Summer reading thoughts

I have so many books on my reading list. I managed to read only a small part of it during the summer but some of the books I read were brilliant and really made me think – by that I mean they took me somewhere deep into my thoughts – and those are always the best ones. Oh yes I said “during the summer”. Our short northern summer is practically over. The boys are starting their schools this week and I can almost smell the autumn. Luckily I like autumn, I always look forward to it.

In the beginning of this summer I read Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement and absolutely loved the book. It tells a story of Jean-Michel Basquiat and his lover and muse Suzanne Mallouk and is an insight into 1980’s New York and the city art scene which seems to be an endlessly fascinating theme for me. The text is beautifully written and made me want to continue my reading longer, I didn’t want the book to end at all.

After that I read Susan Sontag: the complete Rolling Stone interview, an extended 2013 published version of the interview she gave to Jonathan Cott 1978 for Rolling Stone magazine. I had wanted to read this interview since I read an article about the publication and was glad to randomly bump into it in Paris during my last visit. I love reading Susan Sontag’s words and I love it how clear and structured her every sentence is, obviously easier for my English than poetic language but also something I generally enjoy. This interview is astonishing to read especially keeping in mind everything was said almost four decades ago. FOUR decades. That blows my mind.

The interview has many interesting topics related to reading, writing, photography, gender and our society in general but the question about motherhood being biological or cultural stopped me particularly because I could so well remember how surprising it was to become a mother for the first time and to suddenly realize we are all biological creatures. I felt I was an animal like any other animal.

I carried my baby, gave birth and took care of my little one like animals do. I hadn’t planned my way to be a parent but quickly realized it needs to be something very natural. All I wanted was to keep my son near me, his skin next to my skin and I carried him and nursed him and listened to his voice to know if he was happy or hungry (or something else) and reacted according to that. I went for a walk with him and saw a duck mother with her little ones and wanted to wave her like I would wave to another mum in the park because I so strongly felt we are as equal, two mothers who want to keep their children safe.

Then my first born – a very academic mind – started to learn incredible things. He wanted me to read him about history and human anatomy and DNA structure (he was four that time) and suddenly our life was not only about that moment and reacting some way. It was also about the past and understanding it. It was learning to know how we are built and why we as human beings do what we do and how the whole universe works.

My boys became teenagers and I was a mother bird all over again, my life was and still is carrying food to them. Feeding my boys when they are really hungry is still one of the most satisfying experiences I can have in my life. I always thought I would be overwhelmingly worried about them when they start to be grown up but it’s not like that all. I trust they can fly when it’s time to do that. This is not related to the interview of course, just something I thought when I read it. It’s an interesting piece and as I said, blows my mind to think everything there was said forty years ago.

I had Everything I don’t Remember (original title Allt jag inte minns) by Swedish Jonas Hassen Khemiri in Italy with me. This was the first book I read by this author and I didn’t know what to expect so when the book began – slowly and in quite a unique format – I thought the writer is building an incredible story but it was nothing like that at all.  The style is much more subtle and about big themes underneath. One of the main themes was our memories and how differently we all see and experience the world. How differently we remember or want to remember how things happened, how differently we choose what to remember at all.

What is the real truth if everyone has their own perception of the world and life? Are there many truths and all of them equally real? Or is there an absolute truth we can find and see if we search enough? I found the discussions the characters had about memories and remembering interesting because I often think about these issues and have challenges remembering everything well enough. Time is passing by and I can’t remember things as well as I’d like to. There seems always to be either too many details or not enough to remember.

Someone in the book tries a system where different clothes, scents and music are allocated to different months to separate and remember time periods better and to pay attention and this is actually something I’ve planned to do with my journaling (choosing for example books and music for every month). I generally build my timeline around music. My mind puts concerts and tours on my personal timeline and starts to add everyday things and world events around them. I pick special details from every concert so I can easily recognize them when I look the spots on the line. I didn’t see any concerts this summer and have a need to put books in time order instead to get the same effect (and it’s not totally same but it helps as well).

So what can we do to make people remember us? The first thought is to do something extraordinary but actually people will remember us better if their mind associates us with something totally everyday. That way they will think of us every day. This is so true. There are people I see only rarely but I think of them all the time because my mind connects them to so many things I do or see all the time. Everything I Don’t Remember is a weird book, it seems more interesting after reading than it was while reading and I can well understand why it’s so praised. Rare books stay in my mind like it does.

I found On Writing by Charles Bukowski also during my trip to Paris and because all I knew about Bukowski so far was his relationship with alcohol I bought also a book of his short stories. I’m reading these two books with time and not at one sitting because I feel his style takes time. I don’t enjoy his short stories, there’s too much realism in his texts for me but I will continue reading them and maybe even finish the book.

However, I really enjoy reading On Writing with Bukowski’s collected letters and correspondence. I read and I wonder if he really was that likable or if there’s irony I somehow miss. I like it how an opposite of a snob he seems, I like it how he appreciates honesty over formality and I like the humbleness. Bukowski wrote thousands of texts. Think how it is these days. People write one text, put it on the internet and hope they will be famous. The incredible thing is it can actually happen, times are so different.

I read a couple of mystery stories while traveling (I always, always have something like that for flights) but will add something simple living related in the end. I’ve never read Thoreau before, I’ve read only articles mentioning him, so I ordered the Finnish translation of Walden (Life in the Woods) from my local library. I guess I’ve avoided reading this book because I thought it’s so much about nature but it’s also much about freedom of course. Freedom people can have if not too busy focusing on having more. The copy I’m reading has a lot added references (to bible, literature and philosophy) and I need to check them often so my reading is slow but the book is naturally something to read for everyone interested in minimalism and simple living.

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