I am right now in the reading doldrums. I read a beautiful book some weeks ago and now nothing pleases me enough to keep going. The book was This Is Happiness, by Niall Williams, an Irish author. The writing is luscious, the characters unforgettable, and the story poignant. Itâ€™s not a thriller, not a big epic story or a dystopian novel, not a romance; itâ€™s just a lovely story set in a very small town in Ireland at the time â€œthe electricâ€ came to Ireland. And the writing! Oh my! His prose puts othersâ€™ to shame. Hereâ€™s a taste:
â€œNow, every window was open. Curtains, by pyjama cord, trouser belt, braces, frayed lengths of sugan, were tied up, not only to let the fresh air in and the dust out, but also to let go of the wintering, because God, whose mercy was never in doubt, had finally forgiven what sins the parish had amassed, and turned off the rain.
Not that it was a magnificent day now. I donâ€™t mean that. Just that there was light and a lightening, a lifting, and when I stepped outside the air had the slender, quickened and hopeful spirit that is in the word April.â€
See? It even put another of his books to shame. I slogged through a second book of his simply because it was his and it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. I felt certain it would eventually turn a corner and become a gorgeous book. But no. Then I tried something by an author I admire. No. Back to the library. Then another and another. Non-fiction? The book sounded fascinating. No. Back to the library. Virginia Woolf!Â To The LighthouseÂ is one of my favorite books. But this one, not so much. Iâ€™ve been spoiled.
I hashed it out with my book group. We are a group of women who get together once a month to talk about what weâ€™ve each been reading. Itâ€™s the perfect kind of reading group for me, as I have no desire to keep going with a book I donâ€™t like. I had to do that in school. Now I can read whatever I want. And we do get lots of recommendations from each other. One would think Iâ€™d never be without a great read. But here I am.
I wrote the poem below in 2011. I think it sums all of this up.
Another book falls to the reject pile
fifty pages in. It is not worth my time
for time is, as everyone knows, precious.
Time is my sack of flour in the rough wagon
of my trek through this incarnation.
Iâ€™ll not let the rats gnaw at it nor will I
spill it carelessly on the rock-strewn ground.
Oh I might spend some in blissful idleness,
trade some for truth, love, beauty,
give it away willy nilly,
even sell a good bit.
But Iâ€™ll not waste my own sweet time.
|Sigh. Two more excerpts fromÂ This Is HappinessÂ and I will leave you to rush out and get the book.|
â€œSophie opened the door. All of me knelt down. All of me bowed. Inside the chapel of myself, all my candles lit.â€
â€œIt was a condensed explanation, but I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, sayÂ This is happiness, because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it.â€
|If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on myÂ website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.|
Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”