Thursday, April 26

To Fight for a Forgotten Book

I surprised myself today.  I said, "Dad, what if I tried to read The Street of Crocodiles on Youtube or something, or finally pursued that idea of getting on the blind association radio channel?  You said before that it's a book that should never have been forgotten, and I think I could do something to make it remembered."

Then I thought, wow.  If I am going to rouse myself to campaign for a forgotten book, shouldn't it be the one book in the whole world that I want everyone to hear?  If I'm going to change the future of one story, shouldn't it be the one that has changed my future?  

If I was going to write and write and write to people, and try to get someone somewhere, if not myself onto the radio to read a book to the world in an attempt to remind the world that it exists, what book should it be?    

What would your book be?

I thought fleetingly The Enchanted Castle, my favourite children's book of all times.  But E. Nesbit hasn't been forgotten.  She has merely been misplaced.  Her books lie dusty in our memories, but The Street of Crocodiles is a book that was not only dusty, it was buried in time.  Jonathan Safran Foer dug it up again, but will Tree of Codes get people to read its inspiration?  I'm not sure that it will.  I was motivated to read it, but how many others will try this.  When it's a book that you can't borrow from the library, how many people will go and buy a copy without knowing anything about it?  

Is this the book that I should fight for?  I feel that something to fight for would be good for me.  I am very aware that I am liable to some furious fizzling and then forgetting about things that seemed obviously and passionately good at one time.  

I'm hoping though, that this book, this book that reminded me that words can make me feel something, smell something, hear something, love something passionately - that language is mightier than I ever imagined - that someone can put words in a certain order that no one ever dreamed of before - that phantasmagorical images can make me laugh with sheer shock at their beauty.  

Isn't that something worth fighting for?

Wednesday, April 25

This is what Language is For - A Book to Die For

I have only read a chapter, but it is obvious.  It was obvious after the first paragraph.  This is the lost treasure.  Jonathan Safran Foer has reminded the world of something that should never have been forgotten.  This is what reading is all about.  This is what language is for.  

Excitement doesn't cover it.  Perhaps a panic to prove to the world that I have justified my existence.   Bruno Schultz' The Street of Crocodiles and Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes have finally arrived from The Book Depository.  

(If you didn't read my original post on Tree of Codes, it is a work by the glorious Safran Foer, which consists of Foer taking a copy of his favourite book The Street of Crocodiles, and cutting sections from the pages so that the remaining phrases make an entirely new story.)  

A sculpture of words
Anyway, both books finally came, within a day of each other.  While I was waiting for Tree of Codes, I started reading its inspiration.  Safran Foer actually wrote a foreword to The Street of Crocodiles which as a fellow Safran Foer lover, (let alone a book lover), you should definitely read.  Even before I got into the book, I was completely smothered with delight and engrossed by the gorgeous words that Foer wrote about it.  

I want to read the whole thing to you, but to type four pages in would take me forever.  So let it suffice to say that he quoted Franz Kafka, "A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside of us."  To which he adds, "Schulz's two slim books are the sharpest axes I've ever come across.  I encourage you to split the chopping block using them."  

Heart skipping, pulse pounding through my wrists, I rushed through the title pages like pages of wrapping paper on a present.  

Safran Foer once said "Some things you love passively.  Some you love actively.  In this case, I felt the compulsion to do something with it."  I was holding in my hands the thing that dear Jonathan loved actively, and I was trembling with excitement that I would discover between its covers that would compel me too.  

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  YES.  YES.  YES.  

Yes I did.  I have only read a chapter, but it is obvious.  It was obvious after the first paragraph.  This is the lost treasure.  Jonathan Safran Foer has reminded the world of something that should never have been forgotten.  This is what reading is all about.  This is what language is for.  

I want to give you the whole chapter, but once again, I can't.  So I will give you some sentences with which to feed your soul with words.

I implore you to not read this like you might normally read a story.  Read it with attention, and slow breathing, as though it is something special for yourself.  Really listen to it.  

