Plaques, memorial gatherings, tourist itineraries and pilgrimages – many practices in everyday culture are about pinning lives to a specific place. When someone famous lived or died near or in a place that is now a commercial establishment, the history of that famous person will be immediately taken up to attract more people. But in London, writer Francesca Wade found a square that accommodated not one but at least five famous lives, and it doesn’t appear like it’s been exploited for tourism. The catch is, these famous people were all women.
Wade’s phenomenal research, which apparently took three years, fleshes out the lives of five writers as much as it is possible, with many letters and diaries deliberately destroyed as these women tried to curate the way they will be remembered. The book (see The Guardian’s review here) was included in the list of compulsory literature for my non-fiction writing diploma course at Cambridge in order to show us an example of using research. Last week we were also offered an opportunity to meet Wade herself and ask questions.
I have never been so ‘grounded’ for 12 years or so – although travel options briefly reopened in summer, going to see my family and friends in Lithuania became overly complicated, and going on a holiday abroad felt irresponsible. So since March the furthest I’ve been from this rock is a smaller nearby rock that is Gozo. This left me jealously watching my friends’ Instagram feeds, full of mushrooms, trees, camping, greenery, trees, hiking, and did I mention trees? I am exploring a fuller palette of feelings, by extension. Longing is not something I normally feel, but the intense longing to see trees enjoying themselves in a natural environment, with birds, bees and maybe even small mammals, resulted in a personal essay published in this lovely book. For the first time, I’m a published writer.
Yet it is other people’s writing rather than my own that kept me company throughout these dull and challenging months. And I am still trying to make a point to read literature from countries I couldn’t visit. Unexpectedly, I found myself looking for Lithuanian literature to replace a missing visit to familiar cities.
When I thought of what I wanted to do this year and things were still normal, I decided that it’s time to visit Iceland. One of the options was to go with a photography group straight from Malta. One or another way, the pull of this magical island seemed irresistible. But as we know, travel has been disrupted around the world, and I prefer not to contribute to increasing avoidable risks just for pleasure. What about my old dream to visit Iceland? Well, Project Gutenberg came to the rescue.
Before the COVID19 pandemic hit, I had a nice plan to finally visit Jordan. It was on my bucket list for ages, and cheap flights from Malta would have enabled me to go there even on a short break. But life took a different turn – already in early March it started becoming clear that the trip will not happen. Instead, I took a literary trip to Jordan, having picked up Snow in Amman – a collection of short stories translated and edited by Ibtihal Mahmood and Alexander Haddad.
My Facebook feed is full of posts denouncing the suggestion made by decluttering guru Marie Kondo to keep no more than 30 books (example). How dare she, they write, attack the most noble of middle class obsessions – book hoarding? In the age of bite-sized online news, screaming headlines and kids who never let go of their tablets, aren’t books the last refuge? As an avid reader, I beg to differ. Continue reading