Book (Day) Diary: Hanif Kureishi

Last week the 23rd of April came around again, quickly it seems.  Although, I remember last year – I was newly installed in Madrid – and I can hardly believe that was the same life.  El Día del Libro has become my favourite “holiday” of the year.  I was convinced there would be a big headliner again this year (last year we had Salman Rushdie) and I was extremely excited when I learnt that it would be Hanif Kureishi.

My Mum was visiting so we went together, and my Mum being my Mum, she wanted to sit in the front row.  Left to my own devices, I would have skulked in the back somewhere.  But I´m glad now that we did because we were able to see him up close and witness his facial expressions as he listened to the translator translating the questions from the Spanish interviewer through his head phones.  He was, at the beginning at least – a little arsey.  There were the acoustics that he didn´t like and when asked whether he thought a fair summary of his writing would be that he externalises the internal, he kind of sighed and said, “We went though all this with Plato, do we really have to go over it again here.”  This is in no way a criticism of Hanif, because it was the most fun I have had a book talk … ever.  He was really funny.  I don´t know how many other natives there were in the audience (because his funniness came not only from the language, but from his cultural references and his general Britishness.  I think to fully appreciate him that night, you had to be British), but my Mum and I laughed the whole way through, and now that I think about it I can´t remember hearing anyone else laughing.  When we queued to get my copy of Intimidad (Intimacy) signed, when he saw us he said, “Oh, hello you two.”! Which suggests he noticed us having lots of fun on the front row.

As well as being fun, and funny, the talk was illuminating.  There were so many things that he said which I loved, and agreed with, and wish I could find a way to keep in my mind forever and so to live by, but there are two that for whatever mysterious, or perhaps not so mysterious, reasons have really stuck.

The first was that he said that there is always an opportunity to be creative.  Every day, every moment.  In your conversations, in your actions.  You don´t have to be an ´artist´ to lead a creative life.  I found this really consoling and exciting.  An example: I have now begun reading Intimidad and found this quote (I am putting it in both languages, as it seems differently beautiful in each):

Naturally, to move on is an infidelity – to others, to the past, to old notions of oneself.  Perhaps everyday should contain at least one essential infidelity or necessary betrayal.  It would be an optimistic, hopeful act, guaranteeing belief in the future – a declaration that things can be not only different but better.

Sin duda, evolucionar constituye una infidelidad…, a los demás, al pasado, a las antiguas opiniones de uno mismo.  Tal vez cada día debería contener al menos una infidelidad escencial o una traición necesaria.  Se trataría de un acto optimista, esperanzador, que garantizaría la fe en el futuro…, una afirmación de que las cosas pueden ser no sólo diferentes, sino mejores.

Reading that brings me back to why I myself felt that pull – up and away – and what is that if not an act of creativity?

The second thing that stuck with me was (I wish I could remember his exact words) that when, as a writer – he was talking about himself, of course – you find that moment of inspiration, it feels like falling in love.  Like falling in love.  I identify with that sentiment and can feel the echoes of excitement when I only think if it.  For me, as well as with writing, it is also the same with languages. I feel it when I have had a ´good Spanish day´, as me sister and I call it; I feel excited, really excited, like love does to you.  It is a (deceptive, according to David Sedaris) high, which is very much akin to those first moments with a new person.  So, I may have lost one love, in one sense, but I have others instead.  Less tangible, less quantifiable, but no less exciting or evolutionary.

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