Monday, February 18, 2008

Does this happen to you? You fall in love with a book, you tell the world about the book, you put the book on your list of favorite books, and a few years on you're afraid to read that book again. Afraid it won't live up to the buzz you threaded through it. Afraid that it will somehow let you down.

I've been circling Katherine Govier's CREATION lately—a book I fell in love with back in 2002. I pulled every string I had at a certain magazine so that I could back it with a stellar review. I went down the street, to my friend, Jane, and said: You have to read this book. Embarrassed myself with enthusiasm, you might say, but that's how it is with me and some books.

In any case—two nights ago I dared myself to pull CREATION from the shelf and to read it as if I had never touched its (quite lovely) self before. No one was looking; no one cared; I could have changed my mind: I didn't. CREATION is the story of one particular season in the life of John James Audubon, and if that doesn't sound exciting to you, think of the book as a lesson in craft. As a lesson in how to write an historical novel that feels current and pressing, in how to tell the truth with a modicum of facts, in how to stoke up character and plot in a novel of ideas.

Consider it a lesson, conversely, in how to write about birds.

CREATION withstands the test of time. I love it when that happens.


grete said...

Some books are like lovers. By being themselves they surpass their own limits by igniting parts of the reader’s mind that would otherwise lie dormant. They extend the reading period by adding beauty, truth and wonder - qualities that will continue to inspire and create in the reader’s mind long after the book is put back into the shelves. Yes, there are books I have been in love with. Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude. Goran Tunstrom’s The Christmas Oratorio. Jan Wiese’s The Naked Madonna. When I think about them, my heart aches - I know they added something to my life that I longed for. I have reread them, and they were as beautiful on second reading as on the first. But that was years ago. Perhaps I should dare them for yet one more read?

As for Katherine Govier's Creation - it’s already on my Amazon Wish list.


Beth Kephart said...


You give me the gift of new books to consider. Tell me, if you can, something of these books and why you have loved them...and I will find a copy and read.


grete said...

Paul Auster - For these introductory sentences: “One day there is life. A man, for example, in the best of health, not even old, with no history of illness. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. He goes from one day to the next, minding his own business, dreaming only of the life that lies before him. And then, suddenly, it happens there is death. A man lets out a little sigh, he slumps down in his chair, and it is death. The suddenness of it leaves no room for thought, gives the mind no chance to seek out a word that might comfort it. We are left with nothing but death, the irreducible fact of our own mortality.....”

Auster is writing about his father. About family secrets that shapes personality. About himself as a father. About solitude, the nature of chance, coincidence, about language. What gripped me was his honesty, his courage, his curiosity, his willingness to probe deeper and deeper - into humanity, into living. When my own father died, and I later tried to express this unfathomable fact in written words, Paul Auster came to mind. My text started like this: A man is breathing, air filling his lungs. Then there is death. Seventy eight year of labour is over. A heart has ceased to beat. Where there once was a now, there is only the past. He is dead. My father is dead.

Goran Tunstrom - For his attitude, his sense of wonder. “Every person, even the most common of us, inhabits a great adventure. At times this adventure springs into life, at other times it doesn’t. In either case - it exists!” (My translation, possibly a poor one - the guy’s Swedish). All Tunstrom’s books are objects of wonder, of adventure. I am left with a feeling of majesty, of humility. And reading his words is like coming across a field of wild strawberries; every sentence have the taste, the smell, the look of a small piece of art.

Jan Wiese - A Norwegian who’s never written anything like it either before of after. This small book is a gem, something out of the extraordinary. It is nothing less that beautiful! There is a sense of mystery permeating the story, both in regard to the now (Rome 1989), and the then (fourteenth century village Italy). This is about love, hate, envy, beauty. About art; pigments, oil, brushes. About storytelling. About a remarkably tasting red wine. About Italy. Really - Can you wish for more?

(As the original language of the two latter books are respectively Swedish and Norwegian, I cannot guarantee their English versions.)



Beth Kephart said...


What an immaculate conveyance of book passion. I will search for the Auster and see about the English translations.

Thank you for the gift of your knowledge, many languages do you actually speak?


grete said...

Understanding Swedish & Danish is no big deal, really, for anyone brought up in Norway. Norwegian is my language of origin, English my adopted language. I love them both - though for different reasons. Each serve their own purpose. Strange how the shape of the word or the sentence itself, decides on the content. Certain things are better expressed in one language rather than the other. English has helped me gain a broader/deeper/taller perspective/view on the world - and on myself.

In the beginning was the word - but - uttered in which language?


Ps. And Ondaatje? Ahh. The English Patient (love the film as well) has much of the same poetic dreamy quality that I admire in Tunstrom.

Beth Kephart said...

I care not what you say, dear Grete.

Your facility with language astonishes.


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