06062013: “What do you see?”

06062013 - Pullman & Strayed

1 – Last night: Having stumbled from the too-bright salt mines, I carved a space for me on the bed littered with books and clothes, wrapped myself in a quilt, and slept fitfully but gratefully. This morning, the dregs of the migraine still lingering, I learned that my grandfather, the first man I ever truly loved—he with his weak heart and even faultier gallbladder, and his relentless enabling of a young bookworm me—would be staying in the hospital for a little while longer. He’d awakened with a different, stranger pain, and he’d found that his legs had swollen twice their size. I squinted against the glare of my mother’s message on the screen, and I unwrapped myself from that quilt.

2 – Today, through the ever-squint and the haze of over-the-counter medication, I finished reading two books. Two very different books, but both perfectly hurtled me back into the habit of reading—a momentum I do wish will hold. One’s the close of the His Dark Materials trilogy, which was nothing short of a revelation; the other’s Tiny Beautiful Things, the much-adored collection of Dear Sugar pieces. I chose the former (and the two books that preceded it) partly because I’ve become so used to kick-starting a reading life in hibernation, I’ve grown certain a big helping of plot and wonder is just what’s needed; partly because of some unshakeable notion that this there is no better time to read this books than now. And, comparatively more simply: I picked up and feverishly read the Dear Sugar collection because I needed to feel a little less out of sorts, a little less listless, a little less lonely—and not be condescended to. Both books just felt right, and they turned out much better than that. Hurrah, then, for me.

3 – There’s this scene in The Amber Spyglass where Mrs. Coulter confronts the Regent with everything that’s left in her, everything she has—with her life, with every vile thing she’d reveled in doing. She invites the most powerful of the Angels to simply look at her, and Mrs. Coulter braces herself and asks, “What do you see?”

“Corruption and envy and lust for power. Cruelty and coldness. A vicious, probing curiosity. Pure, poisonous, toxic malice. You have never from your earliest years shown a shred of compassion or sympathy or kindness without calculating how it would return to your advantage. You have tortured and killed without regret or hesitation; you have betrayed and intrigued and gloried in your treachery. You are a cesspit of moral filth.”

That voice, delivering that judgment, shook Mrs. Coulter profoundly. She knew it was coming, and she dreaded it; and yet she hoped for it, too, and now that it had been said, she felt a little gush of triumph.

4 – My hand has developed a cramp from copying whole chunks of Tiny Beautiful Things onto my reading journal. Things like: “This tortured, half-assed, overheated game of faux friendship footsie the two of you are playing simply won’t do.” Or, “In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best woman friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believer her.” Of course, there’s: “At night after I made love to this man I would lay beside him and cry because I knew that I loved him and that I couldn’t bear to stay with him because I wasn’t ready to love only one person yet and I knew that if I left him I would die of a broken heart and I would kill him of a broken heart too and it would be over for me when it came to love because there would never be another person who I’d love as much as I loved him or who loved me as much as he loved me or who was as sweet and sexy and cool and compassionate and good through and through. So I stayed.” And, yes: “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. And, dear one, you and I both were granted a mighty generous hand.

5 – I’m back in that Sasha-shaped space on my bed. There’s rent due, and I have no idea how to pay for it; this place direly needs good swabbing; I have run out of painkillers—imagine that—and the drugstore right beside my building has winked its last for the day; tomorrow, I’ve got to juggle the hospital and the bills and the work and the migraine and (hell) maybe even the insomnia, and all the other obligations one needs to fulfill in keeping with being a credible human being—but, sweet baby pandas, the most pressing thing right now and up until I finally get to close my oh-so-tired eyes: What the hell do I read next?

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7 comments

  1. Jennifer · · Reply

    When I saw on Twitter that you started on the His Dark Materials series, I almost squeed, haha. Isn’t it so good?? I read it, like, 10 years ago, but I still remember certain scenes and just the sheer excitement of being immersed in such a magical, dark world.

    Egads, 10 years ago. I think it’s time for a re-read.

    Also – I am sad over your rent situation. :(

  2. Give us some options! Something light and fun for the summer and to give you a good mood.

  3. Oh Sasha, your prose is so perfect, even in its misery. I have no recommendations for you – I loved Half Blood Blues, but not sure it’s the right book for your funk… and all I can bring myself to read at the moment is a mass of mindless thrillers which all merge into one but are ever so readable and highly entertaining in their commercial plot lines, predictable characters and obvious crimes.

  4. […] I’ve found things to read, since the last time I checked in. There was much floundering the day or so after the last Pullman and Dear Sugar—this floundering […]

  5. […] reading a couple of posts on Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar, I kind of want it. The book […]

  6. […] talk about: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which I’ve previously described as “nothing short of a revelation”—and I suspect that part of it is because I’m enjoying being submerged in someone’s […]

  7. […] got Wild very reluctantly because of the above, and half-afraid of undoing what wonder she instilled in me with Tiny, Beautiful Things. But Wild is by Cheryl Strayed—in many ways, Wild is how Strayed become […]

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