Around the Neighbourhood, circa 2014 (Home is just round the corner, after the steep stretch)
“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” The Famished Road, Ben Okri
It’s a long strange road back to the land of happy valleys and blue skies, full of detours, dead ends and monsters in the disguise of white knights, as well as a few good men (and women). I’m not sure I’m fully there yet, what with the sudden darkening of my mind even on a good day like this (matched by the capricious weather, all sudden showers and squirts of sunshine), but slowly, laboriously, I find myself rejoining the ranks of the sane. This is a strange feeling, happiness, and I am unable to savour it except with caution, for fear it might disappear in an instant.
At my depressed worst circa 2010 I couldn’t seem to understand a single word the characters in my favourite soap opera are saying, nor could I decipher the language of the simplest literature. Communication was a little beyond me, either verbal or through the written word, which is laughable considering my eventual choice of career. Even today I sometimes struggle with serious literature, especially fiction, when this was the one genre which had brought me the greatest joy during my girlhood. But I am grateful for the opportunity to explore new pastures – non-fiction of every type, from food memoirs and musings on physics to political confessionals. Ah, and poetry. There’s nothing like sickness, both mental and physical, to illuminate the necessity of poetry – its miraculous, almost medicinal effect on the psyche.
All the sensible adults in my life reassure me that the shift from fiction to non-fiction is merely a sign of growing up – precisely, of abandoning the childish practice of make-believe, but privately I’m not so sure – perhaps my brain can no longer engage in fantasy as easily as before, having taken a hit when it comes to reality? When you’re clinging onto reality it’s less easy and more dangerous to engage in flights of fancy, even if it’s via a book. Perhaps truth is the most potent, most reassuring drug, when reality is scarce?
Some books I have on my bedside table at the moment, regardless of genre:
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
- An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks (all-time fave)
- SPQR by Mary Beard
- Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Graphic novel)
- Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher
- Crush by Richard Siken