Friday, March 30, 2012

The beauty of insomnia

This morning I was dozing, and using my favourite sleeping aid - audiobooks. The one on rotation is still Hitchens Arguably, and as I surfaced to consciousness this morning it furnished me with an incandescent moment - Hitchens reviewing J.K. Rowling's The Deathly Hallows. The thought alone - Hitchins picking up his reserved copy amid scarves and robes - Hitchens reading the the book, sighing at the tedious camping. It's wonderful. Then you get the actual review, which you should just read, because it is both excellent and tremendously funny, intentionally and unintentionally. I leave you (a body needs breakfast) with two highlights:

"The ban on sexual matters is also observed fairly pedantically, though as time has elapsed Rowling has probably acquired male readers who find themselves having vaguely impure thoughts about Hermione Granger (if not, because the thing seems somehow impossible, about Ginny Weasley)."
You don't know the half of it, friend.

And the end, which is a thing of beauty:
"It’s achievement enough that “19 years later,” as the last chapter-heading has it, and quite probably for many decades after that, there will still be millions of adults who recall their initiation to literature as a little touch of Harry in the night."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The art of reading

Recently, I am re-discovering reading. I've always been a pretty voracious reader, but over the last few years reading had gotten to be a frantic, desperate business. Some days it was an escape hatch, some days a hurried quest for knowledge; and always contaminated with thoughts of the end of the book, and of the next book. How simple to spoil a simple joy.

Recently, I have changed a few things. Now, when I read, if I get distracted, I stop, close my eyes (put AWAY the gorram phone, TDEC) and once I am ready, continue reading. It works. I'm enjoying my reading more than I have in a long while. I still get distracted, of course, but now that is a question, rather than an undertow. Less of the distracting pull, more of the what do I do now, do I sit and read, or do I play Tiny Heroes? Most of all, there is more of me just sitting and listening for a minute, so I can hear what it is that I want, what I need.

What I need is to do the dishes. And to cook. I love to cook, and find it very relaxing, though I'm not much of a cook. As for the dishes, well, I just did them while telling the window my mermaid story for the storytelling class tomorrow. It makes doing dishes an entirely different experience. Same thing with the housework. I am trying to do less of the why isn't my spouse doing this and more of the if I do this thing, it'll be tidier.

Has anyone been to our place? Yeah, it's not really working yet. I am trying.

All this is a prelude of sorts to the two accompaniments to all this activity. The first is the multitaskable audiobook that keeps boredom at bay when I am folding laundry. That's Hitch, Christopher Hitchens, whose interminable Arguably* is becoming more joyous as I relax, enjoy the show and put away the underwear. What an authorial voice. How I love him for making me want to read more, write more.

The second accompaniment is The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. You can get my attention with anything that involves Pooh and especially Piglet, so these two jumped into my arms at the used bookstore. In the world of my Strange Gratitude, reading them has made me grateful for two things:
- I am not the person I was ten years ago. I liked that person well enough, and she was a lot less scared of the world; but ultimately I think my current self is quite a bit nicer, and happier. Maybe even more forgiving.
- I read these books this weekend, not ten years ago
Both of them have quite a bit of distractingness. The Te of Piglet especially has a fair amount of soapboxery that doesn't help to convey the message. I am grateful because I still got the message, which is pretty and fragrant. I am grateful because I find it intelligible, and don't know if I would have before. Zen Shorts is one of my favourite books for a reason, and these two books get at the same thing - Taoism, Buddhism, they're all lovely and fine, I'm sure. The Quakers aren't so different. What I see in one I see in the other, and they render eachother more clear - a path to a life that takes the time to sit and enjoy the view from where I am.

*That is, by the way, a wonderful review, all exasperated appreciation

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Sometimes, I'll be watching some movie or tv series and some heroine will catch my eye. Say this one. For a moment I'll think - oh - what I would do to be pretty.

