Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rereading and the romance of words

I love to read, as I'm sure many of you do. I read many different formats, including blogs, magazines and books. Each has their own merits, but oh, I love books. While I have and use an e-reader, it's the weight of a book, the sound of the paper turning and the layout of the words on a page that give me secret shivers.

I don't have enough time to read. My life seems to be too full of the mundane details (gottagetreadyanddrivetowork, trafficisbad, ninehourslaterbravethecommutehome, gotothegym, what'sfordinner, thedisheswon'tdothemselves, finallyachancetoread and barelyachapterbeforeI....fall...asleep - sound familiar?) to consume books the way I used to. I miss it.

When I do have time to settle into a book I sometimes find myself choosing an old friend over something that might challenge me in new ways. Either option is good and valid, but when life is just too much I often choose comfort. The embrace of a beloved book is at least healthier than a half-pound of chocolate.

That's what I'm reading now, a desert island book, one I would take with me if I knew I could never read anything else every again. I'm sure you have a few books like that; I'd love to know what they are, so leave a comment.

As I'm reading this novel among novels I'm considering what is it that brings be back to this one volume. I've read it so many times that the cover has fallen off, the pages are stained with tea and the residue of wet fingertips from many baths. It's something about the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the story and the beauty of the writing.

The word "romance" has been limited in modern literature to stories dealing only with romantic sexual love, a fairly modern notion. Generally "romance" is taken to mean genre romance novels. There's nothing wrong with these, but it is a limitation on a useful word. (Stay with me here, I'm getting to the book in a moment.) Romantic sexual love is, of course, tremendously important and made moreso in modern Western society - much of our art and popular culture extolls the intensity of romantic love. I'm not complaining about this, but I think it means we sometimes neglect the other meanings of romance - that sense of romanticizing, the larger-than-life story.

My warm blanket, cup of tea, old friend novel, Possession by A.S. Byatt, encompasses both. Set in two times, in the mire of academia and the ocean of poetry, two scholars researching two poets uncover a hidden love affair and have one of their own. Byatt captures many distinct written voices - the overarching narrator, the two letter writers, their distinct poetic voices as well as incidental other voices that drift in and out. It's not a novel to be consumed quickly; I smell libraries and the ocean when I read it, I chew it in small chunks and luxuriate in the language.

Because that's what this book is: While it contains a multitude of love stories, the real romance here is language, how it pulls and compels, how we create and destroy worlds with words. I think that's why it's one of my top desert island books. Every time I read it I find something new. A new turn of phrase. A new observation on the power of a poem. This book makes me want to write and I can think of no higher praise.

When it comes down to it, I'm in love with words. Spoken or written, the well turned phrase makes my toes curl. In rereading an old friend it is truly an old romance, with the comfort and passion of a great love. I am inspired, surprised, delighted and yet unalarmed.

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Flash: It has the subtle nuance of...

Please note: This isn't so much a piece of fiction as a set of possibilities. Thanks to Kevin Brooks for the conversation that sparked this piece of writing.

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If wine descriptions were more like life
  1. This wine clearly has long lasting legs, surprising in something this cheap. I'm getting something floral and rather overpowering, kind of like the perfume you came home reeking of last week. It doesn't last long, but then again neither do you, and it's quickly leaving a rather sticky aftertaste with overtones of cheap vodka and nervous sweat.

  2. It has the subtle nuances of graveyard dirt with just a touch of the bitterness you experience when you discover you were written out of the will. A lingering dryness on the palate to remind you of just how bad a child you really were and  how lonely you will be when you get old.

  3. Indescribable, like the memory of your favorite summer of childhood, this wine has a nose heavy on cotton candy and grass stains. Tasting rather like your first furtive high school gulp of  Boone's Strawberry Hill, it slides past your tongue and leaves a lingering sense of something wonderful on the palate with a repressed hint of something else better left forgotten.

  4. I'm sorry, but I drank the whole bottle, so it's a little hard to pick out the subtle details on this one. Let's just say it goes down easy. Really easy. This wine slides down your throat like a $500 whore who, just when you're about done, hits you on the head and takes all your money. You wake up with a headache like you wouldn't believe and are horrified to realize you lost all your cash on something you can't even remember.

  5. If you were ever lucky enough to taste this wine, you would know that it has the mouth feel of silk with overtones of the scent of sunlight on smooth skin and a hint of smoky gazes at midnight. If you ever had the opportunity to hold the glass up the light, you would see that it caresses the inside of the goblet like a haze of excess, each molecule of wine clinging to the surface as though the hard and soft are one living thing. If you were some one else you would know that the nose of this wine, and this wine alone, seeps into every pore like a humid night redolent with tropical flowers and the coming storms. But you never will be that lucky, will you. 
(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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