Guest Post by Sam van Zweden
I read once about a philosophical theory that says that everything we accumulate or achieve is assimilated into our everyday lives, and we naturally re-assess and raise the bar so that we want more, to conquer higher heights. This is something like how I approach the world of books and literature.
The aim is total immersion – but the idea of ‘immersion’ is tricky. When talking about physical items it’s not so bad, but the immersion I’m aiming for is of lifestyle, of head-space, of soul. This makes it hard for me to tell you if I’m fully immersed or not. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps I’m already immersed. Or perhaps it’s one of my many works in progress.
What might total immersion look like? An extra book shelf? A completed novel? Words, more words! My own publishing house. The whole of Harold Bloom’s Western cannon under my belt. By 2015, I hope to be a book. By 2027, I will be a lexicon.
It has been a gradual process. As a kid, I inhaled books. They offered refuge from an awkward childhood, and provided an idyllic script for the perfect life. Later I was content to read a cult classic here and there, following that up with a few weeks with the spirit of Dean Moriarty in me, all spontaneity and jazz, or getting my Holden Caulfield on, hating on the phonies. This was fun, but the insight I gained from reading was just too great to let the thing be. I needed to up the pace. My occasional journal-scribbling became more urgent; an impulse to chronicle everything lest I forget. I absorbed words and I put out words. There was also a lot of really bad poetry.
Flash forward, and I’m now studying creative writing, the proud writer of a literature blog, completing an internship with a writers’ festival, and have recently gained employment at a book store. In this job I have found my calling: I am exposed to books all day long. I am asked for my recommendations. (‘Hello, I like reading books’ / ‘Oh? Me too! Please, allow me to help you discover something you might like to read’ / ‘Yes, please do! During our discussion I’ll probably recommend something to you, too. Or else we can chat about something we have both read and enjoyed.’ And this will not be time-wasting, it will be you excelling at your job). Even the ‘boring’ work is sickly satisfying: categorising and alphabetising books. Making room for new releases. Then there’s the challenge of tracking down a book described only as having ‘a red cover and an author whose name starts with an S…’ (Or, more commonly, ‘That really big book about the guy’ – nine times out of ten, it’s Shantaram.)
There are two options for a writer’s bread-winning job (as opposed to the profitless act of writing): a job that involves books and writing, or one that doesn’t. Some writers prefer a job that has nothing to do with books, to make their writing time more focused. I’ve heard editors talk about not wanting to write when they get home due to wordy-overload. I can see the sense in their argument. As I write this I have come home from an eight-and-a-half-hour book-selling day and put myself down at my writing desk with coffee and lamingtons for a few hours’ compulsory writing before my working day is properly over. It’s a damn long day. But is it too much?
No, for me this is immersion.
This book-selling job does little to stem to flow of physical books into my life. When I moved into my apartment three years ago, I had one book-shelf. I have since gained two more, plus a wide mantelpiece, and despite what should be plenty of room, there are still piles of books spilling off my bedside table and onto the bedroom floor, and creating fortress walls around the perimeter of my writing desk. I recently considered moving my larger bookcase into the centre of the room in an effort to create more space – doubling the shelving by accessing it from behind. I wonder whether, if I were accumulating anything that wasn’t books, I might be considered a hoarder, rather than ‘literary’ or ‘well-read.’ A crazy cat lady isn’t ‘well-felined’; she’s just a crazy cat lady. Am I the crazy books lady?
Whether I am or not, I yearn to know books and writing from the inside. I don’t want to watch from the sidelines and passively consume, or be left behind for lack of effort. I want to live it; to dive into literature like it’s an ocean. An ocean which could, happily, swallow me whole. I know right now that I’m in the water, but I can’t say if it’s the ocean itself, or just a river that leads to the sea.
Sam van Zweden is a Creative Writing student, reviewer, and freelance writer from Melbourne. She blogs at Little Girl With a Big Pen.