In my last post about books, I mentioned that the British newspaper Guardian had recently launched a campaign called Read Women 2014 and that this fit rather well into my own reading agenda this year. Since we're entering the summer season, which is traditionally regarded as the great reading season, adored by all vacationers on beaches all over the world, I thought it would be grand time to talk a little more about reading.
Living in a tourist destination and homesteading, doesn't exactly leave me with lots of time to read in the summer, but I've been finding thatreading a book really relaxes me when I need to unwind, in a way that watching movies, or reading things online does not. Watching movies, or TV shows can be intense and stimulating for me, and reading online is a sort of jumpy experience, careening from one source text to the next. Sitting down with a book on the other hand, is decidedly more about slowing down, focusing and letting go.
One of my summer reading rituals is re-reading Tove Jansson's utterly magical and heart-wrenching The Summer Book, but this year I can't seem to find my copy anywhere. If one of you bastards has it, give it back. I love that book. It's laconic and melancholic, yet filled with the kind of abundant joy in little things that a million lifestyle bloggers wish they could tap. The Summer Book, like all of Janssons oeuvre is at once wise and naive, those qualities embodied in turns by the two primary characters: a little girl and her grandmother.
I think it's impossible for me to overstate how important Jansson's works are to me, and in fact, for my family of two, my mother and I. She began reading The Moomin books to me when I was about two-years-old. We read them all, the novels, the picture books, the comics. We scoured art books for Tove's paintings and traveled far to see her miniature scenes, something I imagine was rather interesting for my mother, who was a set designer. When I got older, I read Jansson's books for adults, starting with The True Deceiver. It's extremely rare that you can transition from childhood to adulthood with an author. In some ways Tove and her stories are part of our family lore.
When my mom said she was going to send me a new biography about the author, I knew I would devour it in one sitting, which is exactly what happened. Like many artist's and author's Tove Jansson's own life served as the mirror-world map of her works. It's always particularly interesting to read about her art outside of the Moomins and even her literary works. Her style of painting was in many ways way ahead of its time with her dreamy, other-worldly landscapes, depictions of women and queer people in the very center of paintings and her emphasis on the natural world. The book, called Do Work And Love will hopefully be available to English-speaking readers in the next few years, because it's a fascinating look into the life of an artist so gifted and multi-talented that she could only rightly be called a genius.
If you haven't read The Summer Book already, stop reading this post right now and go get yourself a copy. I mean it.
Tove Jansson's works aren't the only ones I reread from time to time. In fact, if I like a book, I will keep rereading it, sometimes year after year. Unhappily for me, I'm rather picky about what I like and often don't particularly enjoy many of the books I read. This is especially true of fiction. Of course, there's something to love and admire in most every book, but often modern novels also leave much to be desired.
This was, for instance, the case with Jennifer Dubuis' Cartwheel, a fictionalization of the real-life case of Amanda Knox, the American student accused of murdering a roommate while abroad. It was an entertaining enough read, but had that oddly paper-y flavor of novels that try too hard to be literary, analytical, perceptive. The language had almost nothing going for it and over all, I would not recommend it, unless you're particularly fascinated with the case.
Reading experiences like Cartwheel sometimes make me turn to books I've already read and enjoyed, particularly because as we change, our reading of novels and non-fiction works we've liked also changes. When it first came out, I wrote a glowing review of Lauren Groff's Arcadia and though I stand by it and am wildly enjoying this book the second time around, I also happened upon a rather interesting discovery about research, fictionalization and an author's imagination.
This time when I picked Arcadia up at the library, I also grabbed their copy of another old favorite read, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. If you're ever planning to have a child, I would recommend it. If you're not planning to have a child, I would still recommend it. Reading these two books side by side however, I discovered that much of the commune of Arcadia and particularly its inception is, if not exactly lifted, then thinly fictionalized from Spiritual Midwifery. So much so that I can't believe I didn't make the connection at the time I first read Arcadia. Now, I knew from interviews that Groff had used The Farm, the commune that Gaskin and her community formed and continue to practice nature; childbirth midwifery in, as an inspiration, but I have to say that I was a little shocked by how much the two narratives resemble each other in the beginning of Arcadia.
