I don’t write a book diary post for every book that I read, however it feels criminally negligent to have lived, and not made mention of, the incredible authors that I have read consecutively since August. In addition – another reason to commit them to memory here – they are all women, from different countries. I often worry that I read too many north American male authors (two things I am not).
I started the summer with Lorrie Moore’s Collected Stories, moved onto Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam and followed those two by (consciously or unconsciously) following my sister’s post-divorce bibliotherapy reading list, namely by reading Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus and Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World. Aside from the more obvious benefits one might expect from reading a post-divorce bibliotherapy prescription, all the novels bought me something particular which I seemed to be lacking without knowing it.
I really find it hard to know what to say about Lorrie Moore’s writing. I love it on the same level that I love Nabokov. Her style is so unexpected, yet always so perfect and what she is expressing so perfectly expressed, something that I also find in Nabokov, which I thought came to him through his multilingualism; allowing him to broaden and play with language. So with Moore, I don’t now, I guess she is just a genius. I think that I think of myself as not quite a language purist, but I like language and writing styles that are authentic and ‘proper’ for want of a better word (ironically). For me Moore manages to be innovative as well as true and correct. Her insights and her humour lifted me from myself, provided me with refuge, with a friend when I needed it.
To change the tone completely, next I read the final part of Margaret Atwood’s ‘sci-fi’ trilogy, MaddAddam. I think, without wanting to be too obvious about it, that what I gained from reading this particular novel at that particular time, was perspective. There’s nothing like a post-apocalyptic distopia to make you take a good hard look at yourself and then tell yourself to just cheer the fucking fuck up.
Shirley Hazzard moved me deeply, took me to places in my brain and my heart that I had never visited before. I read the recommendation for this novel in The Novel Cure, a book about bibliotherapy and when I told my sister that I wanted to read it, she said that she already had it, having bought it after her own bibliotherapy session. I read: deep emotional insights, heart wrenching insights, thick, dense, language that rewards your effort at reading it by once opening out before you, making your heart sore, or sink. I am haunted by two particular phrases: “The tragedy is not that love doesn’t last. The tragedy is the love that lasts.” And, as a description of living through a love without hope: “A slow, inward bleeding of hope and humiliation.”
I finished up with Lionel Shriver, someone, like Hazzard, who I probably wouldn’t have read without the impetus provided by The Novel Cure and bibliotheray in general. I’m very grateful that I did. In addition to absorbing me completely and making me look forward to getting into bed at night so I could return to the story, I finished by thinking about relationships in a less polarised way, something I hadn’t even known that I did.
Collectively they made me view myself as kind of magnificent in my aloneness; elevated somehow (although, in turn, this reminds of me the Ben Folds lyric: “I remember when misery thrilled me much more.”).
To summarise my summer reading: a triumph of bibliotherapy and of the curative qualities of art, but above all a reminder that whatever happens in the world outside the five per cent field of vision between me and the page, books were, and remain, my first love and they will always console, they will always nourish, they will always astonish.