My Week in Books
There’s nothing like a spot of sickness to make you appreciate the power of the written word. I stack my books on my nightstand, but they tend to work their way into my bed, scattered around me as worlds I might enter, should I choose. I’ve been unwell this week, and have sought magnificent escapism, and been lucky enough to find it.
I was talking about ‘This Is How You Loose Her’ with my friend Sean this morning, who is a wonderful writer. He said he finds Diaz somewhat intimidating, as he wonders if he’ll ever be quite as brilliant as him. I share his pain. Though Sean is, of course, brilliant, Diaz’s work drips phrases I wish I had written. I gasped audibly in the middle of a shopping mall foodcourt this week while re-reading this magical collection, the language was just that beautiful.
I must admit I don’t have a great track record as a big reader of short stories. Diaz harnesses the genre better than almost anyone I’ve read, and, along with Karen Russell, has reignited my enthusiasm for the form. However the power of this particular volume is the way the tales are linked, circulating around the character of Yunior and his dying older brother Rafa. We move away and towards these troubled, funny, bittersweet young men, navigating their lives, their loves and their heartbreaks. The sense of connect and disconnect is what makes this such a page-turning wonder, and I was incredibly disappointed when it was over. I know most literary peeps have already read this wonderful man’s work, but if you haven’t, it comes with my extreme endorsement.
Another favourite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I only discovered a year or so ago. I found One Hundred Years of Solitude in the book wall of my hostel in Kathmandu, and consequentially found my travels become exponentially richer, glossed with a lyrical mysticism that couldn’t be contained to the page. ‘Of Love and Other Demons,’ this week’s read, was equally beautiful, and while the storyline wasn’t quite as complex, the language certainly was. I found this volume to wind a little too quickly towards a conclusion, but Garcia Marquez’s strength is in his ability to make every page sing. It’s funny, so many of the characters I read remain faceless, though I see their every other movement, but each feature of this book’s protagonist, Sierva Maria, is clear in my mind’s eye. Especially, of course, her main of copper hair.
There is a certain madness to the novel, as well as a ghostly and dangerous sexuality. The characters are either glossy or withering, mad or genius, and they oscillate between these states as the hours and days pass. Reading the work certainly ensures an easy leap into another world, and at a much shorter length that many of his other novels, it would also be a good entry point into Garcia Maquez, for those who haven’t read him before.
My other read for this week was ‘Citizen’ by Aaron Shurin, a collection of prose poems. I’ve struggled to get into this collection over the months I’ve owned it, despite a rather profound love of the form, but finally read it cover to cover this week. The language is stunning, though I find the poet tends to list beautiful images rather than create particularly inventive metaphors. I don’t quite know my opinion on these works, to be honest. They’re quite dark but always shadowed, mythical but contextual, of love and yet not. I think I struggle to connect as the poet employs a constant use of ellipses, which I find distracting. Where a line break would work excellently the ellipses are used instead, making a breath feel like a wandering mind, rather than a contemplative one.
Essentially, I think this collection is a matter of taste. As a lover of anything poetic I do have time and space for the works, but as a rather critical reader it was the little things that dulled my enthusiasm. Also in comparison to Diaz’s collection, in which he links his stories into a central beating heart of emotion, these prose-poems lacked a thread. Perhaps I am asking for too much narrative, or perhaps there is something here that I missed. I will read these little pieces again, but only in the rain, before a fire, or in a damp forrest. If you ever find yourself in need of reading material for these situations, then you’ve found it!
While I recuperate this week in a codeine-induced haze, I aim to read something bright and cheery to build back my spirits and my body!
Happy reading, everyone.