Before I picked up my bag of washing from the laundromat this afternoon I went into Gleebooks to pick out a present for the 30th birthday party I’m now going to tonight. Four steps in the door I saw a hardback of Haruki Murakami’s new work, 1Q84. Murakami’s one of my favourite authors (eternal thanks to my sister for introducing me to his books) and he writes beautiful passages, like the following from Dance, Dance, Dance:
At times like this, the telephone becomes a timebomb. No one knows when it’s going to go off. But it’s ticking away with possibility.
I read an interview with Murakami a couple of weeks ago and had filed IQ84 on my list of books to buy.
I don’t actually know if the birthday girl –Lauren – likes reading or not, but I bought the book anyway, walking wide-eyed into that chestnut of buying someone a present that I actually wanted myself.
I also bought something for myself, a copy of The Great Gatsby, another book which had also gone on my list recently.
I’ve been getting weekly reminders of it in The Daily Telegraph (I have to read it for work, honest) when I see the latest pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio or Tobey Maguire in Sydney (currently filming Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the book).
Then I read an interview with Johnny Depp (that was just for pure pleasure) in which he was talking about Hunter S. Thompson (because Depp’s new film is based on another of his books – following on from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) which mentioned that Hunter S. Thompson had typed The Great Gatsby.
At first I thought he meant that Thompson had been F. Scott Fitzgerald’s secretary and thought maybe he’d had eyesignt problems like Milton (who dictated Paradise Lost to his three daughters on the same street I lived on in London – but that’s another story) but then I realised that the timings were out and that Hunter had actually copied The Great Gatsby out word for word, because he ‘wanted to know what it felt like to write a masterpiece’. That moved The Great Gatsby to the top of my ‘to buy’ list.
I’ve never copied a book out word for word before. I do keep a notebook of beautiful sentences or passages that I find when I’m reading books. These are the things that jump out at me as particularly beautiful or resonant as I’m reading, like this from David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life:
We have some power in us that knows its own end. It is that that drives us on to what we must finally become. We have only to conceive of the possibility and somehow the spirit works in us to make it actual. This is the true meaning of transformation. This is the real metamorphosis. Our future selves are contained within us, as the leaves and blossoms are in the tree. We have only to find the spring and release it. Such changes are slow beyond imagination.
Or my all time favourite opening line:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
That second one is from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s not only strikingly visual, it also tells us that we’re in a different reality purely by changing the way time is talked about – and all in fourteen words… *sigh*
Off the top of my head there are three books that I would (and am now considering doing for an experiment) copy out in their entirety. Two are by Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm), the third is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemmingway (which interestingly is the other book that Hunter S. Thompson copied).
After I picked up my washing and got home I went looking for 1984, to see if the the book really was one beautiful sentence after another, like I remembered (It is – the third sentence is ‘The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats’). What I found first though was that I already had a copy of The Great Gatsby on my bookshelf.
I considered giving Lauren the second copy of The Great Gatsby and keeping 1Q84 for myself – after all I’d bought it because I knew I’d like it – but then realised I’d already written in Lauren’s card (which has an origami kimono on the front, chosen to match the book’s country of origin) and so I’m hanging on to the second copy of The Great Gatsby until I find someone else to give it to.
When I woke up this morning I wasn’t going to Lauren’s 30th. I was supposed to be going to another birthday party – James’ 50th – up in Cessnock, two hours drive away. I’d arranged to sleep either in a tent or on the couch. It was promising to be a festival of gourmet beer, guitars and fine conversation.
Then I found out that my newly ex and her three children were also go to be there. The dark clouds circled overhead, my thoughts turned to rain.
In that parallel universe where she and I are still together we would have all slept in a family sized tent out the back. On the drive there and back the girls would ask for Dr Worm by They Might be Giants to be played over and over. They’d eat some chocolate or candy and we’d time to the minute when the sugar rush would kick in.
But that world doesn’t exist. I live now with a series of wonderful memories, with dashed hopes and unexpected bursts of raw emotion.
Ninety-nine pecent of the time I’m fine. Someone recently said I seemed happier than I had for ages. In a comprehensive and rigourously designed survey of my body, heart and mind, the results say it will all be for the best. But nothing can hold back that one per cent of unexpected naked grief.
As much as it hurts it reminds me I am alive.
Hours later I’m okay again. I’m fine. I’m putting words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs, looking for that perfect way to express how I think and feel – always a good feeling.
I’ve told James I owe him a night out with good quality beers. I’ll see Fi and the kids sometime soon in other circumstances. It will all be fine, we’ll all be friends.
I hope Lauren likes the book, and it really is one beautiful sentence after another. There’s a ninety nine per cent chance I’ll have a good time at the party – the food’s apparently going to be fantastic. I should really stop writing, get this up online, and go meet a couple of friends to catch the 7pm train to the city.
I should probably first wash the dried tears from my face.
I’m going to be okay.
For Paulo (who is always here for me even though he’s over there) and Alei (who also appreciates beautiful sentences).