So many books are inextricably connected with friendships. I still remember the moment in the 1970s when a friend insisted I read Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis while we were waiting for his Greyhound in a snowstorm. He nearly missed his bus when we made a mad dash for a nearby bookstore. On another occasion I was leaving a friend’s house in Toronto when she handed me a copy of John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book that remains a favorite to this day. A few years ago, my friend Tim passed away. Our friendship was based on words – we never met in the real world, just online. Tim, a writer and instructor of writing during his life, was well read and often recommended authors to me. Here are few, which include some old friends and some yet to meet.
One of the great joys of venturing out as things gradually reopened from the Covid-19 lockdown was the discovery that the nearby used bookstore hadn’t packed it in. I drove there fully expecting to find the windows dark and some kind of sad goodbye in Sharpie block letters taped to the window. Not at all. Sure, there was a sheet of Plex hanging over the cluttered desk, and there was a limit to how many people could be in the store at any given time (surely a gesture of great optimism), but it was open for business, and within 60 seconds I’d found a trade sized copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (lots of luck finding that in a big box book store. All they have is the horribly inadequate mass market edition – trust me, I looked) and this beautiful book of Eugene Atget’s photographs.
I’ve known about Atget for years. I used one of his photographs as a reference for my drawing called Coincidental Misfortune. But this was a happy reunion. The photos of old Paris are sure to inspire my current writing, which is a second world novel that takes place in a crumbling old city – of course it does. The crumbling textures and mysterious windows will surely find their way into my drawings.
In another life, I would have loved to own a second hand bookstore. Maybe once and a while I would even have opened the door to share the treasure.
Everything is made through images. They enter us through all the other senses, as through the eye. An echo (they say) is an image of the voice. All our affections are produced by images of touching. Our whole body is a mirror.
The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert, translated by Paul Auster
I am enjoying Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. It seems the perfect book for this moment. These essays vary in length and it’s the longer pieces I like best. My favorites so far are Tekels Park and In Her Orbit. Tekels Park reminded me of my own childhood explorations and In Her Orbit, introduced me to Nathalie Cabrol and her fascinating research.
Macdonald’s observations are always interesting and filled with unexpected pieces of information. Did I mention she writes beautifully? The thing I like best about this book is that despite the frequent acknowledgement about the sorry state of our natural world, there is an underlying curiosity and sense that there is still so much to see and learn about. I haven’t read H is for Hawk, but I will soon.