The Reading Challenge

Read Wildly Reading Challenge.png

If I was to take part in a reading challenge, I would attempt this one. I made it because it pushes me to read way beyond my known borders. And while I thought I was a wide roaming reader of sorts, it turns out that I’m not. I have also not yet found titles for the whole list.

Reading across from the top right-hand corner:

  1. A manga title –
  2. History book by a woman writer – Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
  3. Translated from Japanese –
  4. An Indian writer – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  5. A Virago title – South Riding by Winifred Holtby
  6. Ancient Greek literature – The Birds by Aristophanes
  7. A New York Review Classic – The Invention of Morel by Aldopho Bioy Casares
  8. Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Jeremy Fisher
  9. Book 1 of a Science Fiction Series – Wool by Hugh Howey
  10. An Australian Indigenous writer – Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
  11. A children’s picture book -The Wonder Thing by Libby Hathorn
  12. Middle East Book Award –
  13. An epistolary novel –
  14. Short stories written by a woman – The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
  15. A book written in the 1700s –
  16. A Science fiction classic – Dune by Frank Herbert
  17. A book that feature vampires – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  18. A book over 1000 pages – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  19. A banned book – Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor (Banned in fourteen states in the US, and by Australia in 1945 as: a collection of bawdiness, amounting to sex obsession)
  20. An Australian play – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler
  21. A book of poetry, single poet – The Poetry of Pablo Neruda
  22. Any translated book into English – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  23. Any Shakespeare play – Othello
  24. A fantasy stand alone novel – The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  25. Fiction translated from Chinese – The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan

 

 

Reading

leng-jun-woman-reading.jpg

When things are difficult, reading is such consolation. It is thought that life is for living, not for merely reading about, and this is true.
But as with all art, what we are gazing at and the quality of our watching, makes a difference. Some books console, and other distract and others entertain. Many stories reaffirm and add to what we already like. Some writing keeps us liking what we already know.
But reading, like any set of complicated muscles, can move us further. And reading, if given permission, will transfer gently along the contours of our fearful selves, as all great art can, if allowed. This, in turn, can allow us permission to consider what we, all of us, hold in our ghostly hearts.
The greatest literature is by nature provoking rather than judgemental – to provoke without verdict is complex and risky and so the greatest artists rarely present answers.
They, all of them, seem to have halted everything in order to dive.

Fiction, if allowed, can breach defences with undimming compassion.

 

 

Artwork by Leng Jun

 

 

 

 

A Thousand Mornings

Reading

“The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you.”
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Luckily, Robert came by

tree-painting-art-sunshine-blenda-studio

Robert came by this morning to see if his book Creation Myths had arrived. It hadn’t. As usual he is not perturbed. There is a copy of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism here, he is completely pleased, it turns out to be a book that is important to him and its poor condition does not deter him. He says that everybody should read it.

Robert, at the moment, is reading heavily. He is reading Jung, Freud, Marie Louise Von Franz, Arthur Avalon and he is reading art, history, mysticism and the ancient plays. He says that his wallet is empty because Centrelink have done something with his aged pension. And he says his gaze is overcrowded at the moment but that these things are of no matter because they are conducive to good work.
I have had no other customers today and I am glum. Robert says: not to worry.
I am reading In the Company of Rilke and there is time so I use it all to tell Robert why. He is always impressed by any book that has been chosen, no matter the reason. He is in complete agreeance on its importance, we concur on conclusions: Rilke the Visionary, Rilke the Mystic, Rilke the Consolation…. we look at the book and both of us are blinded by its sun.

Artwork by Blenda Tyvoll

I’m going to read while I drive!

