Observation Note 71: Response. Keira Soleore from Cogitations and Meditations poses the question (on Reading Note 29) “Don’t you find having to constantly dodge pedestrians and wait for traffic lights a nuisance on city walks as opposed to nature or along the harbor/bay/ocean?”
I actually get a thrill from walking amongst pedestrians. There is a sense of collective human movement that occurs as you walk through city streets, where people seem to fall into a rhythm with each other. There are so many stories around you when you are in a city. From the buskers, the office workers, the retailers, the customers and the tourists. It is no longer discernible who is a local and who is the traveller. The cameras and bumbags have disappeared as the ubiquitous telephone carries all your travellers needs.
Reading Note 31:Odd. Vivian Gornick in The Odd Woman and the City writes “My mind flashes on all who crossed my path today. I hear their voices, I see their gestures, I start filling in lives for them. Soon they are company, great company. I think to myself, I’d rather be here with you tonight than with anyone else I know.” This is how I feel about the people I walk amongst. I imagine their lives, their reasons for being in my path, their ideas and their circumstances. They aren’t as much in my way as I am part of their day.
Observation Note 72:Urban bliss. Sydney is a highly walkable city. It has been designed in such a way that if you know your streets, malls and tunnels well enough, you can avoid traffic lights. For instance, on Sunday, we walked for over four hours yet we probably encountered only 5 sets of lights. The city is an open air museum so I really don’t mind having to move around people who are looking up, admiring the urban space, those wonderful details on old and new buildings.
Occasionally, there will be dawdlers, or people who lack the understanding of the time of day – this is invariably a tourist or someone that rarely ventures into the city. Fran Lebowitz shouts “Pretend it’s a City” in her eponymously titled series, she is agitated and wants people to move out of her way. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and at times can concur with the frustration of a dawdler when I am trying to get somewhere, I relish the feeling of being amongst many people, feeling safer amongst the hundreds than I do when I am alone on a street, or even just with two or three of us on a bush walk where I mentally am keeping track of how far I am from civilisation, how far I am from emergency assistance, how long it would take to raise an alarm from the moment that a brown snake bites me to the moment that the paramedics find my flailing twitching-in-its-death-throes body evident in the scattered twigs, dirt and leaves left strewn about like a demented dirt angel, my head landing in a green-head ant nest eliciting their ire as they bite bite bite me, leaving welts rising upon my face and completing the work of the snake that has slithered away, and my screaming agony will be unheard as it will be at one with the screeching dinosaur birds that circle overhead in that final moment.
Having barely read for pleasure in 2020, I wanted to start 2021 by reading in my favourite genre as well as take part in SuperWendy’s TBR challenge with this month’s theme being Comfort Reads. New Year reverting to old readerly me! I do want to point out that this review has a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
Book:Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Blurb: Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . .. A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late …
How did I find this book: Twitter conversations
Meet Cute: Meg did the calligraphy for Reid and his former fiancee’s wedding invitations. They met when he turned up to approve the design. Their own story starts a year after this event, with Reid approaching Meg to ask why she encrypted the message “Mistake” into the invite. Meg doesn’t really have an answer to this but when Reid tells her that he is leaving New York City because he hates it, she feels that she needs to show him the New York she loves so he can understand the city better.
This inexplicable and kinda weird insistence for Reid to see the beauty of New York City left me feeling confused and I kept reading back over her proposal to find hand written signs across the city to try to understand 1) what’s in it for her and 2) what’s in it for him. I just couldn’t work it out or why he would agree to take part. But this doesn’t really matter because what happens next were these lovely walks through New York City, part game and part tour, where Meg and Reid searching for hand-drawn signs and colours and letters. These regular rendezvous allowed them to build a relationship where they talked and had fun searching for the textual rhythms of the city. These walks were incredibly endearing and were instrumental in revealing Meg and Reid’s selves to each other. These walks become the backdrop to Meg’s relationships with her friends, employers and clients, and Meg hopes that they help her to resolve her artistic block that was keeping her from meeting her work commitments. I liked the way their walking builds up to Meg and Reid’s friendship, and then builds up to Meg and Reid’s intimacy where they both revealed their vulnerabilities. I especially like that when they realised that they were going to be having sex, their is a long break involving walking and catching transport with “no self-respecting New Yorker PDAs on the subway” intimating their restraint until they reached his apartment. The walking allowing them space for reflection and thought, a way for consent to be reached through the clarity that time and thinking while walking can give you, and the loveliness of walking through their city to their amatory destiny.
Meg’s problem however is that she is a not a confrontationist. She would rather friendships and relationships peter out than confront problems and grapple with possible arguments or fights that need to be resolved. Throughout the book, this becomes a major issue which she needs to overcome with her best-friend Sibby and then with Reid too. She slowly builds up to being able to argue with them and resolving these arguments. Which was fine. It was lovely. It showed care. But it made me a tad bored. Not bored enough to stop reading, but still, bored.
And then the very odd end of the book happened when all of a sudden, instead of reading a romance (THIS PART IS THE SPOILER)…. I’m reading a fraud case, and Reid is an informant (still waters run deep!) and is now in witness protection, and Meg has to decode coordinates??? Just. Really? Why did this just happen? I feel confused again. I feel cheated. I know that I was bored in parts but this wasn’t a change of pace as much as a change of book. So this was a romantic suspense novel and I didn’t even realise it. Switch and bait. I grumbled, I did. This ending really annoyed the shit out of me because of this. It felt fabricated and orchestrated due to not enough tensions being available in the relationship. I don’t mind a story that goes from no drama to high drama in a flash but it felt out of kilter with this particular story and its conciliatory strengths.
I do want to point out one that I stuck with the book because it was beautifully written. The turn of phrase, the loveliness of the narrative. The lettering and planner details gave a rich experience of the text, and though I personally don’t pay lots of attention to details (I just buy whatever is on offer), their description in this book kept me engaged. I also absolutely adored the city walking. I am an urban bunny, I cannot bear bushwalking as I find nature rather boring (oh look – there’s a tree. And just beyond it another tree just like it). I’m glad nature exists and all, but I’m happy to protect it by not going to it. In the city though, the thrill of noises and sirens, the smells, and the crowds (this books is written in a pre-Covid world). Ah! I just loved the city as character in this book and it worked its magic on me.
Will they last: I’m undecided on this one. Do I think that Meg and Reid have a relationship that they can sustain for all their lives – Yes. Do I think that Reid can live 25/40/60 years in a city he once hated? I’m unsure. Which is the whole crux of their relationship. Meg loves the city and somehow Reid claims that he now loves it too because he saw it through her eyes but I remain unconvinced. No doubt they love each other. But I doubt Reid loves NYC. They’re really going to have to think carefully about which neighbourhood they choose to live in if they want to ensure that city living doesn’t become their insurmountable problem.
Feelings: Overwhelmingly though, this book was heavy with sadness. Both Reid and Meg carry their worries on the page. From Meg’s inability to vocalise her problems to Reid’s skin flares making it impossible to hide the stress he wished he could internalise. Though there are some funny exchanges and witty repartee, sadness was stronger in this book as an emotion. And perhaps this is why I did not enjoy the book as much as I would have wanted. With the sadness of living in plague times, with the political zeitgeist being one of oppression and obfuscation across the world, and all the other usual personal problems I carry in my soul, I was really wanting a lighter book to read. I needed a light breeze and Love Lettering was certainly not that for me. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. But it definitely was not the right book for me. I sought a comfort read but I didn’t find comfort.