If you’re a reader, you are about to read a blog post which will echo through the pits of your soul. It’s not a problem, we all know this. But whenever us readers are faced with this sort of conundrum, there is definite…friction would be the best way to put it, in my mind.
Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will already know that I am blowing this issue (the one I’m about to tell you about) up to be something it absolutely is not, creating drama where none is needed, creating blockage when there probably is a clear path that I just can’t see yet.
But the thing is: this feels big. Like a pickle. And when something feels like a pickle to me, I will set my brain to work until it has come up with a logical solution that will bring me peace and clarity and a bin (you know, a bin to throw the pickle into.)
What is the pickle, you ask? Books, that’s what. I’ve started reading three books that are wonderful…and I’ve started them all at the same time. The pickle is this, and the pickle is also the fact that I’ll not finish any of them at this rate.
I won’t go into the details about each book but I will say that each is illuminating, genuine, inspiring, and each has a very clear reason to be read by a bookish dreamer named Brooke at this point in her life.
How do I choose which one to plow on with? Surely it’s an essential question, like asking myself: should I brush my teeth, have a shower, sleep, eat? You’re laughing aren’t you. You’re laughing because you’ve been here before, but currently you’re not so it’s kind of like you’re looking back upon a distant nightmare set in a far-off land.
But for me, it’s here. It’s now. And I’ve got to DO something, I’ve got to get TOUGH.
I’ve got to put two of the books away. When it comes down to it, that’s just what I’ve got to do, isn’t it? One at a time. I will not find un-friction until I make a choice, and the time has come for me to make it—to choose the apple, the orange or the pear.
What a bookishly frantic conundrum. What a pickle of the totally me kind.
Arki was a taxi driver, but in his heart he was a writer. He knew he was a writer because the words never stopped racing in his mind until they were out. Neither did the joyous feeling they stirred in him.
Everyday Arki would think up his words and send them into the world. He didn’t need a computer. He didn’t need paper. All he needed was to flash his words onto the windscreen of his cab, onto the night shining road, onto the cars that sped along beside him. He didn’t care where his words landed. All he cared about was that they landed.
He didn’t need his words to change anyone else’s life, either, because they changed his, and that was enough. In changing his life, they fixed a permanent light in his eyes that everyone who crossed his path could see and feel.
Joe, the frequent flyer who dressed for business and laughed like a monkey, slapped him on the back and called him, The happy driver. Jennifer, the lonely lawyer with sad eyes and a happy smile, insisted on a hug once they’d reached the office of a morning—just to say thank you. He’d wrapped his arms around her this morning and wondered if her eyes were closed and wishing to ‘catch’ some of his happy.
Arki had grown up with the burning need to change the world in some grand way. But as he drove along the road to home, thinking of his wife curled up on the couch and his baby boy, nose whistling in his cot, he smiled. He had changed the world in greater ways than he’d ever imagined.
It was time to tackle a difficult read—a bold move, on my behalf. I’d grown up reading only for pleasure and, up until that point in my life, I’d not felt the need to be challenged by books. Reality could be a bitter pill to swallow as it was; did I really want it shoved in my face? Did I want to be huffing and puffing at the dictionary every ten words? No. I didn’t.
But I would do it anyway.
I decided on an Australian literary fiction novel that had a shiny gold sticker on it: an award winner. Surely this would challenge me. I lasted fifty pages before I turned to my husband—who was lounging on the couch opposite me with his own book— and made the big announcement.
‘The struggle is real,’ I said, and it was. Oh, my goodness it was.
Wordy passages of profound thought. Dull family portraits, the monotony of everyday life. A bit of love. A bit of hate. A bit of everything and nothing all at once. I raised my eyebrow and decorated the google search bar on my phone with the words I’d come to know way too well over the past few days, ‘Define (insert word here).’
‘It’s okay to stop reading,’ my husband said, smiling up at me from his book—which he was loving, by the way. And so, it seemed I had a choice. I could go on, allow myself the potential to expand as a reader (and, perhaps, as a human) or I could give up and go find another book. A lovely, lovely book!
Oh, man. I knew what the answer had to be. I needed to read on, I’d kick myself if I didn’t.
The dominoes fell about a quarter of the way through when I had the uncanny sense that the book was becoming more. I frowned into it, gently rocking back and forth on our beloved flower armchair (the same one that’s rocked both our precious babes to sleep, on countless occasions) when I realised what had happened. For the very first time, I had seen me within the pages of a book. Not just the outer crust of me. The inner creaks, the bones, the blood; and all the horrendous aches and pains life had thrown my way.
It felt awful. It felt so bloody awful that I just did not know how I could possibly last through another moment of such soul-scraping reality. Surely, I’d have to put the book down. But I didn’t. I kept reading. And then the book was finished. Just like that, I’d been changed because I dared to go to a place, within the world of literature, that frightened me.
There lies the beauty and the beast that is literary fiction—the grace of the art, the rawness of humanity; these are books coloured by the real-lives of writers who dare to expose life’s simple truths so that us readers might come to know ourselves, and our world, differently.
Michelle De Kretser is one of Australia’s best when it comes to finding the truth and telling it in the form of a novel. As I sat in the audience of her Q and A session on Saturday—only days after she won her second Miles Franklin Award—I was taken right back to the book that changed me. My burst into the world of literary fiction and the humanity that connected me to it, and it to me.
Michelle’s characters are ordinary, flawed people—at least, the ones I’ve met so far— and they are so alive with the human traits we all share. It was fascinating to hear her explain the way she draws the lives of these imperfect individuals, crafts them into little gems that reflect the lives of us, the readers.
It was very easy to be inspired by Michelle and her cheeky confidence. She spoke about all the crap of life as though the fixes were obvious, that underneath the complications of modern living, lies simplicity. People. Just trying to be.
All the beautiful textures and colours of the world, and there they are— in the minds of our most cherished writers, on the pages of our most precious books. Surely, to be human is to share our lives and hearts with others. To take a chance. To show each other our scars and to help each other heal from them. Because life hurts so much better when we roll with the punches, together, don’t you think? To me, that’s the beauty of literature. And I get the feeling that Michelle De Kretser just might feel the same way.
I’ve never read an Alexis Wright, book. Until she won the 2018 Stella prize, I’d never even heard her name.
But I can’t stop thinking about the speech she gave at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Wednesday night, and I absolutely think you should read it, here.
It’ll be good for the writer in you.
It’ll be good for the human in you.
It’ll just…be good.
‘I absolutely believe that we need deep thinking and deep imagination in our literature to shock the daylight out of us, to make us see what is happening in the world, to make us think, and if we teach how to read more deeply, think more, then perhaps, perhaps, we might stop harming ourselves and the planet.
Alexis Wright, Boisbouvier Oration, 2018
(One more post to go for my Melbourne Writers Festival series. I’ll try to get that to you over the coming days. xx)