So when an unpublished book by your favourite writer ever is discovered and published, you’re kind of excited, right? When I finally got my hands on a copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s The Theoretical Foot, I was almost shaking with anticipation. And then…
There’s a reason why Fisher’s novel was never published in her lifetime, A few in fact. First was that she based all the characters on real people (it’s quite close to being autobiographical), and people featured in the book found it to be mean-spirited and harsh. Second was that, sadly, it’s just not very good.
Remember those essays? The first day back to school, the teacher was still setting up the year’s curriculum, ordering books, etc., and so you’d get handed a piece of loose leaf and a fresh new pencil and directed to start off the school year with the child’s worst enemy – the familiar essay.
We lived in the poor part of town. Nobody I knew came back on that first day of school with stories about Disneyland, or Europe. Camping maybe, but it was never one of those fancy camps where you learned French or how to play the oboe. It would have been a week at Grandpa’s fishing lodge (shack) getting eaten alive by black flies and leeches.
The rest of us spent the days at home, or at a grandparent’s or babysitter’s house if our parents worked. There would be trips to the lake (aka. a mile long forced march in the hot sun), or the beach (for this you definitely hoped for a drive, otherwise it was a 2-mile forced march in the hot sun, up a huge, steep hill to get home), but usually it was a “make your own fun” kind of summer where you spent the days in the woods, at the playground, in a wading pool in the backyard, or lolling around watching “stories” with Grandma in the cool of the living room with the blinds down.
It’s a sad fact that most of the reading I do nowadays is work-related. 200+ news articles a day to sort through for Save Your Fork and TasteTO, books to review, articles to edit. And even my “just for fun” stack of reading tends towards food theory.
Before the holidays I combed the book guides in the newspapers and spent an afternoon on the Toronto Public Library website requesting books, a number of which were novels. Three of them finally became available last week and I bemoaned my misfortune and lack of foresight in not making some of them inactive (TPL lets you stay in the queue for popular books but accept them only when you’re ready). How was I going to get through all of these in the three weeks I was allowed to have them checked out?
Of course, I forgot how fast I can read fiction. I forgot what’s it’s like to get my nose in a book. I forgot that when I’m in the middle of a story, nothing else matters and nothing else registers. Being pulled from that story, whether by interruption or necessity is physically, agonizingly painful. Like being awakened in the middle of a sound sleep and dragged out of bed. My facial expression during the 24 hours it took me to read The Book of Negroes was almost permanently at a scowl unless I was actually reading. If I wasn’t in the book, I was thinking about how I could get back to it, or how perturbed I was at having to set it down.