Anakana Schofield – Author of Martin John and Malarky

Drought

We counted every hour of every day that it did not rain. We had moved to Stage 3 Water Restrictions last Monday. I heard this Niveau Trois news on Radio-Canada French news, while in a ferry queue. Never in all the time I’ve lived here, have I been so acutely aware of the lack of rain, need for rain, and the drought, that was also accompanied by a mad volume of forest fires that torched our province and Saskatchewan during June and July. (More fires in June alone than the entire fire season of 2014)

So, not unlike Kennedy’s death for Americans, I know exactly where I was when this much desired rain started. I was here. 5 paces from this sea, indoors.

 

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And this what what I was doing when the rain fell.

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The Walk Robert Walser

I am greatly appreciating a reread of Robert Walser’s novel (novella) The Walk (translated by the wunderbar Susan Bernofsky and it really is an extraordinary translation).

Some snips from it:

“An unassuming pedestrian should not remain unrecorded”

The above particularly pertinent for psychotic Vancouver cyclists who refute any notion of stop signs, traffic lights and act like they are in fact operating a version of light transit rail that responds only to and unto themselves. A transit rail that drives only in a straight line to where it is they desire to get to, never mind the humans, cats and dogs that have to nervously go exist with the bicycle barons. Were matters not already intrepid for the plain pedestrian from the threat of the car, now they’ve an additional road runner to join it.

P21 “Often I wandered, to be sure, perplexed in a mist and in a thousand dilemmas, seeing myself vacillating and often wretchedly forsaken. Yet I believe that struggling for life can only be a fine thing. It is not with pleasures and with joys that an honest man might grow proud. Rather in the roots of his soul it can only be through trial bravely undergone, deprivation patiently endured, that he becomes proud and gay.”

Anakana Schofield: Reading Out

Here is my second blog  as guest editor of Afterword the National Post books blog. (Click the extract to read the whole piece)

 

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about reading lately and specifically about the ways in which we can read and the forms of reading that newer technology affords us.

We are living at a time when access to and the variety of literature has never been so immediate for many of us. (To gain an understanding of what it is like not to have access to literature see Doris Lessing’s 2007 Nobel lecture, “On Not Winning the Nobel Prize.”)

I have long possessed an innate and unpredictable curiosity which has resulted in either a peripatetic or patchy approach (depending on your point of view) to reading. Increasingly I see reading (when a text engages me) as a collage that includes not just the current book itself but what comes through this work from previous readings of other books and where may I read out from this work, or back to this work.

The access facilitated by technology allows us a wider immediacy in our reading. We can read books beside each other or between each other. We can read them for a paragraph or we can read them for the long exhale. This affords us much more of a sense of a continuum with and of our literature, and this is especially important when considering a local or a national literature.

What came before, what’s coming now and what has yet to come, and how all of these things sit beside each other or whether they do or not, is (for me) a salient thinking and departure point.

Open Book Ontario May contribution

This month I was one of 9 writers, who contributed to a blog posting on the question of how reading influences our own fiction over at Open Book Ontario.

Here’s my contribution: click on it to read the entire blog and all the contributions.

How does reading other writers of fiction inform your work?

The act of reading is more important to me than the act of writing. Reading fiction is central to my daily literary-vascular system, if you like, providing the nutrients that feed my chronic percolation and interrogation. Though reading criticism and non-fiction are also part of my brew.

I wish there was a machine, like the one that measures earthquakes, one could attach to each ear lobe which as you read would produce a graph that recorded where in the brain the words had nestled. Then in turn, when you wrote the same ear probe would record and transcribe which area of the brain was being drawn on. Until that time, I can but speculate. I speculate the reading of poetry, fiction, criticism, and non-fiction all equally inform my work. The combination of ingesting all four satisfies my primary need for departure points.

I’m always after departure points: wondering, wandering and churning. I have a hearty appetite for what many might consider redundant information! If my curiosity is piqued in a particular title/writer or topic or fleeting notion I will high tail it to a bookshop or library (in the dark if necessary) to find the work, right now, as in 5 minutes ago.

As a writer and a reader I’m happy to paddle with uncertainty. I’m constantly perplexed and puzzled and questioning. Departure points come in all kinds of forms, thus they aren’t necessarily delivered by being satisfied. Dissatisfaction can be a great springboard.

