t careful. I’d never seen anyone looking so neatly dangerous. Or anyone wearing an apron. And I’d definitely never met anyone named after a small cloud. Had it rained the day she was born? Had her parents fallen in love over weather talk? Did she have any other siblings named after meteorological phenomena?

As Tanti Norica’s presence was slowly sipping into every nook and cranny of my frightened body, two pairs of eyes made their appearance from under the table, and Dana and her mother entered my life with a smirk and a hiss. My own mother, high heeled and lipsticked but clearly devoid of any trace of internal magic, squeezed my shoulder and I automatically blurted out a faint hello, and offered an open, sweaty palm. The cat hissed again and the girl held her tighter, grabbing her stretched out paws in the cup of her free hand.

– I’m Dana. This is my mother, she doesn’t like strangers.

Top of the Pile #27, #28: David and Goliath, The Country Doctor

I know I haven’t done one of these posts in a while now, but I’ve been busy. And sad. And busy some more. Not to mention that all of my books are packed in boxes and have been for weeks now, so they haven’t been laying around to remind me how I’ve been neglecting them lately.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve ignored reading altogether. On the contrary, I’ve managed the impossible.

Infinite Jest CoverI’ve finished Infinite Jest and lived to tell the story.

You probably think I saw it coming, and made sure I was in a public place where I could immediately start bragging about my accomplishment and have people cheering and asking for my autograph on their bare muscular chests (yes, all my imagined fans are bare chested male models who have the deepest respect for Infinite Jest survivors!).

But to be honest, finishing the book caught me completely off guard. Faced with such lengthy a novel, my lovely Kindle got so utterly confused that it never indicated the right reading progress throughout. Some days it said I’d read 85%, then days later it reconsidered and decided it was more like 73%, and this went on and on for weeks driving me completely crazy, until one day, ONE DAY, I tapped to get to the next page and there it was, the final paragraph of Infinite Jest and my most wondrous reading victory thus far.

Now, what an extraordinary book!

I was talking to a friend and fellow “Infinite Jest survivor” (yes, we’re starting a club!), and she said that the moment she finished it she turned back to the first page and started reading it a second time. Now, I really don’t think I’m in a place right now where I could possibly handle that, my brain being complete mush after all the homeless-flat-hunting insanity these days, but I totally get what my friend was about. Infinite Jest is a book to be read more than once. That may sound off putting, it being 1000+ pages of Foster Wallace often crazy lingo, but I have a feeling one reading couldn’t possibly do it justice.

And yes, it’s a complicated, difficult read. It’s most certainly not for everyone. But, throughout the long love-hate relationship I’ve developed with it, I never once could deny its brilliance. So yes, there you have it. I’m an Infinite Jest groupie. There’s a chance I’ll give it a second try some time in the future, and I’ve already bookmarked some Foster Wallace essays and short stories for when I get part of my sanity back and I’m ready to dive into reading again. So take of that what you will, and if you’d like my autograph (even if it’s not on your pecks, sigh), I’ve got six dozen rainbow coloured sharpies to pick from, after all these weeks of packing and labeling. Just say the word.

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Read Like a WriterI finished Reading Like a Writer last night, and it’s the very last book I packed for our move to God knows where. I really wanted to finish it before we left, so that I’d be left only with my Kindle during our homeless-and-certain-to-be-shelf-less phase. So this will be the last hardcover I touch in a while, and I’m glad it was this and no other, because I happened to really enjoy it.

I expected it to be about writing and how to become better writers, but it turned out to focus more on reading and how to become better readers, which is unlike any other creative writing book I’ve read. It’s full of examples of brilliant writing from authors I’ve loved all throughout my reading life, and new ones I’ve only thus discovered and added to my to read list.

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David and GoliathSo here’s a fun story.

A few weeks back V and I took a long weekend trip to Bristol, to get away from the cardboard box invasion taking over our flat, and the clouds of hopelessness and homelessness gathering on the horizon.

And during that trip, which I haven’t written about because, well, I’ve been battling lots of lovely shades of flat related despair and frustration since, well, during that lovely trip I have been super duper strong and managed NOT to buy any books, not even one.

It’s incredible what having to pack and store 300+ paperbacks in half a day does to your book shopaholic compulsions.

But anyway. Halfway through our Bristol adventure, we stopped to rest for a few minutes on a park bench, and there it was. A paperback copy of David and Goliath, slightly dogeared but in pretty good shape altogether, just waiting for someone to save it from the coming rain. V, who had previously voiced his admiration at me not buying a single book during our weekend away, threw up his hands in despair but resigned to his fate, and minutes later we were leaving the park, David and Goliath safely resting in my handbag.

Now, this isn’t the first book I’ve found on UK streets since we moved here (it’s the fourth, actually, an average of a book a year, believe it or not!), but it’s the first one I’ve actually read, and not just took home, stacked on a shelf and forgot about it. I finished David and Goliath in a couple of sittings, and it was an interesting enough little book, if a little lacking in the conclusion drawing department. Gladwell’s stories and examples are intriguing, easy reads, but to me they lacked closure, and I was left feeling that I needed to read more on the subject before I’d be able to form an opinion on it.

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The Country Doctor

And finally we reach my current reading affair, Balzac’s The Country Doctor. I wish there was an extraordinary reason behind me picking it, but I’ll be reading exclusively on Kindle until we’ve finally settled somewhere, and since I already had a few of Balzac’s novels on it, The Country Doctor being the shortest one, I just went for it. I know, talk about superficial!

Anyway, I started reading it last night and my Kindle says I’m about 10% through. To quote one of my picky reading friends, “Nothing’s happened yet. No one died..”, so there’s not much I can say about it for the time being.  I’ll definitely keep you posted though!

That’s it for now, happy reading everyone!