If I’m permitted one act I can save

Oops. Got a bit distracted there for a couple of weeks. It was probably inevitable (for me) that a grand statement of intent would be followed more or less immediately by total lack of follow-through. However, in that time I paid my taxes, did my bit for the 2016 census, and finally put my application for BC health coverage in the mail and thus basically feel like I accomplished a lifetime’s worth of adulting. All the forms!

Doing my taxes meant reviewing where all the money went and down that rabbithole I discovered that as of May 4th I have been back in BC for a year. This also means most of my books (and some assorted other flotsam) have now been lurking in a dark storage unit in Bayer’s Lake, NS, for an entire year. That guilty thought and then an essay I read recently by champion reader and book-book author Michael Dirda, “The Guest Room Library,” got me thinking about what my own guest-room shelf* would contain, come that glorious day when I scrape together the postage to ship those 500-odd pounds cross country.

Thinking about the books I most often recommend to people I realized that there is definitely a common thread, though it took me a few tries to pin it down. If pressed I think I would have to categorize it as a sort of “seize the moment but let’s please not read too much into this”-ness. What tends to happen when I recommend my favourite pick-me-ups, though, is that I say, “This is hilarious, read it now, it will snap you out of whatever you’re in,” and then the person comes back and says, “But she DIES at the end!” or “How could a parent DO THAT?” So yes, I guess a certain fuckyouitiveness governs my guest room shelf. Here’s a starter kit:

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This book snapped me out of a dark gloom last winter.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. This one did the job this past winter. (Apparently the complete absence of winter weather was not quite enough to prevent the winter blahs. I stand corrected). Both it and the Semple novel feature AWOL parents, so if that strikes you as decidedly unfunny I guess take a pass.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. A family favourite.

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant. “I would not say no to a tortoise.” (I would also not say no to intel on when Jessica Grant is publishing a new book. Where’d you go, Jessica?)

Rare Birds by Edward Riche. Birding, the tourism industry, diving gear, go.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Wolfhounds, emerald rings, spontaneous/immaculate gender-reassignment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Because Thursdays are a bitch.

Unfortunately the words that first come to mind to describe this preference are ones I find grating: zany, madcap? Both feel safe, a bit sanitized, and don’t account for the measure of bleakness I apparently feel compelled to push on people. Absurd I like more, particularly for its connection to existentialism which I am always just a few short minutes away from buckling down and studying properly but mostly just toss into conversation and then run. I would say it’s fiction that’s about grand gestures that might not mean anything at all, approaching life as a lilypad-to-lilypad business rather than sitting still long enough to make a plan. Not so much lack of responsibility but lack of interest in investing additional layers of meaning – a letting be.

And to continue the soundtrack vein, I’ve been revisiting the Weakerthans this week. Remember the Weakerthans? They get it. If there were such a thing as an absurdist love song, “Manifest” might be it:

*Utterly fictional. I have no guest room and am known to be a really disappointing host.


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