Extra Decaf: Soulful Scribbling

In her prologue, Anchale A tells the readers, “Just write. Scribble your soul… Let it be four words or forty. Let it make sense or none at all. But write.” And that’s what she has done in her first book — Extra Decaf — a collection of poetry.

She has scribbled her soul. Courageously. Authentically. Intimately.

Tell me your deepest secrets;
Tell me your darkest dreams.

Talk to me about your tummy grumbling at night;
Talk to me about how you were softly snoring in your sleep.

Show me your ugly duck-face selfies;
Show me all your fears.

And, watch how I collect manure and seeds from your rots;
Watch how I feed them with my light.

Watch how I make wild flowers;
Watch how I love you.

The collection offers three chapters — Infection, Disease, and Recovery, and 45 poems which are a beautiful melange of joy, pain, and resurrection. As I read some poems, I smiled, and told myself, “Awww! That was cheesy!” But I am incurably romantic. So, that dash of mushiness agreed with me.

Anchale’s motifs are poets’s favourite children — stars, rainbows, darkness, light, oceans, feathers… What are poems without those elements? They would be words without rhythm.

For her poems are adequately sprinkled with all things cosmic, they sound familiar, yet fresh.

Let’s steal the stars and glue them on to our velvet blanket.

19399555_10213536246777503_5933821790783329141_nEvery poem is coupled with a fitting monochromatic, evocative photograph. I wish I could see them in glorious colours. But that is not a complaint really, for the pictures are poems themselves.

The author’s dedication warmed my heart. It simply reads, “To the mountains…” And her love for mountains takes form in this poem, which is my pick from the collection.

Muscles flexed, lungs gasped for oxygen.
She could finally climb the mountains;
The mountains,
Not built with tectonic plates smashing together.
But the mountains,
Built with collapsing minutes, hours, and days.
The mountains,
That threatened her to nestle in the past.

I am a sucker for the kind of poetry that Lang Leav, Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace, and Rupi Kaur write. The kind of poetry that you write on a tissue paper while relishing your comfort food. The kind of poetry that you carry in your bag like a lucky charm. The kind of poetry that you write on public toilets’s doors. The kind of poetry that you want to recite to a stranger. The kind of poetry that all of us can write. The kind of poetry that you mumble on sleepless nights. Anchale’s writing belongs there. It’s cold, and warm. All at the same time.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne: A Heartbreaker

ireland-month-17I read William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault for Reading Ireland Month last year. One thing, just one thing went wrong in Lucy’s life, and it fell over like a row of dominoes. She lost her childhood, she had to live like a fugitive in her own house, she deprived herself of ordinary pleasures, and above all, she was weighed down by guilt, and self-imposed solitude. I loved Lucy.

Now, an hour after reading Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne for Reading Ireland Month this year, I can’t stop thinking about how women were the protagonists of both the novels, how they were different in the way they coped with loneliness, but how they were alike to let it drag them down the drain. My heart bleeds for both of them.

It’s Belfast. Judith Hearne was in her early forties. Single. Lonely. Desperate. Religious. She spent all her youth to look after her aunt, who raised her after her parents passed away. Hearne wanted to go to college, learn more crafts, but her aunt wouldn’t allow for she fell sick and coerced Hearne into caring for her. When she was finally free to live her life, Hearne had lost her friends, job offers, and… time.

782982Hearne, a piano teacher, supported herself on the meager income she made by teaching and on the tiny sum that her aunt left for her. She moved into a modest lodging, where she was greeted by a judgmental landlady and lodgers who were gossip-lovers.

Moore showed an Ireland where one could have no private life. His Ireland was cold, cloudy, and rainy. Perhaps, it was the metaphoric representation of Hearne’s life.

For Hearne, home meant three things — her aunt’s sepia portrait, a picture of Sacred Heart, and two tiny buttons on her shoes. They were always there for her, even when the landlady judged her for trying to date her brother from New York, even when her friend’s children laughed at her for employing same responses over and over again, even when she loathed herself for being deplorable.

