Readers and Languishing: Reading notes: 17 and 18

Earlier today, I saw long-time Twitter friend Flexnib post that she is going to try to do BlogJune just like in the olden blog days. I have decided to try to post every June day too and I thought I would start simply, resurrecting my Reading and Observation notes, a style of writing which I have previously used and I find particularly enjoyable.

Reading Note 17: Other readers. I’ve just finished reading Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business: Notes of a chronic rereader. I first heard about Gornick pre-pandemic, 18 months ago on Miss Bates Reads Romance where Kay reviewed Fierce Attachments, a book that continues to sit unopened on my bedside bookshelf. I managed to borrow three of Gornick’s books from the library and I wanted to start with her book on rereading so that I can get an insight into who she was and what her book choices mean to her. I enjoyed Unfinished Business, this collection of essays has her rereading and reconnecting to books that she has loved many years ago. Her revisiting of each text finds her either loving or rejecting the book as she delves deeply into the characters driving each novel. Gornick is not writing an analysis of these books, but instead, she is relating her own life through her reflections of her rereads. Each essay was detailed and interesting but I was increasingly annoyed that her choices were all tragedies – stories where everyone grapples with life’s difficulties and love is attained and lost. I kept wanting Gornick to choose something more edifying, something with happier outcomes, something that could mix up her reading choices rather the the predictable stalwart classics. Right at the end though, she has a short essay on about a “cheap 1970s paperback” that falls apart when she takes it into her hand. Gornick relishes in her material experience of the pages falling out one-by-one and how she salvages this unnamed book by slowly reading through it again, marking the pages as she ordered them, and bounding the book with a rubber-band. Gornick doesn’t name the books and I am so curious. I would love to know the name of the one book that she doesn’t name. My guess is that it is something along the line of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower.

Reading Note 18: Languishing. Vivian Gornick discusses being “unreceptive” to a book, just not in the right mood to read it; not “in a a state of readiness”. Well that is how I have been feeling lately about all fiction reading. I pick up a novel and I either give up just a few chapters in, turned off the book for something as trivial as the name of a character, the description of a sofa, or an internal thought that I am just not interested in reading. This sense of fiction ennui is not what I want to be feeling and I hope it doesn’t last for too much longer. Meanwhile, I will continue reading memoirs and I will post about my thoughts on them here.

Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business, Fierce Attachments and The Odd Woman and the City have all been borrowed from a NSW public library.

The 100, 25, 12 Dresses

The 100 Dresses by Eleanor EstesWhen I was in primary school, one of my favourite books was Eleanor Estes’ The 100 Dresses. It is about a young Polish girl, Wanda Petronski, who boasts about her 100 dresses. She is visibly poor so a number of kids decide to tease her and claim she is lying. By the end of the book they discover that she did indeed have 100 dresses – all of them were drawings. I’m not sure why, but this book left its mark on me. The cruel kids that taunted the young girl, her life of drawing, imagining, dreaming of the beautiful dresses that she could one day own, and considering her own drawings to be as much a reality and tangible possession as a material dress could possibly be.

I love wearing dresses. I love the way they feel when I walk. I love the way they sway. I love their airiness. Early this year, I realised that I didn’t even own a single pair of trousers*. I have suit bags that lovingly house my dresses from my thinner years. My dresses are not particularly expensive (except for that one, glamorous, plunging neckline, silk, green Merivale) but I can’t throw them out. In the last couple of months I have read two books on dresses. The first is 25 Dresses and the other is Dress Memory. Continue reading