“One day it all falls away and you are alone”…

I used to be a voracious reader. During the endless summers when I was 11, 12, 13, I’d walk down to the local library every week. I’d get out seven books and read one a day, sprawled on a lawn chair in the backyard, or propped with my back against the brick by the front door and my thighs bobbing off the hot cement stoop. I remember the cover of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong as if it were in my hands now. John Christopher’s The City of Gold and Lead, too. And John Wyndham’s battered Penguin Classic edition of Consider Her Ways and Others. I stared at the cover of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon so intently that I imagined I might slip right through it and end up scrambling to catch up to that stately, wonderful woman on her stately, wonderful horse. (Though it wasn’t the summer when I read that one. I remember slapping it casually down on my desk in grade 7 homeroom, hoping for some sad, misguided reason that my classmates would notice its heft.)

Then high school. Lord of the Flies affected me so deeply that I had trouble writing the requisite journal “reflections” about it. Lives of Girls and Women made me admit, grudgingly, that Canadian literature could be OK. (Maybe it was the masturbation scene?)

University. From The Wide Sargasso Sea to No Pain Like This Body to La casa de Bernarda Alba (a play, but it still counts) to all the novels I continued to read in my spare time, including on the train to and from Montreal (If on a winter’s night a traveler, whose cover I also see still, when I close my eyes): I continued, voracious.

At some point between first daughter and second, I stopped being voracious. This seemed reasonable: I had a baby, a toddler; another baby, another toddler. I was tired. I was trying to revise my own book, then books—no time for anyone else’s. Forget greedy hunger: I stopped reading altogether.

I remember the night I started again, after at least four years without a novel. It hit me all of a sudden, hard—a sucker-punch of loss that all those other body blows (divorce, a new home, a new job) had masked. I was at Bakka-Phoenix, Toronto’s wondrous science fiction/fantasy bookstore. My U of T writing students were downstairs filling out their course evaluations; I was upstairs with Bakka’s surpassing awesome manager, whom I’ve known for years and years. “Help,” I said to her, suddenly, stupidly almost crying. “I keep starting books and not finishing them. I haven’t read a whole book in years. I need to read a book.”

She plucked one off the shelf with her usual combination of authority and empathy. “Here,” she said, pressing Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl into my hands. “Start with this.”

I opened it on the subway. I read the first two sentences and started, suddenly, stupidly, to cry. I finished it three days later, feeling a mixture of triumph and humility.

I read some more books. Then I didn’t. A few more years went by. More classes; more books of my own authorship to fret over; a full-time job. And yet there they were again: the ragged claws of hunger. (“Too sentimental”?)

Two weeks ago I pulled Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory off Peter’s bookshelf. I read it in four days, almost entirely on the subway to and from work. When I finished it, I took some deep breaths and shook myself free of the stark, violent, fatalistic, tragic Scottish wilds of Frank Cauldhame—and I reached randomly for a Flannery O’Connor collection.

I’m halfway through it now. First of all: if I’d known how insanely, wrenchingly similar Banks and O’Connor were, I probably would have decided to devote my commute to Jane Austen instead. Only now I’m in it: the beauty and the menace; the relentless, awful, delicious inevitability of cruelty and love. And I’m toast. My back’s stuck to fuzzy red subway seat, not sweaty summer brick, but the feeling’s the same. Incoherent gratitude. Triumph and humility.

Then she recognized the feeling again, a little roll. It was as if it were not in her stomach. It was as if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time.

 


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Photo by Rebecca Springett

Release Date - October 2015

Published by: ChiZine Publications

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