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July 6, 2014

If I Wrote a Book About You by Stephany Aulenback

if-i-wrote-a-book-about-youI’ve been an admirer of Stephany Aulenback for at least a decade, since she was Maud Newton‘s Friday blogger and I would read her posts from my closet-sized apartment in Japan, loving the places her links pointed me to, dreaming of my faraway home back in Canada and the possibility that someday I might be a book blogger too. She started her own blog at Crooked House a few years later, which I always enjoyed, in particular her links about babies and motherhood, her thoughtfulness and curiosity about topics most other places on the internet (and elsewhere) reduce to consumerism and polarization. I love that for her, motherhood and literature have always been connected (or maybe it’s just that to read is to be alive, and mothering is something you can do concurrently).

Her second child was born a few weeks after my first, and I have appreciated her frank, funny and creative posts on living with children. Just off the top of my head, the list of wonderful things her blog has pointed me to include Sara O’Leary’s books, Christina Hardyment’s Dream Babies, and my first reading of Harriet the Spy (for which I named my firstborn—seriously, where would I be without Crooked House?). I have also appreciated her writing at places like McSweeneys, in particular, “Words That Would Make Nice Names for Babies, If It Weren’t For Their Unsuitable Meanings”. (I myself have always been partial to Tazer and Latrine.)

So of course, I have been looking forward to the publication of her first book, If I Wrote A Book About You, illustrated by Denise Holmes and published by the splendid Simply Read Books. When I saw an image of the book’s cover a few months ago, I suspected I would not be disappointed, and I wasn’t. Holmes’ illustrations are simply and stylish with a touch of the old-fashioned about them (blushing cheeks), complemented by the stripes and floral prints that offset them.

The book is a love letter from parent to child, a sweet and whimsical expression of affection. “If I wrote a book about you,” the story begins, “and how wonderful you are, I would write it everywhere.” Some of the expressions are more straightforward than others—”I would write that you are perfect in the sand on the beach,” the illustration showing her doing just that. Or “I would write that you are amazing with the telephone wires, and that you are fascinating with the yellow lines that run down the middle of the road,” this page featuring my favourite spread from the book, a homey streetscape (featuring a library!). She ends up writing with noodles, toys on the floor, raindrops on the window, and rays from the sun.

Aulenback’s playfulness with language is evident here, in that with beads on a bracelet, she writes, “charming”, and that her grammar bends in surprising ways that keep the ear attuned–“you are delicious with the noodles in your soup.” I also love the idea that one could write anything with cracker crumbs and toys on the floor, and if this were really the case, I’d be Karl Ove Knausgaard.

For me, the book is testament to the exuberance of love and the creative inspiration that parenthood can bring, though it’s a complicated inspiration. It’s significant, I think, that the book’s title is hypothetical after all. While motherhood might brings with it a whole new brilliant view upon the world, this doesn’t necessary entail sufficient energy or time with which that vision can be captured for all of eternity. (Or maybe it does? Karl Ove apparently has four children, though as yet, he hasn’t written a book about them.)

If I Wrote a Book About You is a book about the curious places in which we writing our stories on the world, about the power of words, a vocabulary lesson, an exercise in imagination, a record of lovely quotidian things, and the ridiculous extent of parental love. You can also take any of the adjectives that appear within the story–charming, beautiful, clever, precious and sweet—and, like magic, they seem to apply to the book that contains them.

One thought on “If I Wrote a Book About You by Stephany Aulenback”

  1. Sara says:

    What a lovely review of the book and a wonderful acknowledgement of the way blogging has brought so many like-minded readers and writers together. I didn’t know that we had “met” through Crooked House but it pleases me to learn!

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