Intertextual fun, my friends and a recommended companion read.
I don't, however, have any doubts about the vastness of Ms. Groff's imagination. It's is as bottomless as a lake filled with monsters of all kinds, rivaled in contemporary literature only by the alligator wresting mind of a certain "break-neck demon writer".
Having followed Lauren Groff and Karen Russell's careers as writers from their first published short stories onward, reading the latter's latest short story collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove, was deeply satisfying. Her stories are a little less whimsical and a little more grounded now, but still imbued with both magic and uneasy, deeply unsettling at times even. There's a lot of death and sadness in them, displacement and guilt and deep, subconscious desires under the masks of vampires, seagulls from the future and dolls representing sad, lost boys. Well, and then there's tailgating in Antarctica...
One of my long time summer "hacks", is reading short stories, instead of novels,
because sometimes it's hard to concentrate on a novel when there's so much light and activity all around you. A short story can be a complete, self-contained world you can enter and quickly exit again.
Of course, when the right novel comes along you can whip through it in a day. As I suspected, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites was such a novel for me. It's in fact the perfect summer read, if you don't mind spending a summer's day in grip of an Icelandic winter. Dark, brooding, desperate and melancholy, Kent's debut novel is nothing if not a triumph. And I'm not just saying that because Jennifer Lawrence is signed to star in the movie adaptation. While most reviews of the book are a little skeptical, but none can deny that Kent pulls off an ambitious feat. If you're gonna read women this year (and you should!), read Burial Rites.
Speaking of the right novel coming along, I finished Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 sometime in April, about a week after I'd started it and should really get it back to my sis who lent it to me, but honestly, I keep going back to it and re-reading sections. This novel is so rich and bizarre and has so much language that attracts the atavistic sense of story, especially when the author suddenly switches gears and writes about "the Little People", literal small creatures with a kind of a hive mind and passage way into the world trough the mouth of a dead goat. There's much intertextuality in this book as well, though often it's the clumsiest part of the narrative, it's also, like the entire book, oddly compelling.
Now, I've never been a Murakami fan, let alone a fanatic and the only book of his that I've liked before is Norwegian Wood, often considered by enthusiasts as the "square" Murakami novel. Having only read some of his early works, IQ84 kind of blew me away. Now I'm going to have to give Kafka On The Shore another chance.
As for other men, in my book pile Derrick Jensen is ever present. I mentioned A Language Older Than Words in my last post and I'm also reading Dreams, though now that summer is here, they're both slow going.
Another great reading "hack" for summer is, of course, poetry. Like short stories, poetry collections, chapbooks and anthologies can be read in small increments or devoured whole. The other morning I found to my complete delight, Ms. Andrea Quinlan's latest chapbook from Birds Of Lace Press The Mysteries Of Laura, in my mailbox. There's honestly nothing better than a package full of words. Not only did Andrea gift me with her poems, but she wrote me the sweetest card, including the kindest words you can ever tell a writer: "I hope to read your book someday."
As a little teaser, Andrea kindly allowed me to reprint one of her poems here. If you're intrigued, you can purchase her collection from BOL, for the low, low price of $5. So much pleasure for so little dollars.
The Gothic Novels
Laura read all the novels
That girls her age were forbidden to read
All the classics of Gothic literature
"They are dangerous."
"They will ruin your health."
"They could even jeopardize your chances of a good match."
These were the chastisements
She heard when she was caught with the books unaware
And they were snatched from her hands
But already she had devoured them by moonlight,
Hidden in secluded corners of the house
And leafy bowers in the grounds,
These warnings had come too late.
Already she had been woken in the night by strange cries
Taken with fainting spells,
And forced to rest in a room filled with violets.
Already she had received mysterious signs,
Dreamt of people she had never met
And strange and gloomy places she had never travelled.
Now, when she sat with her family at the dinner table,
There was a glint in her green eyes.
©Andrea Quinlan 2014 "The Mysteries Of Laura"
What are you reading this summer? Favorite short story collections? Female authors? Any Murakami fans out there? What did you think of 1Q84?