The Pleasure of Reading: Beginnings, Newness

[I’m rereading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. It’s a reminder of things I’d forgotten now that I do so much reading on my computer. From time to time I’ll post an excerpt here.]

You derive a special pleasure from a just-published book, and it isn’t only a book you are taking with you but its novelty as well, which could also be merely that of an object fresh from the factory, the youthful bloom of new books, which lasts until the dust jacket begins to yellow, until a veil of smog settles on the top edge, until the binding becomes dog-eared, in the rapid autumn of libraries. No, you hope always to encounter true newness, which, having been new once, will continue to be so. Having read the freshly published book, you will take possession of this newness at the first moment, without having to pursue it, to chase it. Will it happen this time? You never can tell. Let’s see how it begins.

Odd Saints: Joan Grant

When I was young lass, I read all the time, like many young lasses.  I still read, but when I was a kid, pre-teen, and teen, reading was an intense delight close to what it was like to drive for the first year with a driver’s license–it was the right to be alone.  You could be reading about Grecians, or planets, or sex, and nobody really had any clue what you were thinking about any of it.  It was glorious.  One of my favorite piles of books were by Joan Grant, who I  nominate as today’s odd saint.

She was a glamorous woman (look at that hair! Can’t you just see her pinning on a gardenia corsage before going down to dinner?), and her books were well-plotted historical dramas that usually had exquisite issues of morality at hand, with lovely arrangements of suspense and relief.  But that wasn’t the good part.   The good part was that she wrote the books from memory.  Past life memories.  She seems to have been a fairly high class lady, married to an Egyptologist.  She found herself spontaneously correcting his definitions of artifacts, and then realized that she knew about the stuff because she had lived it.  Then she also remembered her life and times in medieval Italy, pre-whitey America, and some Egyptian times.  She wrote it all down, and it was awesome (partly because it was so good and weird and interesting, with good costumes and a hint of sex).  She also wrote a series of children’s books based on tales that she says she was told as a child in her past lives.  According to her publisher’s bio, she also helped the war effort in Britain with her sensory powers (?). She seems like she was a real dame; definitely confident in what she was (in all her lives), and unapologetic if it disagreed with other’s perceptions.  She was also a bestseller in the 1940’s.  If she had shown up in the seventies I think I would find it all less charming, but her walking through living rooms with her velvet evening gown sweeping on the floor as she remembers what it was like to have to go to a convent in 1640! Oh! It’s too grand!