On those luminous mornings, Adela returned from the market, like Pomona emerging from the flames of the day, spilling from her basket the colourful beauty of the sun - the shiny pink cherries full of juice under their transparent skins, the mysterious black morellos that smelled so much better than they tasted, apricots in whose golden pulp lay the core of long afternoons.  And next to that pure poetry of fruit, she unloaded sides of meat with their keyboard of ribs swollen with energy and strength, and seaweeds of vegetables like dead octopuses and squids - the raw material of meals with a yet undefined taste, the vegetative and terrestrial ingredients of dinner, exuding a wild and rustic smell.   
The dark second-floor apartment of the house in Market Square was shot through each day by the naked heat of summer: the silence of the shimmering streaks of air, the squares of brightness dreaming their intense dreams on the floor; the sound of a barrel organ rising from the deepest golden vein of day; two or three bars of a chorus, played on a distant piano over and over again, melting in the sun on the white pavement, lost in the fire of high noon.   
After tidying up, Adela would plunge the room into semi-darkness by drawing down the linen blinds.  All colours immediately fell an octave lower, the room filled with shadows, as if it had sunk to the bottom of the sea and the light was reflected in mirrors of green water - and the heat of the day began to breathe on the blinds as they stirred slightly in their daydreams.  

The Street of Crocodiles, (1: August) by Bruno Schulz, first published 1963.  

For me, this was a delight of every sense.  I smelt the fresh fruit, and knew exactly the flavour of the morellos that smelt better than they tasted.  I heard the shadows dropping an octave lower with the fall of the blind.  And I the humanity of the light dreaming intensely on the floor.  The keyboard of ribs on the meat.  The distant organ, the mirrors of green water.

This is not only a festival of words, but a symphony of music and light.  But beside being a festival and a symphony, I can't help but feel how intimate it is.  It is a symphony just for me.  Or just for you.  I laughed during this because I could hardly believe someone would write something so beautiful for me.

The Tree of Codes

The day that Tree of Codes came, I was surprised by the sheer beauty of it.  It is so delicate, and natural.  It's just like the publisher, Visual Editions, said.  "It's a book that remembers it has a body".  That is a perfect way of describing the sensation.

I read the first chapter straight away - the Jonathan Safran Foer equivalent of the first chapter of The Street of Crocodiles.  It is over in less than ten sentences, but each sentence seems to take a lifetime to read.

It is intensely Jonathan Safran Foer.  Every word that he pulls out of the text, I can immediately recognise, and this subtext makes what he's saying so potent.  And yet, even knowing what the original chapter sounds like, he winds each phrase of it into his very own, personal story.

It is beautiful.  It is spectacular.  It is more than I could have imagined.  And it is so simple.  Hardly anything at all.  It is just so powerfully incredible.  The incredible words of Schulz have become the incredible words of Foer, weaving a new heartbreaking beautiful tale.

I have found something compelling, alright.  This is an active love.  

Monday, April 23

Storytelling the Tool for Truth

I am currently working on an English assignment, roughly about the manipulation of truth in documentaries to prove the director's point.  I was searching through sites for a quote that I could use to kickstart my feature article, and I came across this.  It doesn't support my argument, but it touched me too much to leave it behind.   

You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story. —Anthony de Mello, from One Minute Wisdom
I whole heartedly agree with this statement.  I have experienced over and over the truth of this statement.  Books, stories, are the quickest way for people with a message, a truth, to share it with us.  It is also a way that that person can share that truth without persecution, because he or she wraps their truth in an allegory that requires personal interpretation.

A great example is made in the Australian TV series, Seachange.  The locals host a town play, a key character of which is a greedy, villanous mayor, which the audience recognises as satirical representation of the town's actual mayor, Bob Jelly.  While no one else realises this connection, Bob notices the allegory, and confront the playwright, threatening to sue.  The playwright responds smugly with, "you want to tell everyone that the greedy, evil villain of the play is based on you?"  And of course, he couldn't do a thing about that. 