When we read for the moment or the paragraph, rather than the whole we also do not demand that every piece of literature serve the same purpose or hit the single high note. I enjoy collaging paragraphs or sentences from different works that speak to each other. This is especially true and necessary in a local literature.

Publishing has become a very singular act, but reading will never be that. Reading demands plurality, it’s hungry, it wants more flavour, more thought, more pages, other pages, the other’s pages. I have great faith in readers and we’re living in a time when readers are ambitious, embracing technology and engaging with a literary evolution where the novel may become a portal to a new media blend of varied art forms. I’m right in there with the best of them, clicking, swiping and still bending the corners of the faithful page.

My condo post yesterday if actually read is clearly something of anti-developer position and certainly anti-the-city being beholden to and essentially run by developers, thus it was amusing to see it being scooped up by condo blogs and essentially lifted as content! Do these peeps cease at nothing? What are they drinking? It’s a delusional blend right down to the google alert.

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I have thought more about the Zadie Smith’s quote included in my other post On reading better and at 5.30 am I was struck by a reservation around this (in bold) part of it

“…When I write about books I’m trying to honor reading as a creative act: as far as I’m
concerned the job is not simply to describe an end product but to
delineate a process, an intimate experience with a book which the
general reader understands just as well as the professional critic.”

It’s the choice of the word honor, a tad precious, a tad careful. I was struck instead by an image of the reader at the coalface mining and how we enter an engagement with reading that should be perhaps mucky and challenging and muscular. That said the raw material must be at that coalface for us to dig in and dig at and dig out.

I’ve noticed this preciousness also creeping in around the aesthetics of the physical book amid the yawning insistence that the physical book, by virtue of being tactile and rectangular, (in contrast to a zillion pixels) is therefore an art object. Speaking as someone who co-habits with a visual artist, I find this notion bunkish and dislike this cloying romanticism that’s creeping in with the advanced pre-bemoaning the death of the book.  Hang on a minute there with the funeral garlands and elevation… Books aren’t all beautiful objects far from it. There’s also a long history of them being dog eared and abandoned and lifted (in my case) from the side of the road. I don’t want my books to become reverred, sacred icons. They are as practical to me as a set of buckets. We have a working relationship. Yes there are some I am a bit soft hearted at the sight or lift of them, but they are mostly late 1960’s Grove Press (typographical cover) ones and they certainly possess a utlilitarian look to them.

I would be keen to acknowledge reading as a muscular act, one that takes places in all kinds of conditions and circumstances. Nor is it a singular act. One reading bleeds to and from and back to another.

On reading better

This weekend I was thinking and writing about reading. (and technology) I just came across this quote from Zadie Smith in relation to critical reading with which I concur. One of the exciting things about publishing a novel is the opportunity to talk about reading, which actually interests me a great deal more than talking about the business and act of writing.

“I think a good book review is a place to meet a book on its own
terms,” said Smith, “not as an ideological vehicle or an academic
plaything. Often people think of writing as primary and reading as the
lesser art; in my life it’s the other way around. When I write about
books I’m trying to honor reading as a creative act: as far as I’m
concerned the job is not simply to describe an end product but to
delineate a process, an intimate experience with a book which the
general reader understands just as well as the professional critic.”

 

source NY Observer

 

Readings: mobile, static and inbetween

A couple of days of most engaging reading. My mobile reading (done usually when walking, exercising or during any pause of the day) is a reread of Lawrence’s The Rainbow on my phone. I love reading ebooks. I like the palm sized paragraphs, that I digest one at a time and I like the physicality of the finger sweep — almost a bit like conducting and the rhythm it establishes.

My more static reading, a large thick hard back, is curiously currently about a motorway the M25. London Orbital by Iain Sinclair.

I have a bunch of inbetween readings that are forming a dérive.

All three types of reading are inter-informed by other texts that I’ve previously or recently read that form their own questions as I read this current crop. (Imagine a bowling alley, the questions come down the lanes usually aiming at one current text) In essence the past reading is poking through the current reading and saying hey come back here a minute and consider or come here to me a minute I want to show you something.

I maintain that ebooks are giving us new ways of reading and new ways of thinking about reading. I do not agree with Jonathan Franzen’s recent drone on the topic. Indeed I think the only thing I agree with Franzen on may be birds and I wonder what the birds make of him (and us). My friend Leannej has some indications in her Birds Hate Us — An exploration of birds in a time of Avian paranoia amongst other things.

