A few months ago, a fabulous friend of mine asked me participate in a new podcast she’s working on. The premise? All guests would be allocated a Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) book and we’d discuss it. Given that I was about to spend a month and a bit in a very small, isolated location, I was sure I’d have to wait until back in the city to purchase said book and then arrange the recording. Now Georgette Heyer (pronounced ‘Hair’) is a bit of a mystery, as she was a prolific but very private writer. She was genre-defining (Regency Romance) and by all accounts, a little bit of an oddity. But if you’re a Jane Austen fan, then it’s like being able to discover the same sort of world.
Who Is This E. Gordon?
Anyway, within a few days of arriving, I visited the absolutely wonderful bookstore on the island (oh how I love this place: it has not just a bookstore, but a library AND a huge book-by-donation section at the recycling depot) and wandered the shelves. On impulse, I asked the owner, Liz (yes, I’d already made friends), if she had any GH books. She looked at me a little quizzically and then said, you know, it’s weird but I got a whole stack in about a month ago, and she lead me to the used section in the sunny atrium and showed me a pile of what is almost every single GH book, lovingly marked as being the property of E.Gordon. (Who is this E. Gordon? Why did s/he donate the whole collection? why part with it now, given that most of the books are about 50 years old? Mystery!).
How Could I Say No?
I dutifully carried my assigned book (along with a pile of several others, including these two) home, restraining myself from buying more from the tempting pile. And then I promptly went back to buy the whole collection. On my last day on the island, I of course went back to the bookstore for a final browse. As soon as I walked in, Liz says “I found three more!”.
And so now, I am back in the city, ploughing through every one of about 30 wonderful, rolicking books and enjoying them all.
Thanks E. Gordon!
After a month and a bit of being in my own little world and a paradise of sea, sun, solitude, writing, reading, and thinking, I have to head back to The Real World tomorrow. I have that horrible back to school feeling, like I have to say goodbye to freedom and every thing that’s become familiar and favourite. Even though it’s really just the end of a small chapter, it’s still 1/12th of my year that I’ve spent here, so perhaps not such a small chapter after all?
In that 1/12th, I’ve felt like I’ve become a part of the small community here. I know the neighbours, I’ve developed routines, and I’ve become a familiar figure. I’ve even had some books held for me without asking at the bookstore after becoming That Girl Who Bought All the Georgette Heyer Books (long story – I’ll save that for another post). I’ve created an uneasy alliance with the heron on the dock. I’ve got used to the sounds of the kingfishers and otters. I’ve learned the rhythms of the ferry traffic and the weird hours of all the shops. And I’ve regained a little piece of my soul.
It has been a magical journey and I am loathe to end it. I can only hope I can carry some of this paradise within me. And that I can return soon.
One of the great things about being away in paradise and taking some time off work is that I have had a lot of time to read. Plus, there is the most wonderful bookstore on the island (dangerous but delightful for a bibliophile). Rather coincidentally, considering I am (mostly) on a writing retreat, I happened to pick up two books (fiction) that have books as a central theme. And both were utterly marvellous.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
In this debut novel, Swyler weaves a story of three families across time, connected by a mysterious book, travelling circuses, mermaids, and an out of work librarian. It’s intriguing and well written, with an eerie undercurrent. The novel pulls throughout it a thread of what it means to be connected to people – by blood, habit, mutual need, genetics – and how we’re bound to our family histories and myths. It includes some great characters and imaginative writing, with water a recurring and dangerous force throughout. It’s well worth a read, especially if you believe in the power of story telling and how it can shape who we are.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (original German title: Das Lavendelzimmer)
I loved, loved, loved this book. It was less disturbing than The Book of Speculation, but more deeply moving. And I think I enjoyed it so much because it took me by surprise just how intense its emotional landscape turns out to be and how George acknowledges some of the tropes she is employing. As an obvious book lover, she is able to convey this love, without getting preachy, and while acknowledging the challenges of being a writer, as well as a reader. The book centres around a “book apothecary” and his journey from healing others to healing himself. It is, in many ways, an homage to great books and how they can heal and change people. It has some great characters, humour, emotional depth, and even some recipes. Definite medicine for the soul.
For the last month or so, I’ve been staying on a small island in the Southern Gulf Islands chain in BC. It’s about an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, but a world away. Paradise, in fact. This has been an incredible opportunity for me to focus on my own writing – not for clients, not for a course, but purely for me. It’s been terrifying but liberating. Here I am actually telling people I’m on a writing retreat! The madness! (of course pesky Work has interfered here and there, but luckily I’ve got much better at showing her the door when I need to prioritise self care and relaxation).
It’s been so, so good. Challenging at times, to be on my own for the most part, in a fairly isolated way. But I am relishing Loneliness’s babe of a brother, Solitude. There’s this magical place you get to after a while out of your normal routine where suddenly the mild panic and cobwebbiness of Loneliness gives way to the delicious, deep contentment of being with Solitude. He lets me read, swim, listen to good music, have solo dance parties in the living room, and write without feeling guilty or alone. He lets me walk to the beach and stare at the water. He lets me take photos of flotsam and jetsam. He lets me watch lots of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, without judgement. He lets me have a birthday and a wedding anniversay (on my own) for the first time in a long time, and have a great time. And when Loneliness tries to get between us, he gently fobs him off.
Sometimes the soul needs Solitude to remind us that paradise is not that far away after all, and that we need to spend some time with ourselves in a quiet, gentle way so that we can be better to those around us, and nourish ourselves to cope with the day to day.
That feeling of finishing a really, really good book…. it’s like you’ve been in the sun and then a cool breeze licks your arm and the hairs raise up and your skin ripples… It’s delicious and unnerving and you want to run into the street and yell “I’ve changed. I’ve changed! Because of this!” and waggle the book in their faces, and move it to the top of the rack at the bookshop, and write one like it but in your own voice.
Because you’ve done nothing but sink yourself into it. Stopping only to eat or pee. Minor interferences. Because you can recognise these people, these stories, these yearnings, these voices within yourself – and you want to share that with others and want them to know too – to understand. Probably to understand you a little better, but also the world around them, and themselves.
To feel the same disorienting lies and truths together.