What power writers have to change and influence our opinions and open our minds.  Storytelling is a tool for truth.

Sunday, April 22

The Perfect Private Library

I have a challenge for you!  This is something I am always thinking about, and maybe you too, as a book lover yourself, will appreciate the hours of dreamy consideration that can go into this topic.  

If you could have your dream private library, what would it look like?

I have pondered and pondered this for years.  When I'm stressed out, this is what I think about as I'm going to sleep to make myself calm and dreamy.  For me, it is an ongoing process of adding little things every time I see something new that fits into my dream.  

So far for me, the perfect private library in a cosy place, with white, wooden, ceiling high, inbuilt book shelves.  I would adore one of those ladders on a rail with which to reach the top shelves, and an alcove window seat in which to huddle.  I visualise it as the perfect place to sit when it is a rainy day, or in the morning and the golden sunlight streams in as speckles through the gently waving leaves of the tree outside.  

I would like a fireplace.  And a high backed leather armchair that you sink into and are hugged back by.  What else?  What else?  I'm buzzing with thoughts, but I want to spend some time pulling out photos and thinking about it more carefully.

I love little balconies!!!

So here is your challenge.  What would your dream private library look like?  This week I will post some scraps that together make up my dream library.  

Thursday, April 19

Parlez-vous Francais?

I saw on the bulletin board outside of the town hall an advertisement for weekly French lessons for $15 per hour session.  I knew that I couldn't afford to go more than once or twice, but I couldn't let this opportunity slip past.  It was too perfect.  

So this afternoon, at five o'clock, I pulled on my jeans and put daisies in my hair and headed down to the town hall for what...  I could only imagine.  

I wasn't terribly surprised by what I found.  The instructor is a Frenchwoman herself, with a French name beginning with 'L' that I can neither pronounce or spell.  The five other students greeted me with enchante, and began practising their skills at introducing each other in French.  I was the youngest by twenty years at least.  The next youngest was our instructor, at forty, then a man at fifty or so, then three retired women in their late sixties, and finally a retired man in his seventies perhaps.  

It was funny, actually, because for each one of them, I had an absurd feeling or recognition.  I was almost certain that I had met them all before - not merely in passing like in a supermarket, but the sort of recognition a middle-aged woman might have for a primary-school teacher.  It was unusual but exciting.  

We started off with an excursion - a trip around town following some French directions.  We got slightly lost but eventually regrouping, laughing a lot and asking how to say "the birds are singing", we finally got back to the classroom.  

They were a truly glorious bunch of people.  The instructor stuck by me all throughout our expedition, joking in a heavily accented English.  

When we got back, we embarked on a journey of discovery into the world of French grammar.  To demonstrate the allocation of gender to inanimate objects, the instructor went around the room, taking deep swigs from a two litre bottle of Pepsi and naming the objects.  

"Chair, feminine.  Table feminine.  Problem masculine.  Solution feminine."  Followed by hearty laughter.  

Among several sheets she gave us, we received a worksheet like a passport which we had to fill out in French.  

Date de naissance:
Lieu de naissance:

One of the ladies had us laughing as she struggled through her vocabulary book for the French word for "brain surgeon" as her profession.  

"I've always wanted to write that down as my job," she laughed.  

I already feel like part of a community after this lovely experience.  Next week may have to be my last lesson for the sake of not spending my life's earnings, (as much as four hours per week at a video library can make a girl), but still, the experience, and lovliness will be forever worthwhile.  

Wednesday, April 18

Eagle Rock

Yesterday and today I have enjoyed the first musical rehearsals for July's production, The Great Australian Rock Musical.  We started at the start, with the choreography of the Eagle Rock dance.  Act One, Scene One takes place at a bachelor and spinster ball in a rural Australian town.  After curtains go up, we eventually fall into a massive heel and toe style dance complete with shimmying and twirling.  When all the dancing ends, us four mains introduce a game of spin the bottle.  The stakes are that whoever the bottle points to, you marry, and it is thus that both my own and my co-star's characters gets engaged to our partners from the dance.  

