To sit or not to sit

Art, music, love, life and loss: a novel that weaves these themes together falls into a favourite genre for me. And obviously for many others, given that Heather Rose has won the Stella Prize for her 2017 novel The Museum of Modern Love.

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I love it when I discover something new that I had never heard about before, and I confess that I had never heard of the artist Marina Abramović before reading this novel that is inspired by her work.

The Artist is Present was an amazingly popular artwork that Marina performed at MoMA in 2010. For seventy-five days Marina sat while individuals sat across from her one after another. 1,554 people sat while another 850,000 observed from the sidelines, many coming back.

Here is a video clip from the last day of her sit. And here is another astounding video of when Ulay came back to see her after their epic parting on the Great Wall of China years before in 1988.

Heather Rose writes:

The days had been fields of faces, bright, unique, vivid, strange. …Every face told countless lives and memories and part of humanity she had never glimpsed, not through all the years of seeking.

But it is the intertwining story of Arky Levin that gives this work of fiction life and opportunity for exquisite prose.

His hands ran up and down the keyboard…He heard the theme that would run in and out of the film, threading the scenes together. Raindrops falling on leaves, a moon in the sky and this lovely melody.

He is a sad, reserved, composer of film scores: a private man who is reluctantly drawn into this temporary and unusual life that surrounds Marina Abramović as she sits and gazes into the eyes of strangers at MoMA.

Rarely do I give a 5-star rating on GoodReads. Thank you Heather Rose.

Ambrosia between paper leaves

What is that state of being between books? How do we describe it? What word properly fits the feeling?

You know the feeling of that lull between reading books? Especially when you read a satisfyingly great story such as The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You close the last page, you feel satisfied by a great ending, you sit and pause with the book closed on your lap, and you drift, still absorbed in the atmosphere of the story. You wait, linger, dwell, reflect, and hesitate before reaching for the next book to read.

You know if you try to relive or reread the story it won’t have the same impact. The surprising twists in the plot won’t surprise you. You know the fate of the characters. You know what it is about now.

A great satisfying work of fiction is a rarity, so you are not keen to start a new book just yet. And you want to continue to luxuriate in this story while it continues to have a hold on you.

What is this feeling? Is there a word that best describes it? I wracked my brain, used a thesaurus, gathered together a word cloud of possibilities:

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Once the lovely hiatus is over and we have properly assimilated the themes and meaning within the story, we are enriched and can never return to our former selves known to us before we read this story. We are more. We mature a little more. Our knowledge and wisdom has grown.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Homes Junior

I wonder if anyone who chances to read this blog post can offer the perfect word that describes this delicious lull between reading books?

Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Top 10 fiction favourites

Here is a list of the top 10 of my favourite fiction books in no particular order:

No doubt I have forgotten some…

Fact or fiction

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The lines can blur when categorising literature into fiction or non-fiction. There are many books in the ‘non-fiction’ section that are questionable in terms of truth and validity. I am currently reading about the Teachings of Abraham in a book by Esther and Jerry Hicks. The practical advice for living offered in the book was apparently communicated to Esther by entities not residing in this physical world.

This week I saw the movie “The curious case of Benjamin Button” starring Brad Pitt as Benjamin. It is so satisfying to go to the cinema and be treated to a fulfilling movie experience, and this movie provided that. It was so uplifting despite the topic primarily being about death. It is an improbable tale about a man who is born old and lives his life backwards, and yet it is convincingly portrayed and beautifully crafted. The make-up artists certainly had a challenge making this movie, and did it so well.

Brad Pitt was brilliant as the quirky and challenged character of Benjamin. He was also typically gorgeous during the prime years of Benjamin’s life. I swooned as Benjamin (Brad) took off on his motorbike and again when he set sail in his yacht!

This story of fiction, apparently originally an unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and made into this film by David Fincher, is an improbable work of fiction, and yet again the philosophical advice for living is clear.

Life can sometimes be stranger than fiction. Public libraries are havens for everyone everywhere and so you will see a broad cross-section of society there on any given day, seeking a diverse range of information. There are even ‘wizards’ who visit. This is a fact, although perhaps by name only and not nature – not proven anyway.

Holidaymakers being fined $113 for parking their cars in a loading zone, outside the library when the car parks are choking; now that’s a fact.