Summer’s reading

This summer of reading was not so much a summer (of sorts). It was a space of spaces—empty rooms and empty shelves in the packing and unpacking of our lives.

It was six weeks of hazy reading, of not quite paying attention as my mind seemed to be always elsewhere. Wherever elsewhere may be—in bills and accounts and paperwork’s progress. It was a summer that started in Cornwall and ended in Croatia, two conveniently alliterative places, with Cambridge in between (ha!).

Starting with the heatwave, we swam topless in the river and our lazed reading and crosswords were interspersed with an unsettling feeling of looming doom, thirty six in England? we asked, and the cool of the river’s green was lost as soon as we got on our bikes. It was our last river swim and late that night I traipsed down the stairs to E’s flat and held back the tears as she packed up to move away. She gave me a Granta, a Winterson, and an LRB folded to the page she knew I’d like—a page of Chew-Bose and Woolf and all the good ones. She left the next morning before I woke, and I cried as I read the note she left in my mail box.

And just like she did, I started to pack. Boxes and boxes of books, with over one hundred already culled. How does one accumulate so many words, the voices of so many just stacked atop one another? The wind whipped the day we moved and we wondered if we’d be able to afford it all. With no shelves, we stacked them all along the wall. Waiting, maybe.

I read Baby in one sticky afternoon. It made me homesick, and for a few days all I could do was trawl my saved folder on instagram—a folder of the blues and greens of home, a pixelated past time that’s not really real. I long for the lakes and the mountains, but home is really in Kōwhais and K’road and coffee shops and the salted streets of Tāmaki Makaurau. And then, then Ihumātao happened. And instagram was my only link to it. I cried and scrolled and raged but could do nothing about it on this side of the world. I read caption after caption after caption. I read The Pantograph Punch and RNZ and felt a simmering anger as others refused to educate themselves.

It got cold. I tracked the light in this new space, and I couldn’t focus. I read poetry between unpacking, because anything else was all just too much: Carson and Riley and Rankine and Nelson. I read Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche and thought fuck as I turned the pages ragged. I read Lost Children Archive and found it was the first book that made me feel like I could one day maybe (maybe) be a mother. I didn’t want to read anything after that. But I did, of course.

I finished The Old Drift in two days and wondered why I had left it so long.

On the last morning I had to myself I facetimed H and stared at her pixelated radiance and wondered how I’ve managed to keep such perfect a woman as a friend. I tried and tried to write something about her, but all I could do was say I want to see the world the way she does. But, also, I am so fucking glad I was extroverted enough to talk to her in that lonely lecture hall. Eight years later we stay in touch by pawing at our screens, assisted by instagram’s instant reactions and DMs to the documentation of our daily lives. If the internet is good for one thing, I’m glad it’s this (I remember once (I’ve never told her this) seeing her from afar as she crossed the street, a vision in silk and sneakers. Holy shit, I’m friends with that girl, I thought, but the lights changed before I could get to her).

Then mum and dad came; we cycled and ate and napped and I lightened their luggage as they unpacked the words of Aotearoa—Ransack, Wild Honey, The Facts, Lay Studies, and Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick. The stack of books was the same size as the stack of Whittaker’s (because, priorities). We then packed our bags and flew to Croatia, stepped aboard a yacht and were at sea for a week. We saw dolphins and I yelled SO BLUE over and over again. I read Attraction, Saltwater, Faces in the Crowd, A Woman looking at Men looking at Womenand The Waves. We ate peaches and melons and pears and lazed in the sun as the salt dried on my browning skin. I dove underwater and held my breath and marvelled at how I managed to do that.

It was strange learning how to be an adult daughter for the first time. I cried when I got home and thought about how long it’d be before I’d see them again.

I’m still thinking about Attraction and its pulsing fragments—the lynchpin of summer’s hyperawareness of ownership and belonging and the stolen space so many of us take up in this fucked up world. Those waves will carry me into autumn—E will come back (for a bit), and I’ve started work again. The afternoon’s sun brings students in—hi miss, I miss you teaching me this year—for four years now I’ve seen them grow into themselves and they are out of this world: persisting and protesting and needing me to teach them how to be. I give them books and they ask me how my summer was—good, I say, but it’s good to be back.


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