Not being a dance student myself, it's taken a lot of effort to completely learn a dance from scratch and perfect it is two afternoons, but seriously, I have never been happier.  

This whole thing has been like a happiness detox for me.  I woke up this morning with such a grin on my face, and all day I've been smiling and giggling and generally feeling great.  I love it because I'm surrounded by wonderful people, and all the singing and dancing, which is beginning to feel more natural, is enormous fun.  

My dad said that unless I approach these rehearsals as a fun break from school, I will just end up getting to swamped with the accumulated work load.  I won't have any problem with that.  I am definitely in the position to have an amazing time - an escape into a refreshing and enlivening environment.  This will be fun.

Sunday, April 15

The Lost World of Conan Doyle

On my last trip to the library to pick up my hold, I did what I so often dangerously do.  I looked on the shelves.  I was afflicted by the burning desire to take a wheelbarrow full of thick novels home with me, even though I know I have other books to read and other things to do.  Oh the pain! 

This time, however, what I found was so compelling that I snatched it up secretively, almost looking behind me for spies, and scanned it through before my conscience could catch up. 

It was The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Conan Doyle is one of my favourite writers, with Sherlock Holmes and Watson being two of my favourite characters of all times and their memoirs some of the best reading I have ever done.  The blurb claimed that just as he set the bar for crime fiction, so did he set the bar for the action adventure novel.  This was a book I could not ignore. 

It took me a while to get my head around the fact that what I was reading wasn't Jules Vern.  I'm not sure why I felt it was a touch Vernian in style.  I suppose it was the genre.  Yes, that must have been it.  But Conan Doyle isn't like Jules Vern.  While Vern finds it easy to get lost in details and technical descriptions and long unfurnished accounts of adventures, Conan Doyle is knife sharp. 

Within a chapter, I was intrigued and excited and by the end of the second chapter I was connected to the endearing main character, Edward Malone with a "I've got your back, young-fellow-my-lad" sort of friendship.  So far, it is fast-paced, and exciting, suspensful as it builds to a point of exhilaration as we pack our bags for the sudden adventure.  It is a quest. 

I have revelled in the opening chapters for their flurry of feasts for the senses, the characters who. like Holmes, bulge from the page into rampant, snorting motion, and the impulsive drive and suspense that wraps itself around every happening.  Like in Holmes, Conan Doyle has given us a sweeter, very loveable character to love, then teased us with the infuriating professors and the quirky Lord John. 

This is bound to be a grant quest into the lost world of Conan Doyle's writing!

Thursday, April 12

Moulding a Book Around Me

I started reading All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot a couple of days ago.  I needed something warm and loving, and I knew that this book could give me just the snuggle I was looking for.  

For my birthday, my parents gave me All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Wise and Wonderful. Where is the middle book, you might wonder?  I already had All Things Bright and Beautiful, having salvaged it from the top shelf of my grandmother's house.  These two new, fresh, clean cut hard covered books were at odds with the old, brown paperback.  

Between its pages are pressed flowers and the smell of folded woollen clothes and talcum powder.  These new books didn't have a particularly booky smell yet.  They were so clean that inhaling their smell left me with a cold, prickly nose.  I felt, as I began, that the new book was too impersonal.  That the text was too black, and the paper too coarse and white.  I felt like an outsider.  Have you ever experienced this before?

But the queerest thing happened.  As I went on - as I read deeper into Herriot's world - the book itself changed.  The cover bent to mould against my hand, and the pages took on the fragrance of my breath as I sat bent over a cup of tea to read.  I melted in deeper and deeper, until I became a part of the book's shape and aroma.  

I never realised the truth of this before.  It astounds me that such a revelation has taken so long for me to realise.  That new book, while changing me as it become a part of my life, was changed by me as I became a part of its life.  My hand fits it, my smell is made more special in the paper.  That is true beauty, I believe with all my heart.  And I think that is a mighty good explanation  of why electronic books will leave us emptier.  

Tuesday, April 10

Who Are They?