It's such a primal thing. I am perfectly decent-looking. I have a life I have worked very hard for and really value; I've a husband I wouldn't swap for Nathan Fillion* (what is about men who look good in high-waisted trousers?), a loving family and friends, enough money to do the stuff that really matters. I have, at different times, happiness.

And yet...

Like Brel, in La Chanson de Jacky -
"Être une heure une heure seulement
Être une heure une heure quelquefois
Être une heure rien qu'une heure durant
Beau beau beau et con à la fois"

Oh, to be pretty and stupid for only an hour...

The perfect song about wanting what you don't want...

*I'm having a little Firefly relapse at the moment. Follow the link. It has fish.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Not quite there

Never start your day by listening to Simon Prebble - such a lovely cadence he has - read Christopher Hitchens. If ever I thought I was, to steal an adjective, a dictionary-licking word hoarder, then I had forgotten, for a moment, about Hitchens. Hitchens, who loved Orwell and Wilde both, which in turn is quite enough to make me love him, even if he weren't such a virtuoso writer (see what he did there? Now I'm self-conscious about my choice of words). I listen to him and he has such full command of English, as if every morning over breakfast he sorted through baskets of fresh and luscious rare words and said "you! I will use all of you today." It wakes me up too early and makes me fidget with my sentences.

Hitchens makes me feel inadequate whenever he doesn't make me want to punch him. I guess he's dead now, so punching him would be spiteful, and I am actually very fond of him, but truly, the things that came out of his mouth sometimes... It is, I think, why I am fond of him. It isn't just that I think he has (had) great taste and a terrifying combination of wit and vocabulary. That is all very fine. It is, instead, that he is like that friend you can have a grand and passionate argument with over drinks, and still not let it diminish your respect for them or theirs for you. What a lovely thing to be reminded of first thing on a Saturday.

I do feel inadequate, reading Arguably. It isn't the inadequacy of watching too many Bollywood movies and feeling very plain and bereft of sequins; it is the inadequacy that makes me pick up a pen after procrastinating for days and write a little, perhaps badly, rather than not at all. Thanks, friend. Now, how about some pancakes?

Oh, and  by the way, I am on a reading roll, and just finished Pat Barker's Regeneration. It has my instant fandom. What subtlety, what perfect writing on such a difficult topic - shell shock treatment. It has been a terribly long time since I just sat down and enjoyed every page of a book. Yes, I mean it, it isn't just a fascinating topic well dealt with, it is almost pure enjoyment to read it, if not of an oblivious, escapist kind. For my escapism I have Diana Wynn Jones, who is now also dead. How vexing it is when one's favourite authors die.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Books like doors

I'm reading (on a whim - what would the world look like without used book shops?) Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. It is her epic graphic novel about her relationship with her father. The only thing that lives in that same space in my mind is Art Spiegelman's Maus, and that is quite the space, since I consider Maus to be one of the few books that everyone should read. The roundabout way to directness somehow puts you right there in the middle of that relationship.

None of this is my point. Both books are the kind that will move into your mind and live there forever after, and that is a rare enough quality, but it is not my point. My point is only this, that it is to me like Wednesday afternoon off, or Saturday morning, those moments of unfettered ambition and promise. A book like this can be a door that opens onto some view, some possibility I hadn't thought of or remembered. It makes me remember to want some amorphous other, bigger future thing. Not so amorphous, perhaps - a future that is a little less sensible and a little more true to my unreasonable desire to live bigger. To live with more creativity in my life, more reading and writing and exploring, with more striving for the unlikely.

Comfort books - the Diana Wynn Jones and Pratchetts that line my walls - are a wonderful escape, door onto a safe, more fun place to go for a few hours. It is almost enough to make me forget that there are the other books, those that are a little less like doors and a little more like the Tardis. They take you somewhere, show you something you didn't know about your life, and while that's often a little dangerous, half the excitement is not knowing what is behind the door.

Moments like that wash off, for a moment, the grime of a life of practicality and shows the shine of the barely possible.