Miss Hearne ate her biscuits, cheese and apple, found her spectacles and opened a library book by Mazo de la Roche. She toasted her bare toes at the gas fire and leaned back in the armchair, waiting like a prisoner for the long night hours.

Moving into the new lodge made Hearne hopeful. She began daydreaming; she wanted to marry the landlady’s brother, sail to New York, have children, and live a life that she was denied. But Mr Madden, who was torn between America and Ireland, whose ideologies were way different from Hearne’s, could see her just as a potential business partner, while Hearne was indulging in her embarrassing dreams.

Madden detested Hearne’s advances, turned her down, when he found out that Hearne was a humble piano teacher and that she would never be able to invest in his business. Hearne’s heart was broken; she began to seek comfort in her old friend — alcohol.

A drink would put things right. Drink was not to help forget, but to help remember, to clarify and arrange untidy and unpleasant facts into a perfect pattern of reasonableness and beauty. Alcoholic, she did not drink to put aside the dangers and disappointments of the moment. She drank to be able to see these trials more philosophically, to examine them more fully, fortified by the stimulant of unreason.

Hearne was wrong. Alcohol removed her from her own life. Because of the row she created at the lodge, she was asked to leave. Her relationship with her only friend became strained for she chose not to betray her emotions and confessed that she never liked her friend but visited her every Sunday only to be in the company of her children. She revealed that she envied her friend as she had all that Hearne longed for. A husband, a bunch of children, and… a home.

Above all, what uprooted Hearne’s life was her lack of faith. She barely missed the Mass on Sunday. Since she befriended satan (alcohol) and drinking was a sin, she despised religion. What was the point of religion and priests, when she was not heard, when her pain was not alleviated, when she wasn’t offered guidance, when she couldn’t gather her life again?

Hearne hated herself more when she began questioning the existence of God. The spiritual crisis and alcohol fuelled Hearne’s loneliness, and she ended up at a hospital after a series of unfortunate, awkward events.

She was feeling tired. Why, the Mass was very long. If you did not pray, if you did not take part, then it was very, very long. If you did not believe, then how many things would seem different. Everything: lives, hopes, devotions, thoughts. If you do not believe, you are alone.

All the characters — to me, it didn’t matter if they we were likeable — were memorable in their own ways. They tormented Hearne but Moore allowed me to get into their heads for a while and made me realise that they were hurting themselves too. From the young maid of the landlady to Hearne’s friends, each character was extraordinarily developed. At one point in time, I wasn’t sure why I had to learn about everybody. But they all held the mirrors which showed the myriad reflections of Hearne’s suffering. I needed their participation to empathise with Hearne.

While the whole book broke my heart, one particular scene made me feel heavier. Hearne stayed at a luxurious hotel. She relished the drink, loved the view from her room, and enjoyed sinking in the bed. The moment was perfect. She was losing her head; she was perennially inebriated, but the moment was just perfect. Something held Hearne’s shoulders and shook her. A thought. She had nobody to share that moment with.

Let me make a confession here. I couldn’t ask Hearne to be strong. I couldn’t ask her to find a purpose in life. I didn’t want to taunt her with the painful phrase — move on. I didn’t judge her for wanting to be loved and cherished. She was depressed. She was lonely. She was directionless. And it was okay to be all of that; she was only being human.

The High Priestess Never Marries: Between Prose and Poetry

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The book and the filter coffee were consumed on a languorous Sunday evening. ❤

All alone on a night like this — quite as confession and blackwidow blue. Oh what she would give, tonight or any night, for a lover’s mouth, for a lullaby, for a moon so low it could snag in the conspiracy of branches. And she sits there in the darkness and watches the silhouettes of trees against the city sky blanched with artificial effulgence, and admires the silver rings on her toes, and thinks of how a good reading can unbraid everything. She blows a smokey cloudkiss to the Venus flytrap in the corner and even the Venus flytrap doesn’t bite back.

16298748_10212046600537278_7784908729883477375_nWhen I read Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One a few weeks ago, I made a secret wish. I wanted to read something as intense and feminist as her poetry collection, but I wanted the stories to be closer to me. I wanted the characters to drive on the roads I take. I wanted them to speak my tongue. I wanted them to know my gods and goddesses. I wanted them to lose themselves in the ocean where I seek solace.