The promise of a shady spot and a sea breeze persuaded us to have a picnic.  We packed up a baguette and a wheel of fruit cheese, a bread knife, a cheese knife, a thermos of tea, and some books in which to spend the afternoon. 
We spread our green and white checkered picnic blanket out underneath the cotton trees.  A couple lay beside us on their rug, engaged in conversation.  A Maori family was enjoying a barbequed lunch behind us.  Their young children played ball with a furry tennis ball and Velcro bats, catching the ball on the bat and tearing it from the Velcro with a sgrrrrrrrp. 
After our lunch, we settled down to some relaxing reading.  It was now that the couple beside us properly caught my attention.  They were both in their thirties.  She wore a denim skirt and a green polo top which sweetly complimented her auburn hair.  He wore a collared shirt and some sort of vague sword symbol was tattooed on his forearm.  Within seconds I was completely engrossed in watching them. 
They sat so close to each other.  So close but never touching.  Each spoke, using generous gestures while the other listened respectfully and intently with unbreaking eye contact.  They each spoke and listened equally, sharing an even conversation that never slackened for hours.  Sometimes they moved and lay down side by side, leaning up on one elbow and always looking directly at each other, never about at the high tide or us, though we were only a few metres away.  They saw only each other.  And still they never touched. 
At one point the Maori kids threw their ball too far and it hit her on the head.  Neither of them broke eye contact or stopped speaking.  In fact, the only retaliation was his unconscious pushing away of the ball. 
The conversation was very intimate.  There was no sadness, but neither cracked jokes either.  They never raised their voices from a soft tone.  They were happy, or content, talking about something that appeared to be casual, but talking about that something in a very intent way. 
Intrigued by the loveliness and also strangeness of their connection, we watched their hands for signs of a ring.  Neither of them wore any rings at all, which thrilled us with a new mystery.  It suddenly seemed very suspenseful, watching these two.  We wondered who they were, what their story and connection was. 
That night around the dinner table, I hardly touched my stir-fry.  It seemed the same questions were on everyone’s minds and we and it was barely a matter of minutes before we began filling Dad in on the details and passionately debating the possibilities.  It was a Woody Allen-esque scene.
They weren’t married, we established, but they were very close.  Close, but never touching.
            “So,” Mum quipped.  “They’ve known each other on line for a long time, and are going on their first date.  They aren’t at the stage of their relationship where they touch.” 
            “Yes, and they were taking it in turns to tell each other bits about their life stories.”
But we felt that they sat much too close and were too intimate with their gaze to be meeting each other for the first time.
            I suggested that they were sweethearts in college and they were meeting again after he had travelled the globe, “or been to prison”, Blake murmured.  I added that perhaps this was not the first time they had seen each other since his return, but that they had been slowly getting closer again after their time apart. 
            “They’re both gay,” Dad said, which we all tore down immediately, because he hadn’t seen them and they were so obviously not gay.
            Mum was the first to remind us of a crucial piece of information that I had completely forgotten.  It had seemed so insignificant at the time that I hadn’t even noted it. 
            “Remember the printed document they were looking at when we first arrived?” she reminded us. 
            “Yes, it was like a printed course reading for a university study,” we remembered.
            “So they were university colleagues,” Dad summed up, but no, it couldn’t be possible.  They were much too intimate.
            “They were only reading it for a couple of minutes when we got there before they started talking,” Mum said, who was studying counselling herself.  “Maybe they were counselling students, practising their active listening techniques.  I have never seen a couple listening so well before.”  But why would they lie down together and gaze so intently at each other while they spoke? 

