I’ve been reading a lot lately. I read in general but lately I’ve been going through a sort of literary growth spurt where one book is not enough and I need all the books, all their words, all their beauty in my brain all at once.
It’s a sort of gluttony that attaches itself to my view of the world rather than my thighs. The good kind, you know?
I’ve read things like “everything changes, but only with abandon” that have made me stop and smile and re-read the sentence five times. Then I thought about what I needed to change and what sort of abandon I needed to find to get there.
That’s the thing about books and words – sometimes you read through them and they don’t grab you much, maybe a little, but not in a way that you’ll remember five years from now. Some of them grow hands out of their pages and reach into your body and tear you to pieces, leaving you strewn on the floor to be put back together only by yourself and when you do you can never quite remember where the pieces went in the first place. So you end up with a new version of yourself, generally the same but with some subtle differences that have altered something inside you forever.
When I read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, I was so blown away I almost couldn’t handle it. It was one of those books that grabs you from the beginning but lightly, gently, leading you down its path with its hand resting lovingly on the small of your back. By the time you realize that those hands have now wrapped themselves around your body, picked you up, and are carrying you, kidnapped and blindfolded, through its treacherous depths, it’s too late to go back. That’s what that book was like – a slow unfolding that never lost your attention leading to two hundred pages of “ohmygodicantputthisdownwhatthefuck”. It didn’t hurt that, once the self-absorbed nature and overt harshness of the main character were stripped away, many of her ideas on marriage and children mirrored my very own. Whether you like it or not (which you probably won’t), you’ll identify in some way with these people.
Follow that up with Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, a human interest novel, one of those books that makes you realize the world is not quite as big as we thought and that everyone is a little more hurt than they might show. It was quick, slightly easy, but beautiful.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Get it for the feminist in your life and a copy for the anti-feminist. There are ideas in that book that I never thought of, views on the feminist world that I never saw, and a sense of humour and self-deprecation throughout that makes it not at all preachy. Trust me, you want to read her ideas on buying a designer bag and waxing.
Follow all that up with You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik, a novel about an English teacher in Paris who teaches at a school for well-off American students. His power over his students is breathtaking, they love him, he’s intelligent and funny and charming. He’s also missing some pieces and you don’t know what they are and really never do. It’s beautifully written (this is where the “abandon” quote is from) and picturesque. You see everything, feel it all, and you know that there is something autobiographical about this whole thing in some way. There is no way that a book like that doesn’t have some pieces of the author embedded into it.
I’m not a book reviewer. I’m not. But I’ve read such amazing things in the last month I can’t help but share them. You don’t have to read these ones (though I highly recommend them) but read something. Please.
Read Faulkner or Vonnegut or Fitzgerald or Hitchens. Read Kinsella, if that’s your bag. Fuck, read Seuss! Just read.
It really makes your world a better place if only for the little while after you finish a book and it still has its hands gripping inside you.