Then Sharanya Manivannan’s The High Priestess Never Marries happened to me.

As I finished every short story and postcard fiction, I kept asking myself, “Between prose and poetry, where does this writing lie?” I released the question religiously, only to realise that it was an exercise in futility.

Because the stories were just there.

Feral. Timid. Pregnant. Empty. Loud. Silent. Intimidating. Comforting.

The stories were just there.

If Haruki Murakami’s heroes kept making spaghetti in his books, Sharanya Manivannan’s characters were fond of bitter gourd. More specifically, bitter gourd tossed with jaggery.

Dark, bitter, and yet sweet. Quite like her stories.

“Bitter gourd that tastes of love and all its consequences. It is my simplest, most sincere dish: my heart on a platter.

‘This is an epiphany,’ she grins, her nose running, her back resting against the spice cabinet. I watch her for a few moments before reaching to serve myself.

With her clean hand, she grabs mine. ‘Thank you!’

‘Anytime, my love.’ I squeeze her hand, drop the spoon I reached for, and decided to wait. What a pleasure it is to give.

Sometimes a meal is a psalm. Sometimes it is a code, a consolation, a sense of an unbroken coast in a season of ravages. Always, it is an offering. Always, it is an embrace.”

The other motifs created the feminine, divine, resplendent atmosphere too. Toe rings. Mangoes. Neem trees. The colour red. Celestial beings. And of course… sea, sand, soil, and shores. There were myriad omens which made me feel feverish.

I love Sharanya Manivannan’s women. They did not demand my sympathy. They did not offer condescension either. They were beautifully vulnerable, incredibly human. They related their stories in a tone that was free of apologies. Their voices were laden with regrets, melancholy, and pain. But there was no pretense.

I love her women more because those are the ones who can listen to my story without judging me. Those are the ones who can say, “You fucked up? It’s fine. Let’s clear the mess together.” Those are the women who won’t ask me to stay strong. Those are the ones who would say, “Weep. Weep. Weep. It’s okay to be broken.” Those are the ones who understand the need to feel belonged, the need to love, and the need to be loved and cherished.

Those are the women who know what it is like to be a woman.

I wanted to unleash my love on two women particularly — Sarala Kali and Antara. (Oh! The names! There was a man called Mazhai.) Both the women taught me something that I have been meditating for a long while — allowing myself to feel.

I am tired of hearing phrases like, ‘You have always been brave. Continue to be brave.’ Or a patronising one like, ‘Snap out of that depression.’ Or a reduction like, ‘What you are feeling is a mere disappointment.’ So when I met Sarala Kali and Antara, I naturally warmed up to them more for they didn’t wage war against their emotions. They walked into the eye of the storms. They swayed to the tunes of gusty winds. They destroyed themselves. They re-birthed themselves. And when the cyclone had crossed, they were brave and authentic in the way they embraced their sentiments. How can I not love them!

It’s been a day since I finished the book. But I can’t capture one word as such and pin it down to explain how I feel about it. There is a lump in my throat. I want to hug somebody and cry for a little while. I want to take deep breaths. I want to reread some stories from the book. I am giving myself to the quicksand of thoughts. I am throwing a courageous glance at the bright clarity that has surfaced. I feel everything. I feel nothing. I am melancholic. I am contented.

Maybe, I am one of them. Maybe, we all are…

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RK Narayan Readalong: The World of Nagaraj

Nagaraj was sitting on the pyol, spending the evening as usual looking at the coconut trees with crows retiring for the night. Before repairing to the trees they assembled on the roof of the tall house in the opposite row. Scores of them flew down and perched like schoolchildren under the supervision of a convent sister. The crows argued a lot among themselves and hopped and shifted about before dispersing. Nagaraj always felt a fascination for this evening activity of the crows, and wished he knew the language of birds as did the kings of folklore. The crows probably have a leader who allots them treetops for the night and they argue and debate about it before coming to a decision. The leader would probably be saying, “Don’t you see the sky is reddening? Hurry up, darkness will soon be upon us, and remember we are not human being who light lamps for their night life…”

IMG_20160503_155207RK Narayan’s characters pay attention to beautiful, little things in life. That is one of the reasons why I adore his books. The World of Nagaraj, just like every other book of RK Narayan, is replete with such people. They find the extra-ordinaries in the ordinaries.

