I fall in love a lot and I mean A LOT! Not with women though there are plenty of reasons to, (insert deity) knows.
No, I fall in love a lot with books.
As an expatriate, an expat, no no, start again. As a part of the Australian diaspora (better) I feel a certain distance from my country and from the culture in which I grew up. And one way to reel in the world I knew, and trust me, Australia, like America, can live very much in a world of its own, is to read.
But what to read? How does a person choose what to read when living in Hong Kong, integrated as I chose to be from the start, into the local culture? Sadly, I have never been one to learn languages easily and to begin to learn, at a certain age, Cantonese, is a mountain far too steep to climb. Bugger the base camp, the foothills are challenge enough. So here I was on the flatland, immersed in Hong Kong culture, away from most of my ilk on the ‘shiny island to the South’, alone with my culture, though loving/hating as only a long-term resident can be the culture in which I find myself.
But what about the reading? Yes, yes, I’m getting to that. Here’s me trying to be eloquent and sprawling with lots of commas to manage the flow, and you just want me to get to the point. Alright, you win.
Sorry about that guy. He’s the grouchy one, he’s tucked away with some tea and Hobnobs. So, yes, on to point.
But what to read? Well, a point of contact with both books and my culture, and culture generally, is the podcast. Most of you of diasporas various will probably know what a podcast is. And for those who don’t it is a sort of downloadable, post-broadcast, radio show, that you can listen to on your portable device of choice.
Specifically, (Finally!, I hear you huff) I listen to Australia’s ABC Radio National (or RN in this age of shortcuts) and a show called Books and Arts Daily. And there are others. Books and Arts though is my first point of contact. As it says on the tin, it is a show that discusses books and arts. It is where I hear of interesting, and not always ‘blockbuster’ books. There are writer interviews and reviews. There is also a small section, from time to time, called Top Shelf in which a writer or artist or musician will list five pieces of writing, art, or music, that they particularly love.
OK, it’s not all there is, there are many more and not only from Australia. Something about living in a place like Hong Kong is that it is a place that lies in the middle of the world in a sense. I draw from all over the world, though I must admit to being English (language) centric. I can’t read texts in the original Farsi or Japanese or Icelandic so I rely on translation and hope that it’s a good one.
This ability to draw from such an enormous source of stories and knowledge is wonderful. And as I buy e-books almost exclusively now (our homes in Hong Kong tend towards the tiny) I now have a vast array to choose from that I never could in a bricks and mortar bookshop, gorgeously booky though they are.
The downside is with so much inspiration from so many sources, I buy far too many books. Why is that a downside? It’s an upside for authors, surely. That much is true. However, I find that my reading habits have changed. Never a fast reader, I prefer the luxuriant feast to the grab-a-bite snack, I always had a book on the nightstand and feasted until sleep dragged me into its arms. Now, I have an iPad with myriad books on it and I find that I dip in and out of different books at different times and seldom finish one in anything like a timely way. It disconnects you from that one delicious treat.
So, what to do with this lust? Be like the lothario who finds his one true love and settles down, always feeling the tug of temptation? Be Teutonic and disciplined and choose one, sticking rigidly until the end, only then moving on to the next?
That’s the thing with lust. It consumes. It pleases and tempts and promises. I can be faithful and honest and true with my partner, why not with a book? Because it’s not my partner, it’s a book. And the parade never ends. New ones come along all the time and, despite what the press may say about the internet ruining writing, the quality is outstanding, as outstanding as ever, but the volume is increasing. If choice was limited it would force choice. But it is not.
I have endless respect for those who can read quickly and still appreciate the words and ideas. Those who can read a book a week astound me. Alright, I have an excuse with ADHD, thoughts spin around in my mind and ideas for stories come thick and fast all the time, writer’s block does not exist for me – ever, but that peaceful time when you sit down with some tea or a whisky or whatever you may have; that is the dream and I envy it.
Lust, love, and a deep appreciation for the art we choose as writers to do, is a beautiful thing. It drives us. We are generous lovers. We nurture that which we love then send it out into the world to be loved by others. We are not jealous lovers. If tens or thousands or millions love what we have made with our love, we rejoice in it.
We, in turn, love what others have loved.
So, does it matter how we enjoy the love we feel? Whether it is a grand affair, one that consumes us for some time, or some sneaky slap and tickle under the stairs, over and over again. Does it matter really?
From flash fiction to the short story to the novel to the epic, sprawling series, it is all love, or at least lust.
I have no solution to this problem because, in the end, no problem exists.
I may agonise and complain but I am in love, constantly.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “If writing be the food of love, read on”.