I think Sarah Nicole Prickett and I developed a mutual appreciation of each other when we first discovered we both love Cathy from Wuthering Heights when we were interviewed on Aldrin’s site, The Iceberg (alas, this beautiful site is now no more). And really, it’s been a mutual love story of Cathy, feminism, writing and semi-colons from there. I think it’s safe to say that she’s really smart, and writes a hell of a lot. Sarah’s a Toronto-based writer who writes for the Globe & Mail, FASHION Magazine (Canada), BULLETT Magazine, The New Inquiry, Hazlitt, The Aesthete, The B-Insider, and more. She used to write for Eye Weekly, which became The Grid, and Dazed Digital, and in 2011 was an editor at the Toronto Standard, a Thought Catalog writer and a monthly columnist for the National Post. She’s also written for Dossier, Wallpaper and Style.com. Like I said, she writes a lot; and now she’s written for me. This is her great contribution to the My Favourite Book ‘series’ – thanks Sarah!
I can’t say what my favourite book is, let alone mean it, but I can tell you that two or three months ago I lent my copy of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis to a friend and since then I’ve missed it like I’d miss my own mother if I loved her. One day I bought a copy of Varieties of Disturbance, because I legitimately hated going to bed not having Lydia Davis at hand, but it didn’t feel nearly sufficient, because it’s not. To say that Lydia Davis is a master of the short story form is to be lazy. Lydia Davis is a seer. She’s a magician. In two paragraphs, less than a page, she can invent for you a new anxiety and provide the sense of a solution without ever once telling you what to do.
Sleeping with The Collected Stories makes me think this is how my parents must have felt about the Bible, or how their forebears felt about the Farmer’s Almanac. I doubt I’ve read every page, but I’ve read some passages or stories (some very short stories) a hundred times, and although I didn’t touch it for months, every week it’s not here I walk into my room looking for it before I remember.
But! I’m getting it back this weekend, he says. In the meantime here are some lines I know by heart.
I DO MEAN HEART:
Not only did his published name and works seem to belong to someone else, but he derived little joy from anything he wrote. Once he had done it, it was out of his hands: it lay in a no man’s land. It was neutral. It did not speak to him. He wanted to be proud of himself—that he had not done more, or better. He envied people who set out to write a book, wrote it, and were pleased with it, and when it was published read it through again with fresh pleasure and turned easily to their next project. He felt only a frightening emptiness ahead of him, a vacancy where there should have been plans, and all his work grew out of impulses.
Do you see what is done to us? Wassily, because this is from the short story Sketches for a Life of Wassily, is presented as a singular character, a character almost entirely composed of neuroses. Then he’s revealed to be exactly like us. You are singular, right? Is Lydia Davis clairvoyant? But no—you realize, almost too late, that so many of us are like this. It’s a perverse reassurance. You can’t sleep with it, but you can’t sleep without it, either.
Image credit: Martinique (1972) by André Kertész (when I read that passage Sarah remembered, this image immeditaley popped into my head).