It’s been a couple of weeks and not a blog post in sight. I’ve been indulging in the fine art of procrastination, plus I felt I had nothing to write about.
I’m studying an Associate Degree in Writing and Editing at RMIT, there had been a mountain of assessments and by the end of the semester, I was exhausted. I hibernated for a few days, didn’t pick up a pen and went nowhere near the computer. I was done, my slate had been wiped clean and instead of writing-I just wanted to read something other than my own work.
I devoured South and West by the very wonderful Joan Didion. Everyone should read Joan, she sums up the American experience so well; her eye for detail and her descriptions give me so much joy. (and make me despair- I want to write like Joan!)There’s both a melancholy and a lightness to her work I love.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed had been on my reading list for a long time and I went into it thinking that I wouldn’t like it. But I surprised myself. I liked her honesty, her grit, her humour and her courage. I found it similar to Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Davidson said, “Camel trips, as I have suspected all along, and as I was about to have confirmed, do not begin or end, they merely change form.” Tracks has been with me all the way through various life changes and a book I sought out when I lacked courage and had lost my mojo.
I dipped into Nikki Gemmell’s, Honestly-Notes on a Life, a collection of her columns from The Australian. I came across Nikki after The Bride Stripped Bare was released. I reveled in her beautiful prose, her searing observations and I’ve followed her ever since.
And my books-to-be-read pile gets longer and longer…
I am an only child and the product of older parents. I had no cousins of the same age so to entertain myself I read. All the usual Enid Blyton stories and Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Chalet school series, LM Montgomery’s Anne books and Tove Jansson’s Moomins. I read Dodie Smiths Adult and Alison Uttley’s time shift novel A Traveller in Time. I remember trips to the library with my mother and my introduction to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The library books had a certain smell. Beautiful hardbacks with evocative dust wrappers and a due date slip at the back. And then I became a teenager, and the reading stopped for a while beyond Go Ask Alice and Peter Beatty’s, The Exorcist and some American love story called Seventeenth Summer. All this time I secretly read the Little Women series and gorged on my mother’s collection of The Scarlet Pimpernel series, written by the splendidly named Baroness Orczny. I loved Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel with a passion.
The senior years of high school introduced Albert Camus, John Donne, John Keats, Sylvia Plath and a book set in the deep south of the United States. Our entire literature class fell in love with Mark Twain’s, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn and we all related to Twain’s final words… we didn’t want to be “sivilized”. We wanted to be wild and non- conforming and free just like Huck Finn and Kerouac’s, Dean Moriarty.
Then came the travel years, when I wandered around the UK and Europe and became addicted to murder mystery books left behind in youth hostels and sweeping sagas written by Harold Robbins, Nicholas Monserrat, and Jackie Collins. In Israel, I was introduced to the counter-culture years of Berkley in a book called Loose Change by Sarah Davidson and began my Anthony Trollope worship in a second-hand shop in rural Hampshire.
Unemployed in the UK and spending too much time in libraries, I learned to love aga sagas and family dramas and chick lit. I read Joanna Trollope and Mary Wesley. My copy of The Camomille Lawn is dog-eared and battered. I struggled with Laurence Sterne’s, The Life and Times of Tristan Shandy.
And in the aftermath of travel when I was back in Australia, discontented and restless I would read books similar to Tracks and underline passages, not comprehending at the time that I was going through a repatriation period – which in a funny way is a form of grieving. I grew to love the writing of Charmian Clift who struggled with her own issues of being a returning expatriate and finding the Australia she now lived in was foreign to her.
Reading helps in hard and stressful times when nothing else will. A flu ridden Christmas day saw me re-reading of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and I ploughed through the entire seven books before New Year’s Eve. Heartbroken and lonely in London, I borrowed a friend’s treasured copy of Monkey Grip and felt that Nora’s story was my own.
Having children resulted in me hanging out in the children’s section of the library and learning of the adventures of a dog called Hairy McGlary, recipes for Wombat Stew and reading about a young wizard called Harry Potter to my six-year-old daughter.
When people ask me what I like reading I find it hard to answer. I don’t like labelling or pigeon-holing. I don’t, as a rule, read science fiction or fantasy, but there are exceptions. I read biographies and a lot of non-fiction. Benjamin law made me laugh, Maxine Beneba Clarke made me think and Christoph Tsoklias’s characters in The Slap made me angry. My answer to the question about what I like to read? I like books that provoke a reaction in me, stories that both move and infuriate me. I like to be frightened and repelled, yet love a feel-good quick read. I read across genres but seem to read more female authors than men.
Everyone’s reading life is exclusively their own. Our bedside book stacks will vary and our most loved author could be someone else’s most hated. I won’t judge my friends for adoring Fifty Shades of Grey and in turn, they can overlook my weakness for reading Jackie Collins. For me, crammed bookshelves and more books on the floor are the signs of a (reading) life well-lived.