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Pickle Me This

October 16, 2011

Book I'm longing for: Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

What I know is a mountain

What I know is a mountain, high as a coin.
My liquid wisdom would not fill a cup.
This vastity, that unshrinking cupity-
sit back and watch it grow.

Sunk far-off lands’ topography.
Magic words forgot by history.
Ursa Major, Asia Minor-
a thousand stations I’ll not go.

Fossils, bugs and dragon wings.
Burnt, lost or abandon’d things.
Mud or flood or lava lost-
mislaid worlds I cannot know.

A show that’s shown, curtain down.
Unsung songs and pin drop sounds.
Hot air balloons and sailing ships-
an old wind’s worn out blow.

Untold truths and uncaught looks.
Oral myths and dirty books.
Wombs and tombs and pyramids-
and a mountain’s all I know.

I wrote this poem (which, incidentally, does not contain one e) some years ago, and I post it now because it says everything I want to say about why I’m already in love with Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands. I stumbled upon it this morning whilst browsing (by myself!–speaking of islands) at Good Egg in Kensington Market after an early brunch (by myself!) with my friend Jennie, and immediately added it to the front of list of books for Christmas. Upon arriving home to the interet, I found that this writer was as besotted with the book as I was, and her piece clinched it. Looking forward to unwrapping this one somewhere one of these days not far from soon.

September 22, 2010

There is no such thing as a canon

All the books of my dreams are coming out in the UK this fall: I want to read Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker (which is epistolary and about a postbox, if a book could be so full to bursting). I am going to read Room by Emma Donaghue, which seemed like the most wretched book imaginable when I first heard of it, and I still think so, but too many intelligent readers have convinced me to go there anyway. I have just moved Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting (which I keep calling Lift Lighting in my head) up near the top of my to-be-read stack, due to his Giller nomination, and Robert Wiersema’s review. I am going to be rereading Nikolski, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Small Ceremonies in the coming weeks. Also from the Giller longlist, I think I am going to read Lemon by Cordelia Strube, and the rest I’m not really fussed about. Because I already read This Cake is for the Party, and it was wonderful, and Jessa Crispin has given me permission to shrug off everything else: “There is no such thing as a canon — what you should read or want to read or will read out of obligation is determined as much by your history, your loves, and your daily reality as by the objective merits of certain works.” Rock on, and bring on the old dead British ladies then with their hideously outdated Penguin covers and pages smelling of must.

In others, I am going to the Victoria College Book Sale on Saturday, but with a budget (how novel) and also, I am obsessive-compulsively fiction writing lately, which is wonderful, because I thought I lost the knack with the advent of my child, but I’m at 10,000 words and haven’t yet thought about giving up because the whole piece sucks (and the thing about having once completed three drafts of a bad novel is that you learn that just barrelling through to the conclusion won’t necessarily work out okay in the end, but at this point I still feel like there might be some worth in bothering).

And also, there is a pie in my oven. And on Saturday, that oven will be replaced with a new one that doesn’t require a barbecue lighter to start.

October 1, 2009

Wish List

Cheeky, cheeky, I know. Any excuse to slip in a baby picture, but I assure you that this is entirely relevant. Obligatory baby shot amidst some pumpkins is a symbol of autumn, which means that Harriet is four months old, which means that in two months, she’ll be six months old. Which means that I will soon lose my maternity leave top-up, and then will have to stop spending money like a Rockefeller. (Or did the Rockefellers make money? And save it? Perhaps this is my problem.)

All of this is fine, except that it throws a kink into my book-buying habits. Or at least it should, particularly as I have forty-two books waiting to be read on my book shelf. (Some are more likely to be read than others. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes has been there since 1998).

When I buy new books, it’s a kind of compulsion. I feel as though said book has to be mine as soon as possible, and if I delay, I’ll lose track of my desire for it, and then the world will end. I’m serious. But seeing as we’re entering a new age of impecuniousness, I’ve got to change my ways.

Which doesn’t mean I’ll stop buying books. No, I once read an essay by Annie Dillard who wrote that anyone who hopes to make money from literature has to spend money on literature (and hard cover literature to boot), all for the sake of karma. (And I would extend this to anyone who values and enjoys literature as well, but that’s just me.) I will continue to buy new books, of course, which provide the best value for money I’ve ever known, but I have to be more careful about going about it.

There will be no more rash purchases. A good review in The Globe no longer means I have to rush around the corner to Book City immediately. Instead, I will wait on my urge, think about it for a while. Perhaps I will even wait until Christmas, for somebody to give it to me? And in order that the world not end, and I keep my desires neatly organized, I’ve started a new list in my ever-expanding sidebar. See “Wish List”, to the left, which has already two.

I don’t expect it will stay so short for long.

Mitzi Bytes

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