The World of Nagaraj, as the title suggests, revolves around Nagaraj. The man in his 50’s harbours a dream — to write a book on the great sage Narada. He talks to people from all walks of life in Malgudi to collect material for his book. Much to his dismay, nobody knows about Narada well.

Just when he is disheartened about his book, his nephew Tim chooses to live with Nagaraj and his wife. Nagaraj, who is a creature of habits and who derives immense pleasure from leading slow, relaxed life, is forced to look after his mischievous nephew. Nagaraj’s life begins to be eventful.

Tim marries a singer. The young girl practises Hindi songs every morning, when Nagaraj tries hard to write on his book. The man cannot confront. He cannot tell the girl that she must stop practising awful songs during his time. Because of his inability to communicate and confront, he loses his peace of mind.

Besides becoming eventful, Nagaraj’s life loses its rhythm. Everything goes haywire. He has to discipline Tim, prove to his brother that he didn’t let Tim go astray, ask Tim’s wife to be quiet during his writing hours, and manage to write his book on Narada.

Many a time, I was reminded of PG Wodehouse’s stories. Nagaraj is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster. His wife Sita rescues him often, quite like Jeeves. And the plot becomes thicker and thicker, just like in Wodehouse’s book.

Unlike Wodehouse’s stories, everything doesn’t end well in The World of Nagaraj. But the mood of the book doesn’t change. It stays true to its theme till the end, even when Nagaraj gets mired in more responsibilities.

The World of Nagaraj is for the readers, who like slow, funny, and warm books.

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Me and Kaminski: A Portrait That Isn’t A Portrait

“For example, I wanted to do a series of self-portraits, but not using my reflection in a mirror or photos, just drawing on the image I had of myself. Nobody has any idea what they really look like, we have completely false pictures of ourselves. Normally you try to even things out, using whatever you can. But if you do the opposite, if you intentionally paint this false picture, as accurately as possible, in every detail, with every characteristic trait…!” He banged on the table. “A portrait that isn’t a portrait! Can you imagine such a thing? But nothing came of it.”

41REs310GQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“How much of what I think of myself is true? Do I massage my ego by making more room for thoughts which flatter? Do I torment my soul by overexposing it?” I asked myself when I read that passage from Daniel Kehlmann’s Me and Kaminski, for TJ @ My Book Strings’s 12 Germans in 2016. The book is beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway.

The narrator Sebastian Zollner is so much like a lot of us. Even as he slides down the hill of life, he holds on to his ego tightly, and the very trait makes him more fascinating, even though he is annoying.

The 31-year-old journalist and critic wants to do something big with his life. He might be a mediocre journalist, he might be dumped by his girlfriend, but he hopes to redeem himself by writing the biography of an elusive, senile, intelligent, intuitive artist called Manuel Kaminski.

Zollner is so deluded that he fails to recognise the fact that Kaminski is not popular anymore. The proprietress of the cafe in Kaminski’s neighbourhood hasn’t heard of the artist. The critics in Zollner’s circle don’t remember Kaminski’s work. But Zollner hopes that Kaminski would say something sensational about his first love Therese, whom the artist believes is dead, and that Kaminski would die soon for the book to become a bestseller.

The duo embarks on an impromptu road trip after Zollner reveals that Therese is alive. On their way, they meet an unconventional thief, a prostitute who understands Kaminski well and ridicules Zollner, and when they finally meet Therese, the table turns. Their exchanges on art, artists’s ego, media, and identity made me laugh and think.

Although Zollner travels with Kaminski to discover more about the artist, he ends up meeting himself along the way, for Kaminski is not what Zollner thinks. Not only does Kaminski surprises Zollner, but he gently steers the journalist towards self-awareness. Daniel Kehlmann walks a tightrope, as he chooses bathos, but I wouldn’t have wanted Zollner to live with his delusions.

