Friday, 18 November 2016

The world is fucked and books are all we have

The world is fucked and books are all we have. When things are tough, I look for illumination in poetry, nothing has helped, but then a few days ago someone tweeted 'Apes' (1990) by Adam Zagajewski.


One day apes made their grab for power.
Gold seal-rings,
starched shirts,
aromatic Havanas,
feet squashed into patent leather.
Deeply involved in our other pursuits,
we didn’t notice: someone read Aristotle,
someone else was wholly in love.
Rulers’ speeches became somewhat more chaotic,
they even gibbered, but still,
when did we ever really listen? Music was better.
Wars: ever more savage; prisons:
stinking worse than before.
Apes, it seems, made their grab for power.

Poem by Adam Zagajewski, from Without End


On my bedside table just now are these:

Last weekend, I read Claudia Rankine's prose-poem Citizen, which is startling and unsettling (for me, more prose than poem, but well worth reading). I often stop books for no good reason and take weeks/months to go back, it may be a concentration thing. This summer, I stopped The Vegetarian a third of the way through and started a thriller (Apple Tree  Yard by Louise Doughty, which I loved). I will go back to The Vegetarian soon (I also really liked the story behind the translation). The Blue Devils of Nada by Albert Murray is a gorgeous dipping-in book of essays and there are some gems there. I will also, of course, go back to James Baldwin (started and stopped for no good reason). Jackie Kay's Trumpet is a secondhand book passed on to me, which I look forward to.


The Goldfinch painting by Carel Fabritius has come to Edinburgh (how sad he died aged 32), which prompted me to start my Kindle version of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer-winning novel - I've had it for two years, unread. I'm 100 pages in and love the plot, but the style is too wordy for my liking. The micro-details clutter the prose, which is exhausting to read. I recall mixed reviews at the time. Julie Myerson was not too keen. Not sure I can stay the course. I think it would make a great film though.


A couple of weeks ago, I watched John Berger and Susan Sontag discussing the process of reading and writing in 'To Tell a Story' on Channel 4 in 1983. The discussion was part of a series called VOICES (I don't remember VOICES, Channel 4 had just started and I was at the beginning of the nightmare of what turned out to be ME). Berger and Sontag are so compelling, you agree with both of them even when they have opposing views. Their earnestness almost seems quaint now, but I was struck by their respectful disagreement with one another. They are mesmerising to watch and listen to.

And I have just discovered Scottish doctor, filmmaker and  poet Margaret Tait (1918-1999), what a remarkable woman. (‘Emily’: ‘Emily Dickinson shut herself in a room / And wrote about her pain. / She wrote too about joy’.) You can hear a recording of Margaret Tait reading 'Emily' and other poems  here on the Scottish Poetry Library website.


And Leonard Cohen is dead, that is hard to know. Since 1980, I have loved his poetry and his music and his beauty. He was old-ish, I guess, 82, but I have so many folded-up memories that his songs unfold again. 'Suzanne' is mentioned in my novel. ('...and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China' has to be one of the most beautiful lines ever).
I cried last Wednesday morning when I learned Trump was elected and I cried again two days later when I learned that Leonard  had died.


SimoneWolff said...

Beautiful blog post, Nasim. I have had 'So long, Marianne' on my brain as if on a loop, since news of Leonard Cohen's death reached me. What a sad, mad, impossible year this is. I was intrigued that he died only a few months after his great love Marianne, and touched by the heart-rending poem/last love letter he wrote to her on her death bed in July. On a totally different note, I have developed the same reading pattern as you, by the sound of it. My most recent development is to read non-fiction as bedtime stories to my teenage daughter, which for some reason she seems to embrace. The quality of our previously monosyllabic conversations is much improved. To go back to your blog post, yes, imo, The Goldfinch is too long by 150 pages, but I think we've had this conversation before? I agree it'd make a great film, and I have a feeling that was Donna Tartt's intention all along (to me, that intention is so obvious on some of the pages, and I remember muttering 'come on' while reading it in '14). I love the picture of the books on your bedside table, do you remember the pic I sent you in February this year, of your book, among my books on my new bookcase in my bedroom? That is actually one of the few nice memories I shall take away from this year, reading your book and seeing it among other books in my room, and that we connected over shared experiences. I miss our email exchanges, but events have been unfolding at such a speed and my ability to focus, on anything or anyone, over an extended period, seems shattered. I suspect it's the same story for you. Love, Claudia (Gillberg) x

nmj said...

Hey, Claudia, Lovely to see you here, it is heartening indeed to know that reading my book is a good memory for you from 2016, which has been an effing awful year in so many ways... Reading non-fiction with your daughter as bedtime stories sounds fabulous! There is some brilliant non-fiction out there. I should have mentioned in my blog post Lara Pawson's This Is The Place to Be, I think you would love it. Very easy to read (energy-wise), short snappy paragraphs.

Yes, I recall our Goldfinch email, she is such a polished writer but just too wordy for me, I don't need to know the names of books on shelves or the contents of a drawer or the back story of a minor character, I want so much to edit those sentences, get rid of the clutter...but the story is compelling and the scene, for example, where Theo is back in their apartment wondering if his mother is going to return is just heartbreaking, very well done. I just don't know whether to invest more energy in reading a book I am not loving if I am only going to give it up halfway...

(And thanks again to you and Geoff for blogging about the horror that is FITNET, I just can't bear to blog about it, though have tweeted about it and signed OMEGA a couple weeks ago. I need just now to read and think about books, the things that sustain me and make all the crap in the world bearable.) x