A long time on the shelves I finally dusted off Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams with the desire to sample Sylvia Plath in prose mode. Many of the pieces are awkward and not that great (although she sounds particularly strong when writing about the sea), but at times her unique eye shines through and we get phrases that would sit happily in her later poems -
‘There might be a hiss of rain on the pane, there might be wind sighing and trying the creaks of the house like keys’
I also travelled beyond the sky via Moondust : In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (Andrew Smith). I enjoyed the author speculation far more than the actual meetings with the astronauts, and his lunar descriptions were unexpectedly poetic, full of shadows and silence - with a moonwalker struggling to navigate the surface ‘trapped in a dusty hall of mirrors’.
I have also conquered my vague fear of Paul Auster. I read The New York Triology about ten years ago, mainly to see why so many of my friends had him high on their literary pedestals. But it didn’t help me to understand - it was ok, but nothing that special. Since then I’ve built him up into one of those ‘he must be great, it must be me that is lacking something’ writers - but I decided to give him a go again. And I genuinely enjoyed Oracle Night - despite the fact that my copy had brown speckles embedded in every other page (which distracted me far more than his use of footnotes). I still don’t think he is that special, but he writes something a bit different, and that is mostly a good thing.
For a reader like me its impossible not to give books to all my friends at Christmas. This year I have wrapped and handed over about a dozen volumes, in all shapes, sizes and persuasions. Books of pictures, books of words, and blank books for those who long to write their own. I’ve also spotted a fair few book-shaped presents lingering under our tree, so hopes are high that my shelves will be even more laden come this time next week.
At this time of magic and sparkle I like to pick appropriate books to read, things that harmonise with the season. Last year I immersed myself in a couple of the Canongate Myths, and there are two still on my shelf so over the coming week I might slip my head inside The Helmet of Horror or dip my finger into the Lion’s Honey. Or I might spend time with Geoff Ryman (Was) and see where his re-working of the Oz story lands me. And then there is The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly) apparently a fairytale for adults - but which has such mixed reviews that I’m rather wary of it.
But for now I am spending the last days of advent in the company of The Portable Virgin (Anne Enright’s collection of short stories) - aptly titled what with all that business with Mary and the donkey!