Monday, 1 August 2011

If On A Summer's Night A Reader

If On A Summer’s Night A Reader

You go into a bookshop with the express intention of buying a book. You find yourself in front of the Translated Fiction section and your gaze falls upon If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. You recognise the title; it’s a much-lauded work, one of those you really should get around to reading one day. Something stirs in your memory about the writer’s name, too. You don’t think you’ve read anything by him before, it’s something else, something else... then you realise that you know it from a conversation you had with your friend Andy about people whom you may have been in a past life. Calvino happened to die the day before you were born, putting him in your soul’s possible theoretical past. You pick up the book and read the blurb. It makes you laugh; it seems a good concept. You keep it in your hand and look over the shelves again. There are a number of books there you intend to read, some day, but you live in a small space and can’t take them all. You settle on the Calvino book and another called Blindness by Jose Saramago, because you’ve been thinking about blindness a lot recently.

When you return home to your small space you look at the books and realise that they each fall into a separate category. Some books you know need a long time to digest, you want to savour them, really understand what is happening and take your time in doing so. Blindness appears to be one of those books. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is the other kind; the sort of book you need to devour instantly, that you want to be immediately enveloped by and for it to occupy all your waking thoughts in a short amount of time. You start reading the Calvino book and soon get into its rhythm, predict its structure, laugh out loud at the games the writer is playing. In your small space you like to look around as you read, and your eye reaches the tiny round window covered in a crocheted lace doily, as is the tradition. Two insects are caught; or rather staying still, trembling, waiting, not understanding that they are not caught, that it is not a spider web. The image reminds you of a tale you read when you were small.

Happening Upon A Lace Spider

The first thing to note about the Lace Spider is that she is a hushed little thing, silent, you might say, and she doesn’t like attention. She is so set on not attracting attention that I have to write this very quietly or the Lace Spider will get upset. She travels around at great speed and with determination; her tasks are many and secretive.

What the Lace Spider does with her time is weave, weave, weave. She creates lace structures, shapes, doilies, decorations, window pieces. She does this with the special lace that her body creates, which makes her a very different animal to normal spiders which create silk. She is a little larger to accommodate all the lace and so has to try all the more to stay hidden. Without you knowing she will weave around you, between you, quickly and silently and all of a sudden you are surrounded and captured and because you haven’t seen it happen, all you can think is that maybe you’ve always been surrounded and captured. If children around the world knew that spiders were manufacturing these lacy masterpieces, and their grandmothers were in fact sitting in their rocking chairs trying to untangle themselves most of the time as they don’t know how to crochet, the world might be a very different place. It is for this admiration and curiosity about grandmothers that the Lace Spider must remain in the dark.

The Lace Spider comes up with an idea, for example a mat for underneath the fruit bowl, and then begins her work. At night is usually the best time; children are fast asleep and parents don’t eat fruit in the darkness. She scurries around, here and there, back and forth, weaving and intertwining and knotting and running and repeating and circling until there is a fully patterned mat underneath the fruit bowl. As usual, when the family wake, they will see it and think maybe it has always been there, it must have been something grandmother crocheted a long time ago that they had never noticed, as there is so much lace around nowadays that it is easy not to notice one little mat. Grandmother will see it and smile her little smile, trying to remember the last time her arthritic hands allowed her to use crochet sticks, and she will silently thank the Lace Spider.

Shapes In Her Mind

As you continue reading the Calvino book your mind is on two tracks, one reading the words and being confused but happily so at the plot and twisting your brain around the various nooks and crannies of the bit about infiltrators, the other track wandering to where the Lace Spider might be creating more window pieces and laughing (ever so quietly, of course) at the insects who enter the quasi-trap and assume they cannot fly away whenever they wish. You think about lots of shapes in your mind, different types of mats and doilies, and wonder if the Lace Spider would ever make a triangle. But still the book you are reading is drawing you in, lessening those other distractions which normally occupy your mind and building up an entire world of hypnotic confusion; you have to furrow your brow to think about what’s happening, and you think how very clever, how genius this writer is to have started writing many stories and found a way not to bother finishing any of them; he is your new hero. You are impatient to reach the end, although you want to enjoy each second. You understand there are more beginnings to come and you start not to care about the endings, unlike the people in the book, you just want more and more beginnings, and although you know the beginnings will soon end you are racing ahead, insatiable, needing the next thing, the next thing.

Fantastic Feelings

The need for speed, they call it. Adrenaline, pumping through his body. He has climbed a waterfall, he has nearly fallen down the waterfall, he has saved himself at the last minute and he wants to save himself again. He thinks. His heart is racing, his breath sharp and quick. Go. He runs, he has to run. He runs across the cliffs and rocks, next to multiple waterfalls, jumping over slippery stones, burning, racing, not against anything but his pulse. He is forced to stop for a second and gather his thoughts, but they are scattered too far, too wide, to collect them all. He has no emotion, no feeling except the urge to continue. Where is the next waterfall? He needs to climb, he needs his body to take over the obstacles and to have no time to think and to be near catastrophe and to somehow rip his way through to the other side, to safety where he can once again begin. He sees a waterfall and leaps at it, at the boulders below the rushing water, grabs hold and pulls his legs up. He’s doing it, he feels secure, he aims for a rock he doesn’t think he’ll get, he needs to save himself again. His fingers slip off the stone and he falls backwards. He grasps at air with both arms but the top half of his body is now too far away from anything to avoid falling. His feet are pulled off their secure stations and he drops backwards into the roar of the foam. Cold water covers him, he’s still going down, still going down... there is a tightness around his shoulder and he is yanked up out of the water. A face is looking at him, angry, concerned. Idiot, the face is yelling at you. You breathe, you smile, you laugh.

It Has Been A Success

You have finished the book and you put it down, a big smile on your face. What a great book, you think. I’ll need to tell my friends about this, you decide. It has only taken a day of your life but it has made you want to write again, something you momentarily lost while being too busy thinking about your future, and you think maybe I’ll review it, maybe I’ll write a review of this book so I can adequately explain the enjoyment, although you haven’t written a book review since you were made to in high school and you like talking about books but never have the patience to write about them, you’d rather be reading them or writing new things, but If On A Summer’s Night A Reader, Happening Upon A Lace Spider, Shapes In Her Mind Fantastic Feelings, It Has Been A Success. And if it has been a success for you, it will no doubt be a success for other people too, and so you’ve written a review in order that they may understand.