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A nineteen year old with a camera in rural Norfolk. http://rosajoy.com

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Reading for Meaning

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that some books are life changing. Not life changing in that they suddenly mean everything around you becomes different; your entire life, and everyone and everything in it, changes. Perhaps, then, a better description would be thought changing. They make you see things differently, and accept things differently, and think about things differently. Some books open doors in your head you never knew existed. And some books open windows you’ve been bashing your head against for years. I was given a book like that in October 2007, and in November I stopped reading it.

The date would be far more foggy, except for that it coincided with my second NYCGB audition. I was in Cambridge, and, as soon as it was over, I walked across the road and bought my own copy of Aidan Chambers’ This is all. Back home, I swapped my bookmark from my teacher’s copy to my own, and put it on my bedside table. And didn’t open it again.

I knew it was important. I knew it was going to explain things which I was desperate to understand. But I also knew I wasn’t ready for it yet. Not that I didn’t follow it, not even that I didn’t understand it, but that I couldn’t comprehend it. The significance was tiny but distinct. I knew it would explain, in strange and beautiful detail, two things that I wasn’t then ready to realise. The first was writing, and the second was love.

This is all centres around the Pillow Books – a scrapbook of diaries, journals, accounts, poems, thoughts, musings – of a girl from 15 to 19. It’s fiction, but it’s one of those fictions which seem so real (or which you want to be so real?) that they don’t feel like a novel. Cordelia loves music, she loves writing, and she loves Will. She has flaws and she has endearments. And I wish so much that she were real, and that we could talk together.

That’s a testimony of Chambers’ writing. I remember marvelling at just how well he captured the thoughts of a fifteen-year-old girl – that he was spot on with how she feels, how she behaves. And she’s so insightful because of it. She’s a character, of course, and so she’s a fifteen-year-old with an adult mind behind her. So when she tries to explain how A poem should not mean, but be, my revelation comes too. The long and short of it is that I identify with her, mentally, sexually, emotionally, and that she provides a more educated approach – feeds me higher level ideas – than I can come up with myself. Her relationship with Will, with her friend Izumi, with her teacher and her clarinet and her pen and paper – these are relationships I too have, and yet she gives me insight into all of them in ways I’ve not seen before. Windows, and bashing your head.

This holiday, I put it in my suitcase without thinking. It seemed right, that I should read it now. Perhaps it’s because I’m more knowledgeable in my writing, more clued up to understand what she’s getting at. And, I have E. Who, incidentally, has read all 800 pages in three days. Click here.

I haven’t started it again, yet, but I will before we go home. I’m not like my boyfriend, I won’t read in that time – although, I think I probably could, considering how excited I am about it. I want to savour it, I guess. Chew it over, let it sleep, come back to it all. I’ll keep you posted.

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Update:
I’m not totally crazy for leaving a book unread for almost two years. These are comments from a teenage book prize’s judges, on their reasons why they didn’t award This is all in the 12-to-16-years category:

“We do not want to leave it unsaid that the aforementioned novel This is all by Aidan Chambers for us, too, is one of the most important and beautiful books of 2007. The high expectations with which each one of us started out reading it were fully met by the author. In fact, this in all respects spectacular novel about Cordelia Kenn's road to maturity impressed us so deeply that for some time we were unable to read another book. We would have loved to award the novel with the maximum prize […] if we had felt convinced that reading This is all does not require the deep understanding and reading skills that most readers between the ages of 12 and 16 lack […] Even those who claim that not everything in a book should be understood in order to learn from it will agree that sometimes readers may as yet not be experienced enough and had better wait for a while.”

Is it just me, or are they not simply talking about the lexis of the book, but also the content and the context? I think so. And the thing about being unable to read another book afterwards? Totally true.
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Reading for Meaning (II)

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