I have been between books for a while now partly because I have a new job which has required a massive learning curve (and I’ve been steadying myself of an evening with the cozy perfection of Nigel Slater’s food writing) and partly, because I recently completed (she said, not without some pride) the entire series of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “non-fictional “novel” series.
Fortified, I then pressed onward with the entire Neapolitan volumes written by the hauntingly hard-to-read, hard-to-put-down, hard-to forget Elena Ferrante whose work I now admire immensely.
These books are like opulent, rich meals – with dessert – and beg to be savored not gorged, since they are certainly not easily digested afterwards. With Knausgaard particularly, it was troubling to decide if I applauded what he was doing (writing frankly about his life with no filter and thus exhibiting a total disregard for anyone else’s feelings) or despised it; however, what intrigued me most were his descriptions of the everyday and the banal which he chronicles from childhood to the present day; the expression of a cashier he might never see again; the certain feel of a day; the outside weather echoing what he felt within himself; his documentation of a parent’s sharp, throwaway, put-down which crushes him. Continue reading
I’ve just finished reading Patti Smith’s M Train and three days later I am still feeling empty and sad that it’s over. This book is billed as a memoir but it’s so much more than that, brimming with poignancy, wise but careful observations and a simple, child-like take on the many things that she encounters in her everyday life. And, let me just say, that the writing is exquisite.
Consider the following:
We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don’t go. Don’t grow. (page 209, M Train)
It was also surprising to me that Smith is perhaps not the “angry” poet I was expecting as some of her earlier punk music/work might suggest; rather, she looks after her cats tenderly and is clearly a gentle and devoted mother. Her way of seeing and reporting beauty in the everyday is very Buddhist to me and her rapt devotion and understanding of all things Bloomsbury (she’s actually photographed and stayed at Charleston House and Monk’s House – both lofty ambitions of my own!) also resonates with me since I absolutely share that fascination and am no stranger to cherishing a special piece of rock or a translucent piece of china with a cheerful, chintz motif myself. Continue reading