Two months ago I moved from Melbourne to Sydney. I was fairly relaxed about moving because I was thinking about the beach and seeing Sydney friends and not so much about putting things in boxes and saying goodbye to Melbourne. When the time came to put things in boxes I realised I didn’t have any boxes. I thought: hmm. I thought: what if I donate most of my clothes/things to St Vincent de Paul? It seemed like a good thing to do. I took shirts off my clothes rack and thought: goodbye shirts. I picked shoes up from my floor and thought: goodbye shoes. In the hallway I saw the bookcase. I walked to the bookcase. I thought: I don’t want to throw away my books. I stared at my books. I stared at my suitcase. I put my suitcase next to the bookcase and tipped all my books into my suitcase. I slapped my hands like: wow, that was easy. I smiled. I started pulling my suitcase towards my room. It moved slowly. I remembered I’d only booked twenty kilos of check-in luggage for my flight. I breathed out. I thought: okay. I sat down and began going through my books, picking the ones I would keep and the ones I would leave behind.
Putting my books into piles felt pretty bad. I didn’t like it. It seemed like I was definitively saying, ‘This book is good’ and, ‘This book isn’t.’ I don’t know. I don’t think you can do that. Because people have different ideas of what is good and what is not. So I sat there for a while. Sometimes when I’m focusing on a specific task I’ll get sidetracked by thoughts or things that seem more interesting or fun. This can happen when I’m reading. Or when I’m writing. Or even when I’m talking to someone. Except sometimes this doesn’t happen. Sometimes, I get so lost in something it surrounds me and I feel like I’m being eaten but in a way that being eaten is a good thing. I started taking books out of my suitcase. I held each one up in front of me, addressing it by title. I wanted to know if they had eaten me. It seemed important to only take things that had eaten me alive.
One author who ate me alive last year was Sam Pink. I was introduced to Sam Pink through my girlfriend. My girlfriend said, ‘This is really good.’ I read Person, The No Hellos Diet and Rontel. Sam Pink is a young American author published by Lazy Fascist Press. To me, Sam Pink’s writing is devastating. His sentences kill me. I like his writing because it feels honest. He blends poetry and prose and the world feels dark and funny and insightful at the same time. Most of his novels are under one hundred pages. Most of his novels have loose plots. All of his books I finished in less than four hours. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. They are exercises in voice. Proof that, sometimes, voice can be enough. Often, people say they read books to escape. Sometimes, people say they read books so they can see the world reflected back at them. Sam Pink does both of these things. I put Sam Pink’s books in my suitcase and slapped my hands like: good, I feel good about that decision.
Another author who ate me alive was Banana Yoshimoto. I was also introduced to Banana Yoshimoto through my girlfriend. She said, ‘Banana Yoshimoto…’ and did a breathe out thing while nodding. I read Kitchen and Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto. Kitchen blew me away. Her sentences, the way she talks about loss, takes everyday scenes and speaks about them with such clarity, relates them to the reader, is incredible to me. I like that her writing is familiar and unsettling. That, sometimes, I recognise myself or people I know in her stories, or parts of myself and parts of people I know in parts of her stories and it makes me think: wow. How incredible it is that someone can do that. And even writing this now, I remember one time missing my tram stop by like fifteen stops because I was too busy reading Banana Yoshimoto. And any book that can do that to anyone seems incredible to me. I put Banana Yoshimoto’s books in my suitcase and thought: yep, okay, while smiling.
But scattered in my hallway there were even more books that I felt inside of: Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home, The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai; Mira Gonzalez’s i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together; Tao Lin’s first book you are a little bit happier than i am, which nearly destroyed me, written when he was only twenty-three, which seems, emotionally, so far removed from Taipei; Zachary German’s Eat When You Feel Sad; Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and An Unfortunate Women; George Saunder’s Civilwarland In Bad Decline, Pastoralia, The Braindead Megaphone and Tenth of December; Romy Ash’s Floundering⎯and I wanted to take them all with me. Because each one had taught me something. Each one had made me think about life in some way that I hadn’t considered before. But I realised I couldn’t. Because of carry-on limitations and maybe other things. And it seemed sad to leave these books behind. But I also realised that maybe another housemate would find them and read them and enjoy them like I had, and that that would be okay too. I put some books back on the shelf. I cleared some other things from my suitcase like sheets and doona covers and pillowcases and added some more books to my bag. Then I picked my bag up and thought: okay, yep. I’m ready to go.
Oliver Mol is a Sydney-based writer. His debut book, Lion Attack! will be published by Scribe in early 2015.