ME: “Maybe the document was the book she was writing, and she was showing him?”
DAD: “An editor?”
BLAKE:  “That would make him more powerful than her, and they were both so equal in the way they shared their conversation.”
DAD:  “Did one have cancer?”
BLAKE:  “No, they weren’t sad at all.”
MUM:  “They were brother and sister.”
BLAKE:  “They didn’t look alike at all, and wouldn’t brother and sister touch as a fond or familiar gesture?”
ME:  “They are converted mermaids.”
DAD:  “Angels.”
ME:  “They are actors workshopping characters for a production.  The document was their script, and they use certain character-specific gestures, and avoid non-characteristic gestures, like physical contact. 
MUM:  “But then they never made a fuss about putting down the script and beginning, did they, which you would if you were going to begin a rehearsal.”
ME:  “They are divorced and that is why they know each other so intimately but have such deliberate resignations about touching.  Neither wear their wedding bands, and the documents were custody rights… no that would be too controversial for people so content.  No, they had a divorce some time ago and are now resuming a close friendship.” 

            We all yelled and talked over the top of each other, adding evidence upon evidence, probably making up things that we didn’t even see, and over analysing every minute detail that we could remember. 
            “We must go back every day at the same time.  We have to ask them who they are.  We must know.”
            “I desperately want to know so that I can know what it takes to have such intimacy and respect in their conversation.”
            “Well I,” Blake began.  “I don’t want to know.  This mystery is so fantastic and exciting, that knowing would ruin it.” 
            We all knew that the mystery would never be ruined by knowing.

Monday, April 9

The Commonplace Book

Klaus, in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, keep a little notebook which he calls his Commonplace Book.  He uses this Commonplace Book as a place to keep little scraps of observations or information which he thinks are interesting or important during his adventures.  

If I were Klaus, I would fill my Commonplace Book with observations, and sentences or phrases that I make up, or words that I don't know but love the sound of.  This sounded like such a lovely idea to me that I decided to start one.  I have a little notebook with a coral-pink leather cover that fits into the palm of my hand.  I am going to try and take it with me where ever I go...  within reason... so that I can keep my spontaneous thoughts forever.  

Sunday, April 8

An Audio Book Reader?

One of the things I would just adore to do is read audio-books.  Reading aloud to people is one of my favourite things in the world and to be able to give that to more than just one person would be wonderful. 

It was a while ago that I discovered LibriVox, a site where you can find audio-books of public domain texts read by volunteers.  I rushed to the volunteering space, and read up as much as I could on how to record, how the projects worked, etcetera etcetera.  But when I went to record my first piece, I found that the microphone I used with my laptop was broken, and so it was that I groaned a little and forgot about it.

Just a couple of days ago, LibriVox sent me an email - just a regular chain email celebrating the milestone of 100 million downloads.  That got me thinking again.  My brother bought a new mircophone and headset to use at school, and I did a little test recording like a tentative toe in the pool. 

I now have a new project for my holidays.  There is tweaking to do, fiddling with settings to achieve the right levels for a full length recording, and then I am good to go.  But I predict, and hopefully I am right, that I will have read something for LibriVox by next Monday, when school is back. 

As soon as I have something to show for my efforts, I will post it here, and explain how the project of LibriVox actually works.

Saturday, April 7

The Hills are Alive!l

My mum has been fretting for a long time over the fact that none of her children have ever watched The Sound of Music.  She says that The Sound of Music, Chariots of Fire, and Gone with the Wind are all films that are absolutely essential to watch some time in your life.  

I had this drama teacher once.  She was fifty years old and her goal in life was to never watch Titanic.  As much as I thought that was ridiculous back then, I understand know just how easy it is not to watch something.  You just deliberately never get around to it.  And it was thus that us three kids never watched any of our mother's essential films.  

Until today.  It had been simmering on her mind for a week and it finally came to the boiling point.  Knowing how unmotivated we were, she enticed us with a "Sound of Music party", which involved us sitting for three hours in front of the TV, eating the Easter cake and drinking apple juice, because she forgot to buy lollies when she went to Woollies to buy some lollies.  Yes, we were all a bit annoyed about the lollies.  

But I did really enjoy it.  I loved Julie Andrews and her voice and her smile and her hair.   I'm secretly delighted mum forced us to watch it, because I feel like I'm more connected now, like I've experienced something that emits me into the greater population of the world.  My hills are finally alive with the sound of music!