All posts filed under: reading

February

February. I’m not so sure about February. January is so stark and clean: the year stretching ahead, the diary empty, the slate wiped & resolve high. Then February comes along & things start to get muddied by reality. Who knows whether I’m achieving everything I wanted to when the year began? Certainly not me because I’m not opening my diary to find out. (This is also how I found myself running back to school with a hastily made packed-lunch yesterday morning after forgetting that it was the day of the Moose’s school trip to the science centre.) Still. Here’s what I know I have done. I finished Anna Karenina last Saturday night. I loved it & keep waking up thinking about it. Whenever I read a classic I find myself thinking oh! that’s why it’s so famous & beloved! and wondering why I didn’t read it years ago. My mind is still fizzing with remembered connections and echoes, and it seems the kind of book that needs to be revisited at different stages of life. (Clearly I’ve already missed some angles!) …

short story collections | edge of evening

#shortstoryaday

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait. Mavis Gallant, 1996 (Preface to her Selected Stories, Bloomsbury 1997) I love short stories. I read them. I buy them. And I really love what Mavis Gallant has to say about them too (so much so, that I’ve quoted her here before). Yes, stories can wait. But then I noticed just how much waiting some of the collections on my short story shelf (you have one too, right?) were doing. Waiting and waiting and waiting. I blame the intimidating heft of some of those collected/selected volumes. What a commitment to start ploughing through all of Cheever or Carver or Maxwell, or even dear Mavis herself. A short story collection works best for me when I read a story a day until it’s done. There’s enough space left around each story (Read one. Shut the book.), but there’s also the sense of …

Anna Karenina | edge of evening

Anna Karenina

Though it was a chore to look after all the children and stop their pranks, thought it was hard to remember and not mix up all those stockings, drawers, shoes from different feet, and to untie, unbutton and retie so many tapes and buttons, Darya Alexandrovna, who had always loved bathing herself, and considered it good for the children, enjoyed nothing so much as this bathing with them all. To touch all those plump little legs, pulling stockings on them, to take in her arms and dip those naked little bodies and hear joyful or frightened shrieks; to see the breathless faces of those splashing little cherubs, with their wide, frightened and merry eyes, was a great pleasure. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky And it’s proving a great pleasure, too, to read Anna Karenina. I hadn’t tried it for years and years, but this time something has stuck, and after never making it past the first book before, I’m now over halfway and hoping that it never ends. It’s not Anna …

Delve truthfully into the darkest depth

The point is what we tell ourselves about motherhood and child-rearing. If we keep talking about it in an idyllic way, like in many handbooks on motherhood, we will continue to feel alone and guilty when we brush up against the frustrating aspects of being a mother. The task of a woman writer today is not to stop at the pleasures of the pregnant body, of birth, of bringing up children, but to delve truthfully into the darkest depth.Elena Ferrante interviewed in the Financial Times, 11 December 2015 I read the new interview with Elena Ferrante the day after I finished her first novel, Troubling Love. And within it I found the answer to something that had puzzled me about her Neapolitan tetralogy, namely, how I can love her writing so passionately at the level of feeling and yet find little to admire at the sentence-level. This, I think, is the answer, A page is well written when the labour and pleasure of truthful narration supplant any other concern, including a concern with formal elegance. I belong to …

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers | edge of evening

The Yellow Birds

The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire. Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a white shade on everything, like a veil over our eyes. It tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded. Not that our safety was preordained. We were not destined to survive. The fact …

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham | edge of evening

Etc.

It’s getting to that point of the year when it feels like time to start looking back. Naturally, I record everything I read. I have for as long as I can remember, so when I see eight-year-old T dutifully carrying her evening’s reading down to the table each morning and listing it in her school book-record, toast cooling beside her, it seems completely normal. She adds the books to the teetering stacks on the piano stool behind her & I periodically take them back upstairs or back to the library and change them for something else I think she might enjoy. My own book record is a hardback notebook which starts in 2002. Before that, I would write the list in the back of each year’s diary. But for the last two years, I’ve simply listed the books I’ve read here and here. I keep meaning to copy them into my notebook too, but it’s a habit that I’ve fallen out of. But when I looked back over the list, I had a nagging suspicion that I was forgetting something. Then I …

Cosmos & conkers | edge of evening

Harvest

Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible that all of the weeks have the same number of days. Last week for example had five, but one was for Harvest Festival and one was for teacher training & so tacked itself onto next week’s half term holiday. Another was for being lost in a maze with a two-year-old & someone else’s three-year-old. Or at least that’s how it started before the three-year-old ran away from me. Then I was lost in a maze following elusive glimpses of a small child who, it seemed, was going to take me round in the same crazy-inducing circle, time after time. I offer it as a metaphor for parenthood for someone to use in a short story. I’ve been reading lots of short stories recently. I’m loosely following along with the Iowa How Writers Write Fiction MOOC again. Loosely meaning I’m a week behind; meaning I’m listening but not actively participating. Anyway, I’m enjoying it for the reading recommendations alone. Last night I reread ZZ Packer’s ‘Drinking Coffee Elsewhere’ from her collection of …

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion | edge of evening

Run River, Play It As It Lays

Somebody holds the door open for Lily in a hardware store, and she thinks she has a very complex situation on her hands.Run River by Joan Didion Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion I read Run River (1963) and Play It As It Lays (1970) back to back. Then I tried to remember what I had once read Zadie Smith saying about Didion’s fiction. I recall two things: (1) it was high praise; (2) it was in the days when my lunch hour used to take me to the Waterstones on Piccadilly pretty much every day and I would run up & down its art deco staircase high with the freedom of being out of the office, the wooden handrail smooth under my loose grip. These two points not being much to go on (giving me only Zadie Smith circa the time of On Beauty; myself …

The Story of the Lost Child

There are moments when what exists on the edges of our lives, and which, it seems, will be in the background forever — an empire, a political party, a faith, a monument, but also simply the people who are part of our daily existence — collapses in an utterly unexpected way, and right when countless other things are pressing upon us.The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante I spent six happy days torn between my inability to put down the final book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet and my desire for it to never come to an end. I think that this was probably exactly what Ferrante was trying to do to me. I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because …

The Folded Clock & Ongoingness

I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It’s eight hundred thousand words long. I didn’t want to lose anything. That was my main problem. I couldn’t face the end of the day without a record of everything that had ever happened. Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso Today I wondered What is the worth of a day? Once, a day was long. It was bright and then it wasn’t, meals happened and school happened, and sports practice, maybe, happened and two days from this day there would be a test, or an English paper would be due, or there would be a party for which I’d been waiting, it would seem, for years. Days were ages. […] Not anymore. The “day” no longer exists. The smallest unit of time I experience is the week. But in recent years the week, like the penny, has also become a uselessly small currency. The month is, more typically, the smallest unit of time I experience. But truthfully months are not so noticeable either. […] Since I am suddenly ten …