Sometime last week I looked at the state of my room and decided something really needed to be done. The various notebooks, recycled paper impromptu to do lists and post-its are immune. There’s no way of changing how I work so that just needs to be overlooked - that said it’s been a disturbing interval between real output that perhaps I should be looking at shaking the work approach up a bit. But the immediate “issue” was the towers of books.
I’d been using some sort of logic to look like I was organising or categorising them but I couldn’t even stack them neatly anymore. I’d started a pile on a stool on my partner’s side of the bed, even though he’s probably read about 6 books in our 14 months together, and most of those when we've been on holidays.
If a tidy room = a tidy mind, and vice versa, I was due for a thorough reconfiguration.
So I decided that the most effective and immediate strategy was simple: cut off the major supply. I’m sorry Stonnington library service – if there is any correlation between your funding and the volume of loans, I’m about to register a wee dip on your weekly report. Until I have finished all of the books I own/have on loan from my mum, I am not going to borrow any more books.
It’s so refreshing when you make a powerful decision, one you know will bring immediate benefits. Especially when you get home from returning all of the offenders you really want to read, only to realise that one has managed to endure.
I was packing to come away for a quiet long weekend and saw one spine with a sticker on it, FIC FOW, and what a one to escape the sweep up: ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’.
Everyone should read this. Readers, thinkers, animal lovers, humanists, sisters, parents, students…if the population was a Venn diagram of demographics this book could be one where they all overlap. It’s such a compelling story in utterly remarkable hands.
I don’t ‘review’ books here, I only share stories that have really meant something to me, either as a reader or as a writer. Often both, definitely both in this case.
As a reader?
The ultimate tribute is when you can’t put a book down, will surrender sleep in order to finish, and can’t do much else for a while once you have. I sat in the swivel chair by the window looking out on the steady rain that is probably ruining many people’s long weekend plans and enjoyed my tears’ trail. It’s a beautiful experience, to be moved to tears, or laughter, or in this rare case, both, by words on a page.
As a writer?
Here is a case study of acknowledging and throwing out the rules of structure-
“Skip the beginning. Start in the middle.” (end of Prologue)
“And I’ve reached a point here…where I don’t see how to go further forward without going back…Which also happens to be the exact moment when the part I know how to tell ends and the part I’ve never told before begins.”
“I’ve told you the middle of my story now. I’ve told you the end of the beginning and I’ve told you the beginning of the end. As luck would have it, there is considerable overlap between the only two parts that remain.” (p. 284 of 308)
Voice. Do you need any more than the paragraphs above? If you do, or just so that I can share more-
“So now it’s 1979. Year of the Goat. The Earth Goat.
Here are some things you might remember. Margaret Thatcher had just been elected Prime Minister. Idi Amin had fled Uganda. Jimmy Carter would soon be facing the Iran hostage crisis. In the meantime, he was the first and last president ever to be attacked by a swamp rabbit. That man could not catch a break...
...The only part of this I was aware of at the time was the ‘Breaking Away' part. In 1979 I was five years old, and I had problems of my own. But that’s how exciting Bloomington was – even the suffering children could not miss the white-hot heat of Hollywood.”
One of my favourite bit parts is Ezra, the caretaker of the student apartment building.
“We sat around our own table, an island of sad refelction in an ocean of merry din. We drank Todd’s Sudwerk beers, and shook our heads over Ezra, who’d once wanted to join the CIA but hadn’t managed in his first (as far as we knew) commando operation, to free a single monkey.”
“The secret to a good life, “ he told me once, “is to bring your A game to everything you do. Even if all you’re doing is taking out the garbage, you do that with excellence.”
As a person?
Like the other components I can’t express this without quoting directly from the text about which I’ve been trying to write.
What I’ve tried to describe before when calling myself (as a character) an unreliable witness, with “The fiction we use to make fact fit,” is better addressed by Fowler with, “Language does this to our memories – simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”
“In everyone’s life there are people who stay and people who go and people who are taken away against their will.”
And for anyone who’s ever sat in that dreadful mute hospital hiatus-
“I remember an aquarium in the waiting room. I remember fish whose beating hearts were visible inside their bodies, whose scales were the colour of glass. I remember a snail that dragged itself along the sides, the mouth in its foot expanding and contracting endlessly as it moved. The doctor came out and my mother stood to meet him. “I’m afraid we’ve lost him this time,” he said, as if there would be a next time.”
Anyone who’s read my ‘reviews’ knows how much I love reading the acknowledgements and it’s not surprising that Karen Joy Fowler opens hers with, “Many, many thanks are due here.”