Saturday, March 25, 2006


"When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own."
John Berger

"The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency--the belief that the here and now is all there is."
Allan Bloom

One of the best things about finishing the writing work for my PhD is that I've recently rediscovered a love of reading for its own sake - that sinking into a book I haven't done for far too long. Recent books have included The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen and the very wonderful On Beauty by Zadie Smith. My best book ever for getting lost in though was Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. Despite its scale, after the first few pages I was taking it everywhere with me, even to the cooker while I made supper. And for some time after, I was telling people about a friend I had... until I realised it wasn't really a friend, just a character in the book. It was - and still feels - like a gift to get that involved.

What surprises me most is how when I read good work, I'm drawn back to the page to write, so perhaps all writing is a dialogue - not just with the reader who will hopefully pick up your work but with other writers too - dead and alive. It's all about adding your graffiti mark on the wall. The poetry group I belong to - the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society - had their annual competition prizegiving on Tuesday. In the judge's summing-up, there was the sentence that goes something along the lines of 'It's clear from some of the entries that the writers are not reading contemporary poetry' - a line that you hear again and again in competition round-ups. But for me, reading is one of the main parts that make up writing, and all the writers I respect seem to say the same thing when they discuss their process. How can you expect to write without reading?

And what better example of being lost in the story than the painting above. It's from the Book of Hours and demonstrates to me the universality of writing, and reading, through time. Another beautiful reading painting is on Patricia Storm's excellent blog. I love the way the woman in this painting has obviously moved her chair over to catch the sunlight but got so engrossed in her book, she hasn't noticed she's now in the dark. And Patricia Storm is a woman who understands reading! I spent ages lost in her words, nodding and nodding along with her. Thank you - good cartoons too!

My story for the weekend is Lisa Clarkson's Shirts. The first line (see post below) is a poem in itself, and captures the deceptively clean and simple language of the rest of this story:
They wake together, as lovers often do. She makes breakfast, wetting cereal with milk; he cleans his teeth and shaves the grit from his face.
This edition of Pulp, guest-edited by me, will only be up until the end of the month. Catch it while you can - I'm particularly proud of getting the poet, Paul Farley to answer the literary top ten questions.

And my writing prompt is ... she turned towards home.

1 comment:

patricia said...

Why thank you!

I blush.

Your blog is a delightful treat, too! Another great find for my ever-increasing blog list.

You write novels AND you just finished your PhD? Huh. What a slacker. ;)