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Posts Tagged ‘Enon’

I’ve said it before (but at the time I may have still been events coordinator at our local indie bookstore, and therefore professionally invested in exhorting people to attend) and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing quite like hearing an author read and discuss his or her work. Take Paul Harding, who I heard at Gibson’s today. Admittedly I’ve said many times I could listen to him read his grocery list and learn something. But hearing him read from his new book Enon helped me understand the reaction I’d had to the book in a way even discussing it with other readers couldn’t.

I read this book during my vacation reading binge. I came away feeling somewhat drained; I describe Enon as devastatingly brilliant and just plain devastating. I chatted with a writer friend about what we each thought — it’s stylistically different than Tinkers, which Paul* described today as an unlineated lyric poem. Enon is first person narrative, a book with dialogue. She felt Enon wasn’t as “tight” as Tinkers and said although she admired it she didn’t enjoy it, which gave me pause.

I agreed but then rescinded that feeling today: I stand by my original assertion that I enjoyed it. It’s a tough book, emotionally. But even in its darkest parts, Paul noted, he made sure never to extinguish the light altogether; he hoped the light — hope — would be the brighter for the darkness. Paul described it today as a ghost story, and a book about a person, Charlie Crosby, experiencing grief.

He noted that a narrative about an actual grieving person is not a meditation on grief. Instead, he called it a lamentation, a psalm. He said that Charlie’s sense he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing, and then his doing it anyway, is straight out of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I sat there thinking “that’s so true, and I hadn’t thought of that.” A few minutes later he said something I’ve heard him say before: that he tells his students, what a writer should strive for is that readers will read a sentence and say “that’s true, and I’ve always known it but I’ve never seen someone put it into words like this before.”

That sense of profound truth, of human experience writ both small, in the story of a particular person, and large, in the sense you get reading it that this man is every man who ever lived, now and in the past and the future, that time has compressed, as Paul would have it, and that reading this book reveals what is, what was, and what will be in the human heart, well, that is just about as beautiful an experience as a reader can have.

And that is why I enjoyed Enon, in all its devastating, heartbreaking, gutsy raw truth.  The literary pyrotechnics aside — Paul’s inordinate skill at not only writing prose that it strong and powerful and lovely but also at weaving so much detail into his world that you feel you could walk through the town of Enon and know your way — this book will enter your mind and heart. Paul Harding makes me see the world differently. It’s both a more difficult and a more hopeful place, which I always knew, and never heard anyone else put it into words quite the same way before.

*I’ve spoken with him several times and actually sold a copy of Tinkers to his mother at one of his events before I realized that’s who she was. Also he’s possibly the only Pulitzer prize winner I’ll be on a first name basis with, so I’m taking the liberty of referring to him as Paul.

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Last week the bookconscious household visited Isle la Motte, Vermont. We rented a cozy cottage on the west side of the island, with copious views of Lake Champlain and its gorgeous sunsets. We walked, biked, ate large breakfasts of fresh local eggs accompanied by many pork products, picked raspberries, visited farm stands, grilled most of our dinners, made s’mores (a first for the Computer Scientist) over a camp fire, kayaked, canoed, looked at the lovely blue moon, sampled local maple creemees, apples, cider donuts, ice ciders, and beers, and relaxed. It was a really perfect end of summer week, and a memorable family vacation.

I took along four books and ended up reading all of those plus three and a half more on my iPad. It was heavenly. Spending long stretches of time lost in a book brought back my childhood summers and the joyful sense of freedom I felt, reading as long and as much as I wanted.

Most of what I brought had been in the “to-read” pile for some time: Dave Eggers‘ novel A Hologram for the King (funny and touching but felt to me like an overgrown short story), Margaret Drabble‘s novel based somewhat on her family history, The Peppered Moth (Wow! An amazing multigenerational story that’s also a kind of social history of women; I want to read everything Drabble has ever written!), Elinor Lipman‘s essay collection I Can’t Complain (sealed my previous view that Lipman is not only someone I’d like to know but also someone I’d like to be), and Paul Harding‘s forthcoming novel Enon (both devastatingly brilliant, as I expected it would be, and just plain devastating).

The three e-books were: Aimee Bender‘s The Color Master (short stories, which I checked out of the NH Downloadable Books website while giving a demo to a patron at the library a few hours before we left for Vermont because I remembered that Ann Kingman recommended it on Books on the Nightstand; I liked some pieces, including the title story, but didn’t like others), Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs. Dalloway (I had somehow managed not to read this yet, and I loved it), and Katharine Britton’s Little Island (which I’ll review in September’s Mindful Reader column).

The book I started on vacation and finished yesterday, also an e-book from the library, is Anthony Marra‘s A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaLongtime bookconscious fans know I am generally suspicious of “It” books that the literary industrial complex promotes heavily. I tend to be a contrarian about books I’m told I will love. Besides, with works like Mrs. Dalloway still to read, I’m not interested in every hotshot emerging writer that comes along. But in this case, the hype is justified. Marra is so young; like Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife, it’s hard to imagine how with relatively little life experience he managed to tap the emotional range required to conjure his characters, people of various ages living in war torn Chechnya. Which he didn’t even visit until the book was nearly finished. And like Obreht he blew my mind.

Great literature is emotionally evocative and universally relatable — it takes you so richly into the characters’ experience that it doesn’t matter whether it’s set in a place and time and culture you are unfamiliar with. I’m probably never going to live in a war zone, God willing. I knew only a little bit about Chechnya before I read this novel. But I ached to the core for these people, and Marra’s stunningly beautiful writing had me both turning pages and savoring, even the sections full of violence and horror that in lesser hands would have made me skip. It was especially moving to read in light of the conflict in Syria, as I followed the news and tried to imagine what it’s like for ordinary people caught in a civil war.

I’m really fortunate that I get to read so many good books. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is beyond good.

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