During the last two months of 2013 I entered a reading glut. It had taken me much of the year to finish the two Orhan Pamuk novel’s Snow (2004) and The Black Book (1994/ 2006). A friend even commented over the summer that perhaps I was deliberately taking my time with Snow because I was enjoying it so much. My plan was to follow through with as many Pamuk titles as I could find, but by November I had lost steam. This current spell has been, I suspect, an eager indulgence in alternative territory. I needed the voices and fascinations of other authors.
I turned to non-fiction about art. My reading included The Girl in the Green Dress (2012), Carola Hicks’s thoroughly researched and entertaining account of the history and mystery of the Arnolfini portrait. I also picked up Hanging Man (2013), an account by journalist Barnaby Martin of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s time spent in detention.
Over the 2013 Christmas week I read Toni Morrison’s, The Color Purple, (1983) Rose Tremain’s Music and Silence (1999) and started Philip Roth’s Nemesis (2010). I have now left polio-infected Newark, New Jersey and am back in Istanbul of 1975 with Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence (2008). It may be another couple of months before I finish this 532-page exploration of obsession.
Most of these were borrowed from my local library. The Color Purple was a greedy borrow off the bookshelf of family with whom I spent Christmas. Yes, I am that sort of guest who will burrow through your titles and disappear into a comfy corner chair with one of them. In my younger youth I spent a New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles devouring Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale over making drunken conversation. Since then, I have learnt to be a little bit more acceptably sociable. This year I played Bananagrams and charades, which included book titles as a category.
At present I seldom buy books, but with a Christmas windfall I purchased Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (1983). I had been dipping into it at Waterstone’s during lunchtimes anyway. So, it’s Pamuk again and The Gift as I go into January 2014. In the interim, here is today’s creative endeavour. Like Leo’s Entries, this poem imagines an author’s externalised log of thoughts about the characters he might feature in a novel.
Philip’s Log: Entries about my moonlit sylph
Log, entry #1 I have met an elfin creature, tanned with dark curls that caress the collar of her polo-shirt. She is the counsellor at a children’s summer-camp in the mountains. But to this log I must account that I am a serious and respected author. Elfin creatures with small breasts are not enough for quality novels. Log, entry #2 I have found a solution. I shall introduce my sylph to a duty-bound, athletic fellow. Regrettably he has poor eyesight, so cannot be drafted. It’s 1944 and the summer heat is unbearable. Yes, they’ll take off their clothes, but here must be some weighty themes, too. Log, update Agent called. New novel well received; a potential prize shortlist. Ah, my waif it is a good thing there are the bigger questions of God and duty, epidemics, fairness and despair, life’s capriciousness and death. They allowed my protagonist the summer darkness and an island dense with silver birches. There you asked him to undress you.
The sylph of “Philip’s Log” is drawn from the protagonist Bucky Cantor’s love interest, Marcia Steinberg, in Roth’s novel, Nemesis (2010).