Lorenzo Mattotti 2

There is a couple here in the shop and they are very quiet and they are very hesitant and finally they ask me for mystery and crime and other things like that, like Peter Temple or Ngaio Marsh?
They pick two books each and they become hilarious. They tell me they are on holidays and they are going back to Victoria right now. He says he is going to read as he drives, all the way home. She gives a small scream and says there’s no way you are going to read as you drive, you old fool.
He says that he will do that if he wants to. She tells me that he always thinks he can do whatever he wants. When they leave there is a struggle with the door as another couple try to enter at the same time. Everybody exchanges one short, witty comment and the couple leaving step out into the wind and their drive home and the couple entering separate into science fiction and poetry.
He says: there will be nothing new here as usual and she says: maybe about time you tried something new?
He lifts a shoulder to block her out but she is kneeling in poetry and has found Keats and says: well I have already found this…
But he has found nothing and goes back outside to wait.
She stays in poetry. She stays for ages…

Artwork by Lorenzo Mattotti

 

When I could not eat dinner because of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

In Melbourne I went into the Readings bookshop and it was too full of possibilities to be calm and so I  purchased far too many things. But they did not have The Love Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in 23 volumes. So I have to continue reading my borrowed copies, borrowed from the Flinders University Library and therefore Not Mine.

We went out to dinner that night, an Italian place next to that bookshop, in Carlton, called Tiamo, and inside it was small and hot and dark and magnificent. But I was thinking over the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This library book is in my bag and under the table, heavy with red covers and cream pages and unable to be purchased by me. She wanted to go to Pisa and her father would not let her. She was 39 years old.

We ordered platefuls of pasta and rough bread. The waitresses were graceful and furious, carrying impossible armfuls of platters and glasses. One of them was shouting at the chef in a kitchen too small for the number of cooks crowded in there! There is a tray of antipasto not to her liking. The chef is looking out across the tables in astonishment.   The back door stands open, it is a hot night. I can see another chef out there, leaning against a wall, smoking in the hot twilight. He is asked to hurry it up and he turns his back, leaning on that hot brick wall, impassive.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning spends years in one room, unable to defy her parent, her father.  She wanted so much to go to Pisa, Italy, has never been anywhere. Sometimes she walks around the nearby park. But her writing, her poetry was about the whole world. Her letters to her lover were a whole world. His and her letters are vast. Her lover was Robert Browning.

There is a couple huddled together over a candle behind us. She is saying: but you never said anything. You never said anything.

The waitresses cross back and forth through the roar, they weave in and out and they never bump into a single thing, still people are crowding in, the owner is shouting and welcoming everybody from the bar. He is wearing a black apron which is covered in flour.

Behind us the young woman is crying, drooping over the fabulous risotto, as a couple they reassure a hovering waitress that everything is good.

The Barrett Browning correspondence was rich and fabulous and teeming with pain and with life.

She writes: …and where is the answer to anything except too deep down in the heart for even the pearl divers…?

There are four young men at a back table, they have rucksacks underneath and newspapers spilling out and onto the floor and they are simply bellowing their orders across the serving counter. But this is not the way to order and they get no food that way. But they don’t care; they just keep drinking the good red wine.

Right next to us, the furious waitress captures the owner and says: it’s out in the street, I told you, it’s out in the street, you can’t do it any other way. But he has seen someone enter that he knows. He lifts both hands in the air and leans back. He delivers  a superb greeting in Italian. The waitress is left with three full plates and no answer. She says: For Fuck’s Sake!

Still people are coming in. The walls are roaring and now we have our enormous food and it is good. Everything is too deep for even a pearl diver.

Then we can leave, push hard to get out into the end of the summer evening and then we are out in it and there is a cellist playing in a doorway across the road and someone is calling out Swan Lake, Swan Lake.

The Pulley

16790767_1540406965999911_1714468360_n

I showed David a copy of Cultural Amnesia by Clive James and he said I was naughty because he had to have that book. After all it was Clive James. He said: Oh God, I don’t know what to do. I am chasing up Rimbaud and now you have me with the Cultural Amnesia. He said that all of his indecision comes from his sad childhood.

A lady bought a copy of Penguin Bloom and then took me out to see her own rescued magpie, perching on the edge of a basket on the back seat of the car. She said that he is blind in one eye and the family just adore him. She said there was nothing they would not do for him.

Sharon rang to urge me to find a volume of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, all of them in the one volume. She said she is having a bad day.

Robert said that despite his weariness he will never give up the quest for history and the truth of life. He ordered a copy of Aboriginal Men of High Degree by A. P. Elkin.

