Words I’m Loving: Under the Skin

I’m starting to realize that some people write in their books. It’s difficult for me to comprehend: I’ve always left the pages of my books pristine, other than the occasional food stain. I’m not sure why I never wrote in books. Perhaps it’s because I used to always get my books out from the library. Perhaps I was always so engrossed in books I never thought of writing in them. Perhaps it’s my hatred of highlighting. But I think it is important to keep track of the parts of the book that you love, so perhaps I’ll do that today and share it with you.

I just finished Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Here is one of my favorite passages in this book (it is spoiler heavy):

He smoothed the soil and picked fragments of scattered straw out of it. Then he gathered a handful of long straws together, twisted and folded them to make a stiff wand, and began to draw in the dirt.

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

I can’t imagine what a culture that doesn’t have the word for mercy would be like. Can you?


On Reading for Pleasure

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an Indigo to browse and peruse books to see what captured my fancy. Yet, each book that I came across filled me with dread. Admittedly, I was also in the Indigo to find a self-help book (Getting Things Done), so perhaps I didn’t have the noblest intentions. I’m not sure if chain bookstores are designed to foster the love of books more than the love of random merchandise and pretty covers.

I think there comes a time in every writer/serious reader’s life where she feels she must read something (because it’s a classic or everyone they know loves it) and she can’t. I’ve worked through that feeling. I felt that when I read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and Moby Dick. Why do I feel like I need to push myself through reading books that I don’t avidly enjoy? Is it for bragging rights? Some obscure reading list posted on Facebook that includes five books by Jane Austen and no books by Robert Louis Stevenson?

Sometimes I push myself through a difficult book and find myself falling in love. I experienced this with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. The beginning for me was slow and unengaging, but I persevered and I came to a spot where everything Kay built up, he destroyed. The tragedy was glorious. After that, I couldn’t stop reading. That experience is a rare exception.

I listened to an interview with Nick Hornby (who, by the way, sounds exactly like Alan Rickman) where he said, “If you aren’t enjoying the book, put it down.” Some part of me thinks that’s a betrayal. A betrayal of myself and of the author. For example, I love Guy Vandaerhaeghe, but that doesn’t mean I need for force myself to read through The Englishman’s Boy. Why not re-read Man Descending, or skip on to The Last Crossing? Perhaps if I try to read a book for over a year, and cannot finish it, it is time to let that book go. Let that book find a home with someone who will appreciate it. Sometimes a book isn’t right for you at the current time and place in your life.

Reading can better your mind, your writing skills, and your ability to empathize with others, but first and foremost reading should be done to immerse your mind in a new world, a new way of thinking, and a story. Reading should be a fun compulsion, not something to add to the “to-do list”.

I found an interesting Youtube video on getting through a reading slump, and I think that it helped me get through mine. For the remainder of the year, I will read only for pleasure.