the value of words


About four years ago I made the stupid bold decision to not read a fiction book until I had written one. This would prove to be A) An incentive to actually sit down and write; not just look at celebrity gossip and chew my fingers and B).......fuck. Ok, this was actually an extremely poor call.

It has led to me missing out on many many great books, being completely out of touch with what is happening in the world of words and generally just a poorer person for it. And I haven’t written a book. Amazing.

I am loudly reminded of what a shitbag I am every time I skip through the main floor of Chapters and head to the magazines up the escalator, covering my ears as every title displayed there is foreign and screaming at me to “READ ME! READ ME, YOU WRITER!"

I was in a Value Village today killing time, and started looking at the used books section. Dozens of titles, slouched together on dusty shelves, all swimming in that familiar smell of old paper, creased corners and ripped jackets. Not gonna lie-first one I picked up? Jackie Collins. BUT, I did then let my eyes wash over and hold on a John Irving title and it hadn’t occurred to me until just then that just like a smell or a song, a book can take you right back to where you were when you first devoured those words and felt the story and all its details slot into place and warm around you.

In 1999, I sold my car, left my job at Chapters and went to meet a friend on a tiny island off the North East coast of Australia. I spent six months traveling that country and for a chubby loser wearing oversized clothes and no makeup, it was paradise.

One day in Sidney I was in a used bookstore in a basement with books falling over themselves to jump in your bag and be held firmly in one hand on Manly Beach while you ate the most delicious fries in the world over with the other. I saw some John Irving books and right then I decided I would make my way through as many of his books as I could on that trip.

The Hotel New Hampshire, sitting quietly on the shelf today, was gobbled up along with a box of Pamela’s cookies in a hostel back yard in Melbourne. I saw that title and I was back there. I felt the uncomfortable wood of the picnic bench under me, and the sun on my hands, and I was back there, not peeing, not moving, because I was so deep into that book I could not and did not want to come out of it.

I ran through at least six more of his books before my money ran out and I went home instead of actually using my working visa to work. Seeing that title on the shelf today made me more than think about reading again, it made me want to write. Solid proof that even in places that smell of old women and hotdogs, inspiration can sprout.