Natick, MA: A.K. Peters, Ltd., 2010

How can you resist the subtitle of Grace Dane Mazur’s Hinges?

It’s Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination.

Well, you can’t resist it. Not if you’re book-ish, and especially not if you’re also writer-ish.

If book-ish was in the book’s index, you might see a reference to this passage:

“When we enter the altered state of consciousness to which fiction carries us, we lose ourselves.”

And if writer-ish appeared below, you might see a connection to this one:

“Because the close, focused attention of the writer is often even more piercing and prolonged than that of the reader, the imagined world replaces by its intensity and brilliance the ordinary world of the living.”

And there *is* an index. Because Hinges has some personal anecdotes, but it also reads a little like a series of lectures.

But lectures given by someone who holds her subject close, so the tone is somewhat academic but infused with an intensity and a passion for these portals. (So that’s not a bad thing.)

To illustrate, here is the longer passage that I think would be indexed under book-ish:

“When we enter the altered state of consciousness to which fiction carries us, we lose ourselves. We lose our sense of time. Language becomes strange or altered. We replace our loved ones – our lost, our missing, our absent, our longed for – with new people, sudden strangers who are at once accessible and beguiling. Though we cannot quite reach out and touch these strangers, they touch us, move us, break our hearts or heal them, and cause us to lurch into laughter and weeping. They make us know in ways we have never known before, and take us beyond human limits, beyond the borders of the mind.”

You can see the emotional quotient of the subject matter, with the talk of the readers’ engagement and being touched and broken-hearted, and you can also see the ways in which the sentence structure and vocabulary take it to a more formal mode of expression.

I actually found the more-academically-styled portions of Hinges, with their detailed analyses of specific paintings and excerpts from literary works, quite interesting; I had intended to read the book in 20-page sections, and more than once I read beyond that point in an analytical segment, because I was sincerely intrigued and challenged.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the more personal parts of the narrative and wished that there had been just a little more of that. Because imagination is personal, our engagement with art works and art forms is personal.

(There is a story about the author stealing plants, for instance, that I absolutely loved; a little more of that would have been much appreciated. Although I understand the risk of prosecution might just be too high. Heheh. And please don’t hold this against her until you know the details: said plants were sorely neglected and needed to be rescued. Or something. See Theft-ish-ness in that index.)

But if you are wearing your student hat while you’re reading this post, you might want to know that some of the works considered herein include: Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”, Fra Angelico’s “Christ in Limbo”, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Peter Paul Rubens’ “Orpheus and Eurydice with Hades and Persephone”, and Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

Each is considered in the context of a hinge, or an edge, or a border. Here is how the author explains her preoccupation with such objects, with such states, with such symbols.

“Edges delight me. Borders and thresholds – these are the terrifying places where I am most at home even while I find them puzzling, doubt-engendering, and loaded with possibilities of choice and danger of permanent exile. My favorite people inhabit the margins. Dawn and twilight make me shudder.”

I can easily relate to this. I went through a long period of snapping photographs of gates on county roads.

(You can see one of them below, which I scanned to accompany my current Thursday posts on Adam Gopnik’s Winter; see how one book/photo I’m reading manages to hinge into another, too.)

At first I thought that was odd, a monstrous coincidence, that this book would make its way to me, seemingly the ideal reader for it. Even though I hadn’t articulated my interest as surrounding the hinge specifically.

But then I thought back to book-ish and writer-ish, and I think it’s more likely than not that, if you’re checking the index for these subjects, you, too, are fascinated by something like this, something which represents a transition, a turning, an opening.

(What is your favourite kind of hinge? Do tell.)

Here is another: the hinge between sound and silence.

“Greek mystical texts, says Kingsley, explain that this hissing or piping sound, this sound of silence, is the sound of creation: the noise made by stars and planets as they coil and spin.”

And here is another:

“As a writer, I often feel that friction – between non-being and becoming – as an idea is coming into view. That feeling of being about to have a thought can be so intense that it might as well be shrieking, and often I make proclamations to my beloved not that I have just had a though, but that one is on the way.”

One more under Book-ish:

“Certainly our silent reading voice is, as [the poet Thomas] Lux says, based on who we are and what we have experienced and felt. But I think it is some sort of new mixed voice, not solely our own, and this coupled voice becomes the means for inhabiting someone else’s thoughts.”

And one more under Writer-ish:

“Only in writing it all down do I see how abducted I get: I spend so much time flickering on the edge of work but not quite in it, the demons of the world of matter and of light, the demons of the garden, and the demons of dinner are always struggling for possession.”

Uh oh, I just realized that each of these probably would appear under both Book-ish and Writer-ish because we do hinge there, don’t we.

But that’s okay. In fact, I think that’s more-than-okay. I think that’s what Grace Dane Mazur intends to do with her work; she wants you to think about hinges, hers and yours and mine.

And if you take up the challenge, you quite likely will find that your response will hinge on something else. I can’t help but pull out the Book-ish-ness and the Writer-ish-ness, but there’s just where I hinge with this work. Your portal could take you somewhere else entirely.

I whole-hinged-ly recommend this work.