I’ve been leafing over short stories lately because I’m time-poor. I can commit to a whole story without knowing I’ll have to tear myself away and wade back in repeatedly. Earlier this year, I picked up two books of short works simultaneously: Shooting the Fox by Marion Halligan, and The Invisible Thread, an anthology celebrating 100 years of writing in Canberra, edited by Irma Gold.
Halligan’s short stories entice me to keep the book by my bedside. I’ve read the collection one story at a time, often aloud to my partner before sleep, and always in the same setting. It doesn’t matter if the story’s narrator is an adulterous, wealthy, middle-aged man, or a wary third wife waiting to discover the limitations of her eerily generous new marriage. I must always be in the same place, committing the same pre-reading rituals, ready to fall beneath the spell of Shooting the Fox.
The anthology has been a completely different venture. Some people recommend reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest using multiple bookmarks. I would like to add to the multiple bookmark book list, The Invisible Thread. The book is divided into four: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards Parts One and Two, and Looking In, Looking Out Parts One and Two. Each section features excerpts from novels and essays, complete poems and short stories, which compliment their designated section according to their theme or narrator’s view. All the pieces are by writers who have an affiliation with Canberra, which is also my home.
At its peak, the book hosted three postcard bookmarks, a plane ticket bookmark, and a square of card with a list of the pieces I’ve read on it. It ended up like this after I tried, repeatedly, browsing through The Invisible Thread in my traditional way; I have a fail-proof missionary reading position. I roll around a carpeted floor with a gas heater searing feet, back, cat, or book/face. When it came to ploughing through The Invisible Thread I would open the book, read a piece, offer another limb to the heater, turn the page, and find myself greeted by a different writing style and genre. Who was this new writer? What era were they from? What the hell were they doing, interrupting Lesley Lebckowicz’s novel just when I was getting into the bit about the German parents going grocery shopping?
For a while I despaired. ‘I’m too simple for this book!’ I thought-cried each time I slapped the collection shut. Then I ignored The Invisible Thread. I left it hanging around in the bottom of my bag for weeks. It wasn’t until I was standing on Yass train station that I pulled the book from its detention. While I waited for a train to Melbourne I had enough time to read one piece, but instead of picking up from the point I had most recently rejected the book, I decided to curate my own reading. I flicked through the first quarter of the collection, and surrounded by a clear-skies panorama of Yass’s rolling acres, I read about remembering Canberra as miles of open country in Roger McDonald’s ‘When Colts Ran’. My setting complimented the written vignette perfectly. I decided The Invisible Thread—a book about Canberra writers—was going to take me on a tour of Melbourne, starting immediately.
And it did. We had a great trip together. On a tram to the University of Melbourne I passed the Carlton public pool and read the words of a blunt and curious child who watches her mum wade slow, pregnant laps in Sarah St Vincent Welch’s ‘The Change Room’. In Footscray, waiting for a taxi I listened to renovators doing up an old home and read the poem ‘Roof Tilers’ by Alan Gould. Some pieces didn’t match my setting, but complimented fleeting moments of availability: in a mid-city espresso bar I read the poem ‘Who?’ by Rosemary Dobson, which left me wondering about passing pedestrians and the things they don’t know about their own parents. Waiting in front of Readings bookshop inside the State Library, Dorothy Auchterlonie Green scathingly reviewed Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds in an essay-excerpt titled ‘Porn Birds’—both published in 1977. On the flight home I read ‘Mile High’ by Craig McCormick, which is one hundred per cent about sex on a plane.
I arrived back in Canberra with an unfinished book, and the desire to keep reading. I’ve dipped into The Invisible Thread at markets and bus stops, and beyond learning how to page-hop, I’ve begun to consider reading spaces.
On her blog a few years ago, Tara Moss asked writers to send her an image and short biography of their own writing desks. The blog segment was called, ‘I’ve Shown You Mine, Now Show Me Yours’. Some writers wrote in one space, always. Their desks looked like shrines to the imagination in all its minimalist, or complex, or cluttered manifestations. Some writers found themselves pit-stopping. They opened their laptops and journals at a cycle of venues—a couch, a desk, a café, and (my favourite) the glorious bed. At the other end of the literary spectrum, readers commit themselves to spaces in a similar way, but these private lives aren’t documented beyond Pinterest arrangers and Instragram fetishists, so I’ve started a public project. I’m asking readers to take a photo of the place they read, and write a biography for it. You’re invited to submit your own at Reading the Spaces.