A mother and her two young children were looking for dinosaur books. They said that they loved David Attenborough. The son said that he also loved dinosaurs, owls and geckos. His small sister said that she loved owls and ballet. Their mother said that there was not much time for her to read much anymore. She looked happy.

Outside the window, there are tradesmen, leaning against their car, drinking iced coffee and smoking. They are arguing about scaffolding. One says that he is sick of all this shit. Then he says he is going back to the bakery. His mates look at him and keep on smoking.

A very young woman showed me her six month old son. She bought a copy of Goodnight Owl and told me that she has just left home to make it on her own. Her pram had masking tape wound around the handles. She said she was going to read to him every night. She gazed at him the whole time, and he, with huge dark eyes, gazed back and he was smiling the whole time.

Serenity told me that she had to leave school early. Her father, who was carrying all the shopping, looked very tired.

Most days, at some time, I run into the edge of the exhaustion shelf and usually I cannot see the reason for it. It is always when I am not in my bookshop.

An old lady went outside and indicated to me through the window which book she wanted. It would have been easier for her to have remained inside and just picked up the volume from the table. It was The Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. She took it from me and said: this is the one, his will be wonderful and thank you.

It is Valentine’s Day and a man is so happy that I had a copy of Wombat Divine. Later in the day he came back and gave me a red rose because I had a copy of Wombat Divine and he was going to surprise his wife with it.

The Pulley

When God at first made man,

Having a glass of blesings standing by;

Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:

Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.

 

So strength first made a way;

The beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:

When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that alone of all his treasure

Rest in the bottom lay.

 

For if I should (said he)

Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

He would adore my gifts instead of me,

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

So both should losers be.

 

Yet let him keep the rest,

But keep them with repining restlessness:

Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

If goodness lead him not, yet weariness

May toss him to my breast.

George Herbert

 

I have a customer who is too full of joy.

fb_img_1481754260794

I have a customer who is too full of joy and she causes me joy too; no matter how hard I try to be calm and sensible, I cannot. She stacks her choices everywhere and reads lines aloud and loudly. She has a heavy book of poetry, and she is leaning over the pages, chanting the lines and I said: who is that? And she said: oh my God, it’s Yeats.

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 One cannot read everything in a lifetime but we are going to. We are absurd. We will use every spare minute to read. She says that reading divides her in two. There is her and there is her.

She says: do you know…do you have…do you have….do you have…..I am going to find a book of nursery rhymes, you know the ones, the Opies, you know the ones, you know those ones, you must get them….OH MY GOD…what is this book and what is this book?  Should I read the Pepys, do you remember in Charing Cross Road how she read the Pepys…do you have…you know the one….you know the one…..oh my heart. I must just read this out loud.

And then she is sitting on the floor reading to herself, something from Arthur Ransome or Kenneth Graham or Rudyard Kipling or Rosemary Sutcliffe or some other intensity.

“Come see the true flowers of this pained world.”

cute-bird-parents-32__700

Outside, a young boy threads his way across the road and through the traffic. He is guiding a small dog on a lead and he is not watching the traffic. But the traffic watches him and slows down, the drivers look at him kindly. He takes such a long time, encouraging the dog around and through the terrifying dust, the awful engines. He doesn’t pull on the lead even once. And I think that I have never seen such a magnificent show of gentleness.

The last week before Christmas: people are anxiously considering gifts and hoping that I gift wrap. A man brought the Women’s Weekly Farm House Cookbook to the counter. He said: my wife has been looking for this for ages. I don’t know if it will improve the cooking though.

A lady told me that she has a horror of bushfires.

Robert is anxious for a copy of The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manley P. Hall. He comes in to discuss psychotherapy and theories of dreaming.

Three young tradesmen pass the window, one was lighting a cigarette. He said: this is a magic little book shop isn’t it. His workmates ignore him.

I said to a child visiting with her grandmother: do you like to read? And she said: no.

One morning two women are buying science books and they are frantic because they must get to the airport. They loom over the counter and over Robert and criticise baggage limits. They have chosen books on philosophy and they sweep Robert out of the door with them on gusts of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

I can continue to read The Historian in short bursts. I should like to ask someone about the Slovenian Alps. It seems logical to me that Dracula is still alive. I had asked Robert about it and he said: we are all brainwashed by the government.

