One of my semi-reading-failures this year has been to read a book in monthly installments and then written about it over the course of the year. I have come across some really fantastic books that lend themselves well to this sort of reading project. There has been Roger Deakin and Anna Pavord. Both books are written in perfect 'bite-size' chapters with essays and observations presented in a monthly format. This year's book At the Source by Gillian Clarke is another perfect read for this kind of serial reading project. It was a gift from my friend Cath with whom I have been (at least had been until I dropped the ball) reading along. Somewhere along the line, early summer I think, I fell behind and now am just trying to finish reading the remaining chapters. It is presented in journal format by month with additional essays at the beginning of the book.
Clarke is a Welsh poet and her writing is, unsurprisingly, very eloquent. She is also a careful observer and reminds me of Roger Deakin at times. To be honest I am not sure I will remember many details, little bits here and there only, but the act of reading her writing is a pleasure in itself. I have all sorts of pencil markings so when I go back and dip into various chapters I can easily see the things that caught my eye. There is just so much--it's such a lush sort of book, and even reading it very slowly (which her writing sort of demands) I mostly just let it all wash over me as i go. It's like looking at paintings or sculpture in a museum--you can soak some of it in but when you leave you are mostly just left with impressions and images.
So, at this point, I won't write about each chapter but as I was catching up on my reading I came across a section of wonderful bookishness. I wish I could just share every bit with you here and now, but let me pick out a few especially tasty morsels. Since she is a poet she writes a lot about her own work and that of others. What she says is so spot on when it comes to reading in general. And she makes me want to read and love poetry, which someday I hope to achieve (just like I have come to love short stories). Here are a few snippets on poetry or reading or novels that I think every reader (of any type of literature) will appreciate.
"Good poetry is layered with secrets, observant, true, the best so simple it can stop your heart."
Then she goes on to name a few poets in particular--Yeats, Emily Dickinson, R.S. Thomas, Hughes and other living poets. Must check some of these poets out--I know some of Emily's work, but in general I am woefully underread when it comes to poetry.
Do those of you who read poetry agree . . . she was at a literary conference and talking with other passionate poetry fans notes that "we rarely read a novel more than once, but the poetry-lovers all read favorite poems over and over, searching for the secret of their power, finding something new at every reading, yet never fathoming the mystery." Even though I am not a poetry reader I can somehow see what she is saying. The power of words to create strong images or a story maybe, and how the meaning might change depending on what the reader brings to the poems or interprets the words.
And this is wonderful:
"Reading a novel and reading a poem are completely different ways of reading. There is no comparison. One drives you on, page after page. The other stops you dead, stops your breath as if you saw the burning bush. One is a journey, the other is a spell."
But this doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate good novels, too. And I can easily concur with here here:
"When the novel is finished I close the book, and if it's any good it unfolds in my mind for hours, days, weeks, forever if it is a tryly great novel, by Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot."
And this actually gave me shivers--she was talking about an especially stunning poem and how she reacts to it:
"It's a spell, a magic trick, a key to your heart made by a man who doesn't even know you."
But it's so true. A really good piece of writing is like a work of art. It speaks to you across time and distance. It is really quite a gift, and to think that someone somewhere had the ability to shake you up in some way, to give you a good memory, something you can take with you outside that particular moment and carry with you in your heart and mind.
This is what I love about good books (and good poems!). It's for this moment (and they don't come as often as I would like) that I read!