Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Waiting to Exhale

All I can say is that the year so far has been one of ups and downs, most importantly, of transitions. Won't be writing for awhile now, at least until things settle and yes, when I get a chance to exhale.

Little Gidding
TS Elliot

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Wedge of Dusty Sunlight

Verdict on Atonement? I am not nearly done yet but I think I've bee reading it at the perfect time- with fabulous summer sun. The first part of the book is set amidst a sun dappled day and harrowing night which sets the tone of lightness/darkeness, happiness/unhappiness throughout.

I am reminded of atmospheric reading. How reading a book at a particular time or place enhances the experience.

A few months ago, when I was sieged with grief and loss, I re-immersed myself in Anne Fadiman's charming little book on books Ex Libris Confessions of a Common Reader.She says this:

I begin writing Ex Libris when it occurred to me how curious it was that
books are so often written about as if they were toasters. Is this brand of
toaster better than that brand of toaster? At $24.95, is this toaster a best
buy? There is nothing about how I may feel about my toaster ten years hence,
and nothing about the tender feelings. I may yet harbour for my old toaster.
This neatly omits what I consider the heart of reading: not whether we wish
to purchase a new book but how we maintain our connections with our old
books, the ones we have lived with for years, the ones whose textures and
colours and smells have become as familiar to us as our children's skin

I entirely agree because I cannot ever think of books as acquisitions. My favourite books have personalities and lives of their own for which I am eternally grateful. I strongly believe that as much as I choose my books, they choose me as well. Why do I end up reading a particular book at a particular time? Book karma, that's why. The good ones sometimes tiptoe into the radar subtly, camouflaged amidst the louder and brasher ones. Books are a lot like men.

When I remember all the books that accompanied me over the years, my younger self comes tumbling out again. Some of these books have grown up with me, like Franny and Zooey. There is a much scribbled Potrait of the Artist that stores my 18 year self. How can these just be cheap books, expensive books, torn books, leather bound books, picture books? Between the covers are memories, pain and laughter. Rereading them is a kind of comfort food effect, a feel good warmth without calories. Some pages bear old food stains, obviously because I tend to read during meals a lot. There are also chunks of underlined passages which would have particularly caught my attention and often, scrawny scribbles of my thoughts. Sometimes, other stuff that have been submerged for years spring out-movie tickets, shopping lists, forgotten postcards, payment receipts, parking fines, blades of grass, an odd stamp or two.

Some books have travelled with me far. A few years ago, on a sweltering July day, I sat down at the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh reading Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz. Amidst the lazing cows and half clad sadhus, this is a book that continues to influence my work and shades my thinking.

All cried out at 22, the book that helped me get through my first break up was Sons and Lovers. Like Miriam, I felt that I would never find a man to truly love me because no man will be able to reach out to my soul. I was too complicated and to be part of any man's life, much less the superficial a***hole with whom I was going out with. But I also saw that Miriam deserved better and surely I did too. Slowly, I picked up myself and the year.

In Kota Kinablau I walked with sea spray in my hair and dried flower bracelets laced on my wrist. My colleague Nora slept while I stayed up reading The Inimitable Lightness of Being to make sure we would be up by 4 am to make it to the seafood wholesale market. My mother made the most delish prawn stir fry from the purchase later in the day and my copy of Kundera's book still has some of those stains.

I remember the night I spent in a hotel room, unable to sleep as my first trial loomed in the morning. I had re-read my files and notes 25 million times and it made me fidget. So I opened Angela's Ashes which I had bought that afternoon at the airport. The sodden, gloominess of the lives of the McCourt boys kept me rapt, and I dozed off after a few hours. The memories of my first trial remain intermingled with the McCourts.

I've also traced the steps some of my favourite characters and poets. When I went to Bath, I brought along a copy of Persuasion to re-read all the Bath escapades again. Anne Elliot is my favourite Austen heroine and the sense of tracing her steps as well as the dishy Fredrick made my heart skip a few beats. Last week, I went to the Keats museum in Hampstead. With the gradual change in season, I re-read my favourite poem, Ode to Autumn. The words tumbled with a calming cadence.