Then a lady said to me she had better go and get her husband to come and have a look. He was over minding the dog. Soon she came back without him. She said he can wait, she decided to come back herself and have a good look at the Agatha Christies. She said he was moaning at her to get him a couple of good detectives but she wasn’t going to bother with him right now.

I am asked for A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and The Philokalia Volume 4. Then I was asked for Crafting Qualitative Research: Working in the Post-Positivist Traditions by Pushkala Prased.

A retired customer said to David that the unstructured life is very very satisfying and that 50 is when we begin our creativity. David said to her that when we read Haiku we use both sides of the brain, that when we read the final line both sides of the brain are engaged and this accounts for the power and profundity of Haiku. They regard each other, very pleased.

A customer came in with a motorcycle helmet and wearing a T-shirt that said: Holdens were created to keep dickheads out of Fords. He asked for Wilbur Smith and Danielle Steele. He talked for some time about Bryce Courtenay.

Then it is quiet again.

June came back to talk about Spike Milligan; she couldn’t phone me because their pensions did not allow them the expense of mobile phones. She told me that John was tricky to live with, (she said it cheerfully)… been with him a long time. But you know, maybe he might change.She’d always thought it, you know. June is brave. She holds on to the counter as she talks, holds on to her hopes.

Outside a motorcyclist is rebuked for parking in the bus zone. Inside, a small boy is leaning over the biographies, leaning against the window and he says: everybody gets mad at Christmas, like my teacher. His mother is looking through the vintage books and first editions. She says: never mind. Here, don’t lean on Nelson Mandela, you might read that one day. But he replies that he probably won’t.

He says: can we get gelati now?

 

“Come see the true

Flowers

Of this pained world.”

Basho Matsuo: On Love and Barley

I might become a pirate or a rabbit catcher.

15355874_1415624301811512_2092811622_n

A lady brought to the counter a set of poetry books in soft green leather. She stood for a while, holding the books, stroking the covers and running her thumb over the gold on the spines. She said: I am having these.

I looked for the last time at the green and the silver and the soft rich gold of that precise seven volume stack and I said I will miss these and she said: yes.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. It gleams and glitters all around me.

A child asked me if all the pirates in books are actually ok. Because he might become one or he might become a rabbit catcher. He stood on one foot and showed the skill of balancing silently in front of the rabbits. I said: this is excellent.

I am surrounded by breathtaking wealth in here. Although my accountant said I have completed another year without making any money at all. I told Robert and he said: what do they know!

A man said to his wife: I could spend all day in here and she said: well you’re not.

John rang to thank me for looking for his train book and I reminded him that I had not found it yet. He said: that’s ok. Keep looking. He asked if I had Triple Crown by Felix Francis but I didn’t.

Sharon messaged me to read Great Expectations over Christmas. She said she backed into a car at a shopping centre and it is Christmas that caused it.

One man looked at my Christmas tree and looked shocked. I said cheerily: only a few weeks to go and he said: oh shit. He bought an Encyclopaedia of Horses.

I was asked for Cranford, The Good Earth, Soul Mountain and The Secret Garden. Kody’s younger brother picked up Kody’s Boy Versus Beast Books and said: These are for Kody, but he probably won’t let me read them.

I am surrounded by glittering wealth in here.

A tiny girl, about three years old was wearing one pink shoe and one black shoe and she dropped her handful of coins on the floor. After half an hour her parents left the shelves to come to the counter and their child was still collecting her coins, slowly, painstaking, one by one. She had one shoe on and the other one was full of the coins. Her mother offered her Possum Magic but she was uninterested. She just wanted to continue her work.

I was urged to read Poor Fellow, My country by Xavier Herbert. A young reader that I have never met asked me to show her a really good book that she would like.

Robert dropped in again to recite for me a poem about the Garden of Eden. I said to him that I am surrounded with glittering wealth in here and he said that I should get rid of the westerns then.

A customer has lent me The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova because it is phenomenal. I begin to read it. I am interrupted with another recommendation: The Yandilli Trilogy by Rodney Hall. Peter asked me to find him two copies of The Existential Jesus by John Carroll. He said it is the most important book ever written and that I should read it.