Leanne taught me to can this summer and it was the most useful thing I learned all year, the Japanese handsaw tutorials from Peter came in a very close second it must be said.

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Today I had some very fortunate experiences with very well mannered and helpful people. It reminded me how intolerable bad manners are and that people who deliberately practice them, often as a bloodsport, should not be indulged. Artists can sometimes be very bad mannered and consciously so, perhaps they imagine it gives them an edge, a certain cache. It doesn’t. One merely ends up visualizing a granny behind them, shaking her head, disgusted. It strikes me if you cannot treat people with dignity, it’s likely that you have no dignity yourself and should probably pause to figure out why.

I have found a clothes peg very useful when reading a book. It aides keeping the pages flat on the left hand side (will only work for early sections of a book, unless you source a mega-sized clothes peg).

Reading Malarky and paragraphing

A couple of Fridays ago I was invited by Michael Turner to read with him (He read from No Apologies, Gilbert’s BC Monthly, Gerry Creede and a poem by Sharon Thesen in Writing magazine) at People’s Co-op Bookstore. The reading series (organized by Rolf Maurer) intends for writers to read from work other than their own, or from their unpublished work. It’s a fresh and enticing approach.

I indulged in some “paragraphing”, selecting mainly single paragraphs from different Vancouver novels and reading them beside each other, sometimes to amplify each other or to respond to one another.  I was interested in the oppositions of emotions or perspectives that results from such. It’s something I’d like to do much more. It’s also something I’ve done/collected by accident and, often, it’s humour that draws me to a specific paragraph.

I chose to read also from Episode 6 of Malarky, my forthcoming novel (April 2012). I deliberately chose one of the most fragmented parts of the book, a section that would not necessarily lend itself so well to a more standard literary reading because the paragraphs within it respond to each other. The episode contains my favourite line in the entire book: “See how I went back and forth?” Once you’ve read the book that line should explain itself.

In that context it has been useful to convene with Denis Donoghue’s literary reckoning since he studied music and literature and music and rhythm feature keenly in the first chapter of his book.

Rhythm became vital to Malarky as I edited it. I recall vividly being at Helen Potrebenko’s for dinner & Crokinole and leaving the room to sit in her study and work on editing my book and having to read it aloud and nearly beat it into the table with my hand. I could hear the crokinole pieces clatter into the board from the other room. I was slightly sad to miss the game, but it had to be done. God Bless Helen for all she did to help me realize this book.

Back to the starting point, the reading — it was one of my most favourite readings and one of my favourite women & writer’s Renee Rodin whispered in my ear that Malarky was “delicious” as I skedaddled off to collect my son.  Joy!

I was fortunate this evening to enjoy a walk home from gymnastics. The baseball match was on at the stadium so I took a lift up with my males who attended the match with Gpa. It was such a lovely evening, darker than I expected, as Autumn (fall) approaches. I knitted, while I walked which is something I love to do from time to time.

My shawl or cardigan, whichever it turns out to be, is a rainbow wool that is growing and becoming heavy on the needles.

As I wandered home knitting, I was thinking about the thunderstorms forecast on the other side of the country. The night was so still here.

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Beckett’s letters have succeeded in doing what nine yoga classes failed to do for me. I read them mainly to discover what books he was reading and to read about his walks. He was a great man for walking.

Last night I read Eileen Myles novel Inferno aloud to another set of ears.

I can’t recall reading, for a while, a book that read aloud with such ease.

It came off the page the way tea comes out of the pot.

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I’ve gotten some helpful perspectives on Cabbagetown from other writers. I haven’t asked permission to quote them, so I’ll leave their names out for now. One explained fans of the work were “in awe of his daring in describing sexual violence, the nobility of poverty, the depravity of men, and savagery of casual misfortune.” Another writer  suggested to visit some other texts of that time and to look up the back catalogues of Press Gang. I am glad for these exchanges because it gives me other ingredients to consider when I am reading, so thank you to those writers.

To read out is something I find satisfying, more so than writing out. I suppose I prefer to have whole units from which as reader I can inter-relate or read in opposition. Personally I don’t want to write to or from other writers, I want to write into whatever I am writing, a pneumnatic “into” that might shift or throw it’s own debris up. It’s also perhaps challenging for the reader because it insists on a claustrophobia, but I enjoy challenge as a reader and have incredible faith in readers (over publishers who make decisions about what we read, hark the digital age and the end of such limits!)