“I said to the proprietress how beautiful I thought it was to be here. She smiled proudly. Here in the countryside, in nature, even here in this station. Way away from everything, among simple people.

She said what did I mean.

Not among intellectuals, I explained, overeducated posturing types with university degrees. Among people who were close to their animals, their fields, and the mountains. Who went to sleep early and got up early. Who lived, instead of thinking!”

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The Thing Is: Warm and Hilarious

28966786When I was aloof and sad, and chose to stay with a friend for a while, because everything was going wrong, my father did the most unexpected thing to bring me back home. He asked my mother to tell me that if I stayed with friends, they wouldn’t look after my dog Boo, and that I would have to make arrangements for her. “How can you do this to Boo? It’s not her fault. You are kidding. I know you all love her,” I told my mother. I couldn’t believe that they could make such an unkind decision. But my mum was unrelenting. “You come back or take Boo with you.”

One hour after our call, I was at home, and I promised I wouldn’t leave again.

I was talking to a friend about my parents’s ‘radical’ behaviour. She guffawed and said, “Your parents are adorable. They had tried reverse psychology to make you sensible again.” I felt cheated. 😉 But I was thankful all the same.

Reverse psychology, that’s what Monica tries, to help her sister Meredith, who is grieving for her fiance Kyle. Meredith is a women’s fiction writer. Although so many readers in her neighborhood enjoy her books, she claims that she is not popular. Quite like many humble authors we know.

Her life doesn’t progress after Kyle’s death. She mourns him for about three years, lives on canned food, binge-watches TV series, wears his clothes, and suffers from writer’s block. But, she has to meet a deadline. Her next book should be written.

That’s when Meredith is coerced by her sister into pet-setting a Yorkshire Terrier called Prozac. What a fitting name! Of course, dogs are amazing anti-depressants, and Prozac — a Spirit Guide Dog, who had ‘explicit jobs and functions to perform’ during his limited time on earth — brings hope and love into Meredith’s life.

It’s not easy for Meredith, for she says she is not a dog person, and she doesn’t want her messy life to become better. But she cannot return the dog. Prozac’s human, an octogenarian, is convalescing after a surgery, and she firmly believes that Meredith will be the next best human for Prozac. Above all, Meredith is being blackmailed by a retired judge into looking after him, and bringing him to Evergreen Gardens, an independent living facility, where ladies worship him every week.

Prozac is incredibly intelligent and more intuitive than other dogs. He assumes the responsibility of breathing life into Meredith. Needless to say that he succeeds. Unlike a lot of literary dogs, Prozac doesn’t sound just awww-inducing and funny. He is sagacious, well-read, and possesses a great understanding of human psyche. His meditations on life, loss, hope, and life are moving and enlightening.

She climbed into bed and, guided by the nightstand lamp, read self-help books — out loud. The latest was titled Get Out of the Rut Called YOU: Strategies for Getting Your Life Unstuck. I mentally rolled my eyes when Meredith read lines like “Get up and get out there again!” or “Find what you love and do it — just go for it!” How was it that grossly underqualified people got paid to write such drivel while intelligent humans like Meredith shelled out money and spent time reading retread, generic crap? She should’ve been reading something of intellectual substance more along the lines of A Grief Observed by CS Lewis. Unfortunately, being a dog had its limitations, and the ability to recommend better books was one of them. But I was well acquainted with Jack’s work — that was what those in C.S.’s inner circle used to call him — when I was assigned as his charge. I once consumed half a volume of Plato. Chewed it to bits. That might’ve put an end to Jack’s work on the Greek translation, but I liked to think that my actions served as the inspiration for the talking animals in his Narnia saga.

Prozac loves William Faulkner too okay? 🙂

Kathleen Gerard’s The Thing Is is warm. While I love every theme the book explores, I particularly enjoyed Gerard’s reflections on random act of kindness and second chances.

