Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Looking, hearing, learning...

As I promised there's a new trove of reading to recommend to you all.

First and,well, definitely first, is a small piece of fiction written by a young Canadian writer with a big future. Anthologized as the lead article in the current collection of Awkward Press, this collection being on the theme of brevity, is An Open Letter to Our Valued Clients, written by our own blogista and blogger in her own right, aside from being an up and coming fiction and fantasy writer, Heather Clitheroe!

Catch her at, too, but get your hands on this collection. There are twenty five pieces in it, but my money's on Heather, not that I'm biased toward my friends, of course....Heather has already earned residencies, prizes and awards and at the tender age of nemmind how young she is, it's young, has done public readings of her own work. Yes, I'm impressed, how could you tell?

Calming down a little, there's the new work from Oliver Sacks, another friend in fact, and this time it's The Mind's Eye, about visual concepts and memory and discoveries. Like a true researcher, this time this neurologist uses his own life-changing experience with cancer in the eye to explore and explain the visual world in terms only a neurologist could conceptualize and only a gifted and good humored writer could convey. Complex and not easy to read, but well worth pushing on, just because of the sheer beauty of his prose and the elegance of his rhythm and phrasing.

He learned quite a bit over the course of his research into vision and into his own brushes with serious loss of vision, and one of the endearing things about him is his capacity to admit that he was unaware of some things until he experienced them himself. One loss he suffered was that of binocular vision, which means his depth perception is gone.

So he sees two dimensionally all the time. And he is surprised to find that now he understands a lot more about two dimensional art design, because he begins to see how an artist sees and designs his subjects on the two dimensional surface. The difference being that the artist summons up this vision as needed. It's one of the challenges of teaching adults to draw, to let the eye show you what to do, and ignore the brain telling you the eye is wrong!

He talks about kinds of visual memory, too, and discusses the kind of eidetic, or "photographic" memory which some of us are blessed with. I remember lovingly one time back at the Uni when I was sitting on the steps outside the building in which I was to write one of the vital final exams based on which I either would or would not get a degree, the British system being quite brutal in this regard.

I was nervous and dropped an armful of notes and books on the steps and as I picked them up, I noticed two hitherto unrelated ideas in my notes, and that set me off on a wonderful new train of thought, which I hoped I could use on the exam. All essay, no such thing as multiple choice, you sank or swam on your own raft of knowledge.

All the papers and books had to be left outside the door, of course, no such thing as open book exams, either, and I nearly shrieked with joy when one of the three sink-or-swim exam questions gave me the chance to use this terrific brand new idea! which I read back in my head from the pages I'd dropped, just as if I had them present in my hands. Terrific outcome, too.

Of course that gift could play you a bad turn too, if you forgot to take notes or were just too lazy. Then during the exam I could visualize the blank page with only the heading on it, and hope desperately to recall what I ought to have putten if I'da remembered to putten it.

Sacks would understand this perfectly. In fact he is very consoling in that he comments casually on having observed and accepted phenomena that I'd been told were not possible, or were just an invention! not so. But to be validated even many years later is a wonderful gift.

And speaking of terrific prose, is The Great Silence, by Juliet Nicolson, about the years after WWI, and by anecdote and quotation from a huge range of English people, including some still living at the writing of the book, sharp and cheerful Londoners past 100, old memories still intact, she constructs a narrative you can't put down.

It's painful and difficult to read but illuminates the frantic partying amid the losses and hardship of the twenties and the grinding misery of the thirties. The writer is connected enough to read the diaries and letters of people we've only read about, and she's the daughter of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville West -- heck, she lives at Sissinghurst, avid gardeners will know that place.

But connections aside, she's simply a great narrative writer, and you understand so much you didn't before you read this book, even though I had heard a lot of the events and fashions and tragedies mentioned, but without this illumination.

Friends who are aware that today HP had what my old aunties would call "a nasty turn" will be happy to know that he's feeling much better, ate supper as normal, did his evening exercises and is sleeping peacefully even as I write. We'll live to fight another day, though I wondered for a few minutes there.

Chop wood, carry water!


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the anthology! It got a pretty great review from Blogcritics, and they said my story was a standout. Woo! :)

    Glad HP is feeling better than he was. Hope you are okay, too.

  2. Thanks for the book info - Heather's a first on my lists!

    I'm reading a book with a similar title, only quite different 'The Mind's I' - I think yours might be more interesting and certainly more value to living in my opinion.

    Glad things are better now. Good thoughts going your way.


Thanks so much for commenting. I read all comments with care and much pleasure!