Reading Journal: Friday 31st July 2009

07:30 – Keeping up my daily ‘ticking off’ of the Ox Tales four volume short story collection, I read the next story in line in Ox-Tales: Fire (Profile Books), written by Geoff Dyer, which isn’t a story at all but rather a nice little essay. Titled Playing with… (to keep in line with the fire-y theme of the collection), Dyer runs through three key incidents in his life which should have ended in tragedy but didn’t. He goes on to question whether luck, fate or whatever is the cause of apparent (perhaps passive is a better word) good luck.

This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading Geoff Dyer and I’ve got to say that I like how he seems to warmly engage the reader. I have a copy of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Canongate) sitting in my ‘to be read’ pile, and now I’m even more looking forward to reading it. *cue frustration at there not being enough reading hours in the day*

08:15 – Oh what the hey. I’ve still got a bit of time, let’s go for another story from Ox-Tales: FireAflame in Athens by Victoria Hislop. This one is about Irini who is a recent newcomer to the university in Athens, and gradually she’s becoming more aware of the increase in student protests taking place in the city; protests which are gradually become more and more anarchic in their execution. Irini doesn’t join in the protests (she has her reasons which become clear) but she does start dating a fellow student, Fotis, who appears to have a secret side to him…ohhhh…naughty Fotis! 🙂

Two things I want to say about this story. Firstly, I love Hislop’s straightforward, yet eloquent prose i.e. ‘In the narrow confines of his bed, she was scorched by the blaze of his passion. It was annihilating, wordless, and the muscularity of his slim body amazed her. This was more than she had ever expected from love’ – I love this extract because not only is it a wholly descriptive piece about sexual contact, it’s not coarse or explicit with it.

The second thing I want to say is kudos to Hislop for completely hitting the requirement of the brief, and producing a story that wholly centres around the theme of fire (you’ll know what I mean when you read it). She even gets the theme in, in her story title. Well done Victoria, no tenuous theme link from you that’s for sure :o)

18:00 – OK a bit of a sidestep in my reading here, but I really want to start getting back into journeying through the writer’s mind – something I’ve always been passionate about doing, as the selection of books on my shelves that touch on this theme would attest to (including one of my latest, most excitable acquisitions – Steinbeck: A Life in Letters – Penguin. ISBN: 978-0141186290). It wasn’t Steinbeck today though, rather another fairly recent purchase – Antaeus: Journals, Notebooks and Diaries (an older book from Collins Harvill. ISBN: 0002720280), which as the title would suggest is an anthology of extracts from the ephemera of various writers. I read the first entry which is a short essay by Gail Godwin entitled A Diarist on Diarists. It’s a nice piece and it mainly explores why diarists do what they do and the benefits they (and future readers) get from doing so. The highlight of the piece has to be the statement from Godwin, who after receiving a locked diary from her mother, said – “How many daughters can read – in purple ink – about the night they were conceived?” Exquisite. And for those who want to know – Yes I do keep a diary, and the diary itself and the act of writing in it, is very precious to me.

22:00 – I was hoping to close today’s entry by announcing that I’d finally finished The China Bird by Bryony Doran (Hookline Books) but alas I’ve still got 80 odd pages to go. It’s not that the novel is hard to read, far from it, it’s just all the distractions and diversions I’ve been dealing with lately. So coming near the end of it now, and I’ve got to say that this is just one incredible novel. Doran definitely has a bit of a gift as writer, and I know even before finishing, that this is a story that will live within me for a long time to come.

‘Reading Journal’ provides an unedited, on-the-fly record of the bookish highlights in Rob’s reading day.
About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).