I need to read. I’m hungry for it.
That hunger sometimes leads me to feed on fast-food books: predictable, accessible, loaded with emotional sugar or coated in spicy-batter plot and delivering strong, unambiguous characters and themes in familiar flavours.
Fast food books give me an immediate hit but, after a while, they kill my palette, dull my appetite and leave me feeling both bloated and under-nourished.
When this happens, I crave a book made with passion and skill, with distinctive flavour combinations that surprise and tease and demand to be savoured not just consumed.
This week started with “Buried” a fast food book that was at once so bland and so heavy that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. It sat in my imagination like a congealing order of gravy and fries.
I set it aside, went in search of home-cooking and found two remarkable books that have woken my imagination and lifted my spirit.
“The Trick To Time” by Kit De Waal is on the 2018 Women’s Fiction Prize Longlist. It tells the story of an Irish woman in her sixties, looking back on her life. I’m listening to the audiobook version which is wonderfully done. When the main character recalls the voices of women from her childhood, I’m transported back to listening to my grandmother and her sister who spoke in exactly the same way. The writing is beautiful without being flowery. I already understand that there’s more going on than I yet know and that knowledge fills me with pleasant anticipation.
“American By Day” is Derek B Miller’s latest book. In it, he takes the Norwegian Police Detective we met in “Norwegian By Night” and sends her to America. I’m reading the ebook and I find myself constantly stopping to highlight and copy pieces of text that catch my attention like fragments of brightly coloured glass in the sunlight. Here’s an example commenting on the library the main character’s father built in his home when his wife died:
“After Astrid died he filled the void of words unspoken with the new silence of books unread.”
This is a serious book filled with humour perhaps because without humour the reality of life is inaccessible. I’m confident that it will lead me to look at America through the lens of a Norwegian woman who is coming to terms with what she wants from life and what she’s able to have.
These two books have reminded me that fast-food should be a last resort and that, with a little planning and little luck, I can have a diet that makes me glad to be alive.