With Door, Waldman was inspired by a real-life court case in the United States, in which a man was charged with terrorism-related offenses some years ago and, this past summer, those charges were vacated by the same judge. At least one character in the novel has experiences which result in a complete turn-about of their understanding and readers have a front-row seat to the change and development, of both character and story.
The book sent me scurrying to research topics that I didn’t even know could be so interesting (Waldman herself has a long-standing interest in the Middle East and Western Asia, having reported on the region for The New York Times for many years) and truly left me with a different perspective. All while being wholly entertained and engaged, so I didn’t even realize how much I was thinking and learning.
“To be female here was to grasp at scraps of information and sew them into the shape you imagined reality to be. Into fictions, patterned on distortions and inventions.”
Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (1995)
This novel has been on my shelf since I read, and loved, her coming-of-age story, Power (1998). In the intervening years, I’ve often wondered whether I would find Power such an affecting story now: having spent so much time with Solar Storms over the past reading year, I have no doubt. There is something about Hogan’s way of seeing that makes me want to spend more time with her words. Not just to see them on the page, but to allow the way that she frames a narrative to affect the way that I see the world.
There are many remarkable women in this novel. Readers who have appreciated that energy in Toni Morrison’s and Louise Erdrich’s novels will want to add Linda Hogan to their reading list too. How we greet challenging times, how we nourish and negotiate significant relationships, how we act in the face of fear: there is much in this story that is relevant, so much more than could be relayed by a plot description. Anyway, Hogan’s writing is not so much about what happens as it is about unearthing meaning.
For months I carried this book with me, partly to read, partly for company. Often reading only a page or two in a sitting. Sometimes it felt as though it took me the same amount of time to read those two pages as it took to read an entire book by another author. Often I found myself stopping at a paragraph, retreading the same narrative path repeatedly: I would hover over that passage with a sticky note but ultimately would decide against marking it. It was so beautiful in the story that I didn’t want to isolate it by typing it into a file: I wanted to know that it existed in the book, there for me to discover it again, another time. Sometimes, though, I did flag a passage – like this one:
“Decisions are made in a person’s life by small moments of knowing, each moment opening until, like pieces of a quilt, one day everything comes together in a precise, clear knowing. It enters the present, as if it had come all of a piece. It was in this way that I began to understand who I was. Every piece of myself was together anew, a shifted pattern.”
Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx (1989)
This reading experience stands out for different reasons, not so much for the story itself, but for the way of relating to it. This is a book which I’ve had on my shelves for a couple of decades unread. That’s not unusual: what’s unusual is how many times I’ve begun to read it. On two of those occasions I read more than a couple hundred pages (once almost five hundred) before I lost track of the story and set it aside (never consciously, but time passed and other books claimed that reading time).
In every instance of my stalling, I had been enjoying the story. Which feels a little like Bleak House meets Great Expectations on the Dickens side of things and The Woman in White meets Armadale on the Collins side. Neither author is a special favourite of mine, but the intrigue and lush wordiness of Palliser’s narrative appealed all the same. Until it didn’t. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, until other narratives appealed more. Because I never really stopped enjoying it. I just stopped reading it.
This year I didn’t read it any differently. It’s an oversized and extraordinarily heavy paperback. Once it occupied a long bookcase which ran beneath a window and a rainstorm permanently marked one portion of the binding which protruded from the shelf below, the warp prominent enough that you can’t help but trace the ripples with your fingertip. It’s such an awkward volume that I never even carried it outside in finer weather, not even to sit on the porch and read, not even to a bench in the park next door.
Nevertheless, this year I simply kept reading. And although I still don’t properly understand the details of the plot (a complex inheritance, with countless betrayals), I was content to read to the end and I was reminded that it is possible to finish reading a book that once seemed impossible to finish. Simply by reading every day. I was reminded that reading, the act of reading, itself, can be a pattern which gives meaning. That showing up in your chair can battle confusion.
“That was the idea to hold onto. Only justice gave the world back a pattern and therefore a meaning, for without it there was nothing but incoherence and confusion.”