MY READS By Maggie Mackellar

In which I note down some of the things I’m reading and why. Perhaps it will be of some interest to you dear readers of Megoracle.

Rebecca Traister, “What Women Find in Friends That They May Not Get From Love”. Sunday Review NYT. Kinda obvious why I clicked on it. A nice read on the importance of female friendship.

Freeman’s Arrival – specifically Anne Carson (perhaps my favourite writer, if such a thing exists) on imagining Sappho driving through upstate New York and Louisa Erdrich (another one of my favourite writers) on mourning, and David Mitchell on ghosts, and the places where the membrane between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin and Lydia Davis on reading a book in a language she cannot speak and (hilariously) Etgar Keret’s story ‘Mellow’ where he recounts one of the first times he did a reading as a published writer. I won’t spoil it for you but he decides a puff on his driver’s joint will settle his nerves and improve his performance. I will leave you with the vision of him crawling up the stairs on all fours because he is so high he doesn’t dare stand up and that’s just at the beginning of the night. There’s a lot more in this collection. A wonderful lucky dip to have beside the loo perhaps…

I’m also reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words – which is stupendous. It’s a memoir of learning Italian. She starts with the metaphor of not being courageous enough to swim across a hidden lake. For inotherwordsthe longest time she swims the circumference of the lake (a much more laborious and boring exercise) eventually she finds some courage and some friends (the two often go hand in hand) and swims across the lake. She is out of her depth. Terrified. Victorious. Transformed. This is the metaphor she uses to describe her journey from learning to speak and read Italian to moving to Italy and writing in Italian. In Other Words is the result. Lahiri writes this book in Italian, which is translated into English by Anna Goldstein, (Elena Ferrante’s translator no less). The Italian and the English mirror each other. I totally get why Lahiri does this and doesn’t translate it herself. This book is beautiful. Aesthetically yes, but also because the language is so different to my previous experience of reading Lahiri (add The Lowlands, The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth to your must read list) I have scrawled in my notes “pared back” “brutal”, “without embellishment.”

So there’s that.

And also somewhat serendipitously I found Lydia Davis’ s essay On Learning Norwegian, published in Freeman’s. I’d read a review of Freeman’s journal when it was first published and the review highlighted this essay and I’d pricked my ears at the sound of it, but of course both the review and the journal sunk under more urgent matters, like putting the washing on. But last week when I was in town for the day getting the car serviced, (which meant unrestrained browsing time in the bookshop) there on the shelves, tempting me, at a moment when I had money – just before I paid the school fees and found out I needed four new tires for the car – was Freeman’s journal, and within it Davis’ essay.  I bought it, alongside of Lahiri’s new book and a novel, (Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton) which, I have yet to start.

But to get back to Davis and this strange thing that sometimes happens when books or ideas come into your life at the right moment. Davis sets out to read the Dag Solstad’s “Telemark novel” which is not so much a novel as a saga, about as interesting and as long (say some critics) as reading a telephone directory. Others say it’s the greatest Norwegian novel ever published. Davis decides she must read it, but as it is not translated into English she must read it in Norwegian. It becomes an obsession. I haven’t finished her essay yet, but it’s such an interesting comparison both in intent and execution to Lahiri’s total immersion in Italian. And the hook for me into both these pieces of writing is that both these writer’s have sunk them-selves into an experience. Neither of them, I suspect, have been assured of where that experience will take them. And possibly this is a luxury because they have enough money to pay school fees and buy new tires without worrying if the journey will pay off. Or perhaps I’m selling them short and what it is, is actually a commitment to trust their gut and pursue what interests them even in the midst of school fees and such like. Such commitment brings me in a convoluted way to Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac.

hotel du lacHotel du Lac was leant to me by Meg, who bought it for a gold coin from the rich offerings in the second hand book tables in the Schoolhouse. She read it and raved. I swapped it for Hanya Yanagihara’s  A Little Life – a more incongruous swap you couldn’t dream up. (I loved and loathed and lived and sweated and dreamed and hated A little Life) Anyway I’m loving Hotel Du Lac and last week on car service day, a woman came up to me in the café where I had eaten breakfast/morning tea/lunch and was nudging my way toward afternoon tea) and asked if I liked the book I had been intermittently reading between trying to write things– I beamed at her – a fellow fan – but no – she hated it. I wilted, because I knew she almost hated me. Hated that observer, that person who sits on the edge and doesn’t exactly take notes, but you know they are noticing and who feels too much about nothing. Hotel du Lac is a gentle, brutal, wonderful love story about a woman writer committed to her craft.

And lastly but not leastly I’ve started this glorious memoir recommended by a foodie friend, called Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A memoir of food, family and longing by Anya Von Bremzen. It’s my kitchen read. I figure I spend enough time washing up (our dishwasher is broken) and cooking that I may as well have a kitchen book – and this is it. The book is arranged in decades. Starting with the end of the Czars in 1910 Von Bremzen and her mother work their way through the decades. I’m only up to Lenin but all ready I can see this book is not going to be helpful for my waistline. Because this woman writes about food and cooking with love, in such a way as to inspire me to actually cook.  So if you love cooking and you love history – Russian history to be specific then this is the book for you.

So here ends my what I’m reading rant: I am also reading a few other secret things – Lisa Gorton – The life of Houses (brilliant,) and bizarrely The Shack by someone Young (research for an idea) and the book I am carrying around but never read – Stella Miles Franklin –  a biography.

Categories: Maggie's Words

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2 replies

  1. How I wish I had time to read more… Now the shack?! I wonder what your review will be like on that… Have you read cries time prophecies? Love Mimi x

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