All the imaginings…
I want to read all the stories ever written.
I want to know all the imaginings.
But much of what I read is that which makes up our day to day. Emails and letters and headlines and newsfeeds. I hurry, but I can’t get through them all.
I don’t hurry the imaginings.
I try to read one short story every day or so, although sometimes I binge, and I often have a few books on the go at once. There is a bookstack beside the bed, another two in the lounge, and a few in the study. But I try not to look into the eyes of the books in my bookstacks, particularly those which are waiting to be read. They stare at me with the same longing my dog does when he wants a walk.
There is always a book in my bag and I spend a lot of time driving, which is when I listen to audio books and podcasts. I also love picture books. What Happens Next? by Tull Suwannakit is a current favourite.
I read magazines and papers, often reading aloud to anyone who is nearby. ‘Listen to this article,’ I might say, and then ignore the eye rolling. When I read Nikki Gemmell’s article ‘Seize the joy’ in The Weekend Australian Magazine, I wept.
Nothing unusual about that. I am known as a weeper. The family barely flinch when they see me, book in hand, tears running down my face. I weep at books, at songs, at puppies, at dinner, at advertisements… actually, it is a longer list than this, but you get the idea. If you see me stopped at the traffic lights and I am weeping, it will be because I am listening to an audio book.
But when I tried to read Gemmell’s article to my husband, four days later, I still couldn’t get through it without weeping.
Although that wasn’t just about me. The article is exactly that good.
When I turned the page and read Trent Dalton’s ‘Gai’s Secret’, I had another good cry about the duck eggs. ‘Eggs, soft and scrambled with avocado and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and memories of her dad.’ Dalton’s beautiful writing goes on to give details of those memories.
I sat in the audience at Noosa when Helen Garner spoke and afterwards I bought the collected short non-fiction True Stories. Though I had already read many of these articles, I delighted in revisiting Garner’s stories and finding new ones as well. ‘While Not Writing a Book: Diary 1’ shares details of everything and nothing: losing her fountain pen, chatting with her grandchildren, the shape of chocolates. The writing is so engaging it is as though Garner is sitting beside me, telling me about her day. Her stories are made wonderful by her skill with words. I can imagine the scenes perfectly.
I also keep a diary, but Garner’s writing shows me that I try too hard with the words. They are flowery. They need a good prune.
I am a re-reader, which slows my progress through my bookstacks. I keep books, and it is not just for the ‘they who die with the most books wins’ competition, although I think I have a good chance there, it is because I often get a book out and re-read it, when one imagining leads me to revisit another.
In Reading the Landscape: A Celebration of Australian Writing, David Malouf’s ‘Garden Poems’ reminded me how much I love his writing. So I re-read Malouf’s The Complete Stories. So many beautiful words, so many imaginings. ‘At Schindler’s’ is a particular favourite, for Malouf’s gentle portrayal of Jack, his relationship with his family, and the death of his father.
Nearly always, in the imaginings, it is the character who calls me. I might not remember their name, but I remember their voice, how they made me feel. When I think of my stacks of books, I imagine characters sitting between the pages, dozing, or going about their business, wanting me to come and visit them. Or perhaps they are sitting on a park bench together, browsing a paper, chatting quietly among themselves, swinging their legs, ready to spring into action when I turn the page. Not only do I wonder about the lives of characters, when they are out of my view, I pair them up with others from separate stories.
When I opened Sofie Laguna’s The Choke, Justine was sitting beside the river quietly waiting for me.
From the first moment she looked up at me, I wanted to hug her. She reminds me of my young self, not the circumstances Justine lives in—that was not my childhood—but Laguna inhabits the child and gives her just the right words at each age. There are beautiful lines spread throughout The Choke. On page 29: ‘The words were there, but it was as if they were speaking to themselves. I was just an excuse.’ Gorgeous writing. I will be off to read Laguna’s other works.
Justine captivated me.
As did the chickens. The way the grandfather speaks to Justine around the chickens, and the gentle action of caring for the hens and, of course, the rooster. The chickens are so involved in the story and so powerful towards the end of the book. I have chickens: Light Sussex and Australorp Bantams, although not as many bantams as I would like, owing to the demise of Alexandra and Beatrice from old age, and others—gulp—from hawks. My chickens often hear my secrets.
When I finished The Choke I re-read Cate Kennedy’s short story ‘Cold Snap’ in which Billy’s voice is so strong and clear. I would like Justine to meet Billy. He would be older by now, but so would Justine. I think they would like each other.
That is how my reading is guided, one thing leading to another.
Sometimes creating even more imaginings.
Janet Lee’s manuscript won the Emerging Queensland Writer category in the 2017 Queensland Literary Awards. That manuscript, which became The Killing of Louisa, has just been published by University of Queensland Press. She lives in south-east Queensland with her family… and some chickens.