I recently read Jo Walton’s Hugo award winning book, Among Others.
Pause. Yes, it was that heady for me, that I need to put a lot of white space between that sentence in the next.
Now I have talked about how there are some books that evoke a visceral reaction from me. They happen randomly, with no rhyme or reason. One book will kill me with its lyrical prose. Or a character will get so far under my skin I can’t shake them for days. Sometimes the whole humanity of the situation is enough to leave me in the dimension between my daily ‘real’ life and the world in the book. Finishing these books is a paradox of greedy can’t-put-downess and bereavement at being done so quickly.
Among Others was this kind of book.
Here is a curt description of it from amazon.ca:
Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.
Of course, this doesn’t do it justice. It is written after the major confrontation, and takes place in the deflated, empty space of grief and tension. Nothing happens in this book and yet everything happens. It is a slow-paced, lyrical ride written in epistolary form by a teenaged girl narrator. Basically it is a paen to how living a life in books can be healing, therapeutic, and ultimately empowering and self-affirming.
But the aspect that killed me took me a long time to identify. Yes, Mor, the fifteen-year old broken girl who narrates the story made me want to hug her then talk about books with her. Yes, the world Mor builds around her, her insight into the nature of magic, her naive yet wise observations, her brokenness moved me. But what was giving me this sense of loss? This sense of longing?
It was Mor’s description of going to the library.
I know, right? I work in a friggin’ library. I am a librarian for the love of pete. I spend my days in the center of ten thousand books. Have I gone completely mental? Do I need an intervention?
Well probably, but that is another issue.
What I miss are the weekly/twice weekly trips to my local library, a bag full of books to return and the promise of filling up my bag with more. Like Mor, I spent a lot of my youth with my nose buried in a book. The library was my haven, my sanctuary. A place where I knew I wasn’t expected to talk or where the glass armour of my terrible shyness would not be repeatedly assaulted by people who wanted to “draw me out”. Though I never read in the library, or spent anymore time in the space than required to pick my pile of books for the week, it was my place, where I was the most filled with a sense of belonging.
I don’t go to public libraries anymore, mainly because my needs are met by my own library. It doesn’t help that the public libraries in Quebec are still way behind the public libraries in the rest of the country. But I miss it. I miss the trek to the physical space. The browsing the shelves. The excitement at a book’s potential.
I think I also miss being able to read so voraciously. Being an adult means a serious lack of reading time. Whereas I had ample opportunity to pull out my book when I was a teenager- at the breakfast table, on the bus. Walking (I had a lot of bruises from walking into fire hydrants). Waiting for my sisters. After homework. Well, you get the picture. Now it is usually a few minutes before bed and maybe fifteen minutes on the bus in the morning and at lunch (if nobody interrupts me).
What was also great about Miss Walton’s book was all the sci-fi and fantasy titles Mor reads. It made me realise how woefully ignorant I am of that genre and am determined to read more. Luckily some fabulous person on Goodreads made a list of the books mentioned in Among others. I went through it and I have only read a few of the titles:
Lord of the rings trilogy
A Canticle for Lievbowitz
The Communist Manifesto
The Dark is rising
Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot (which I am re-reading and holy SHITE and ONIONS it is so so good).
Crow by Ted Hughes
A Wizard of Earthsea
That is out of 119 books, so I guess I have some reading to do.
Next post: what I did read when I was a teenager. If I can remember…. Where the heck was goodreads and librarything?