Living, dying, birds, art, life: beautiful prose-poem short stories from Lydia Davis and American history; January reading has been a good clear start – eclectic, rich and satisfying.
Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear
This is a book of small things and shares a year of observations. The book’s small blocks of writing have been welcome at a time when I have found it sometimes difficult to concentrate on reading. And then, at times the writing is overwrought and on occasion the smallness and attention to detail grates (a little) because I don’t always live life in the small stuff. That said, there’s no harm in spending some time there in contemplation and I found the book in parts, an immensely rich and rewarding read.
Maclear acknowledges in her introduction how life stress and worry can impact on the creative process:
I had become so accustomed to being interrupted by emergency calls and hospital news, I began interrupting myself whenever I sat down to work. I leapt up from my seat every half hour as though an alarm had sounded. Time used to be deeper than this, I thought.
We follow Maclear as she walks through the vicissitudes of life: following birds across the Toronto sky line; tracking their flight paths and in the process tracking her own life with her companion, Jack Breakfast, guide and bird photographer (see below)
at a time when Maclear writes of having “lost her beat.”
I love this picture. Birds flying along the Toronto skyline, soaring. There is a fair bit of this in the book.
My favourite words lay on the very last page of the book and have stayed with me over the coming days:
“Love only! Always onward” writes the bird guide, Jack Breakfast.
I’m going to get a tattoo of that on the nape of my neck, I pretend.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
These are a revelation. Here’s a quick taste..
Davis writes from that point where poetry seems to intersect with prose in a beautiful realistic style that mirrors a rich seam of life.
Hard to define somehow but so rewarding for a reader longing to connect but short on time. Each story delivers something real. An observation, a thought. Complete, unique. Each story has made me think deeply – pause and dive in to read more. Highly recommended.
Listen to Lydia Davis read more here and start with this short story “Story” which chimed deep within me
and an excerpt is read by Lydia Davis in this short film
Hygge: the Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Soderberg
The front cover is beautiful and the book itself is a complete embodiment of its topic. Hygge is a Danish word worth exploring and the book and its pictures and words from the author wrap themselves cosily and warmly around me as I curl up to read the book under a warm fleecy blanket. A bit of an escapist treat.
Dying: a Memoir by Cory Taylor.
The accident of birth see, its a powerful message of acceptance for an adoptee.
A Manual for Living
“Some things are in our control and others not”
The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion and I know I am onto something. I came to this tiny book through a review in the New Yorker magazine and have been quietly applying these principles this month to what has become a difficult working life. For example, stuck on a train to a business meeting I had so wished to avoid, I cupped the text in my hand and offered my self to it for advice. On flipping through the book and stopping to open the pages, I found myself in a chapter on faithfulness and read deeply the advice therein.
And felt calmer.
Handed a moral and ethical compass on which to navigate the choppy waters ahead.
And somehow, on that day, decisions came easier from that place. A little gem of a book. Highly recommended.
Team of Rivals is a big book!! Its going to be a year book, I think but I wanted the challenge of a big read and at 700+ pages, this one fits the bill (and I think its going to be quite a year)
(Illustration: Oliver Jeffers)