The novel is peopled with characters who are memorable and thoughtful. One of the residents of Evergreen Gardens, who is an amazing gambler, throws a grand birthday party for her deceased son’s 50th birthday. Another resident, who watches three TV series on three iPads simultaneously, owns a vintage car that she hasn’t driven after she acquired her driving license in the 60’s. A magician, whom Meredith meets at Evergreen Gardens, has eye-opening conversations with her about illusions and reality. They all gently steer Meredith toward making peace with her past. Meredith gathers courage and strength to move on by leanring about their difficult lives, and their resilience to go on, come what may.

Sometimes, when humans shared things and finally gave voice to their feelings, they cast a light into dark places they’d kept locked inside. In those moments, there were no words.

The plot negotiates quite a few unexpected turns, quite like Wodehousian stories, and ends in the most satisfactory fashion. The Thing Is is cute, hilarious, and has a big heart.

Many thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy. And, my opinions are super honest all right? 🙂

Three Books I Secretly Read

I blog only about books I adore. (I wrote about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Shatter Me, although they didn’t agree with me. But, I want to believe that I was not too harsh, because I asked my furry friends to give me a hand.) So, yes, I blog only about books I adore. I gush about them, abuse nice adjectives, shove the books under your nose, and almost arm-twist you into picking up the books.

Sometimes, I read brilliant books, and for reasons that I cannot fathom, I do not write about them. I read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, and Jodi Picoult’s Harvesting the Heart last year. I highlighted myriad passages, I still quote them during discussions, and awarded many, many stars on Goodreads. However, I could not bring myself to gather, and pin down my thoughts. While the logic seems elusive, I thought I should not dish out that treatment to the wonderful books, which one of my friends recommended this month. I am going to try writing a couple of lines.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir:
My blog on Shatter Me made my friend recommend An Ember in the Ashes. She said she loved it, because it let her escape into an another world. I couldn’t say anything better after I read the book. The plot is compelling, the characters are memorable, the story is beautiful, and the dialogues are soulful. There is a sequel, and I look forward to reading it. It is safe to say that if one misses Harry Potter books, Tahir’s can fill the gap. Also, I want to be brave enough, and confess that I found An Ember in the Ashes deeper than Harry Potter. Ouch, did I just say that?

“You’ll never forget them, not even after years. But one day, you’ll go a whole minute without feeling the pain. Then an hour. A day. That’s all you can ask for, really.” His voice drops. “You’ll heal, I promise.”

“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.”

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng:
As soon as I learn that one reads, one of the first questions I pose is, “Are you on Goodreads?” I draw immense pleasure from looking at the shelves, and adding a hundred more to my TBR. When I browsed this friend’s shelf, I found quite a few interesting books. I ordered Everything I Never Told You, Room, and To Sir, With Love without paying a second thought.

Celeste’s book is a gem. It took a while for me to get warmed up to it, but after I invested enough time, I wanted to live with it. This is an important book, and I am glad I chose to read it. Almost every theme that Celeste explored is still relevant. Also, I loved, loved, loved Celeste’s writing, and her impressive eye for details.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you — whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

“It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.”

Outline by Rachel Cusk:
I am grateful to friends, who recommend books like Outline. I am more grateful to friends, who recommend books like Outline, and make time to deliver “mini literature classes.” (I heart you, SM!) This novel was everything I wanted to read. The book spoke to me. Will you forgive me if I employ a cliche here? The book spoke to me… like literally. Outline is about everything that we often discuss. Love, loss, friendship, relationships, marriage, identity, values, writing, success, failure… To grasp the finer aspects, and meditate more, I want to read this book again. I also intend to read Cusk’s memoir Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation.

“What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of.”

“As it happened, I was no longer interested in literature as a form of snobbery or even self-definition. I had no desire to prove that one book was better than another; in fact, if I read something I admired, I found myself increasingly disinclined to mention it at all. What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.”

“It was impossible, I said in response to his question, to give the reasons why the marriage had ended: among other things a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious. What was real, in the end, was the loss of the house, which had become the geographical location for things that had gone absent and which represented, I supposed, the hope that they might one day return. To move from the house was to declare, in a way, that we had stopped waiting.”

What kind of books do you read secretly? I would love to know. 🙂