At about 10 o'clock this morning, I turned the final page in Sarah Waters' The Night Watch. Helen, Kay, Julia, Viv, Duncan, and the rest of 1940s London, its bombed-out churches and ration books, all disappeared into thin air, just like that. I love the feeling of finishing a book, but the period that comes after that moment is perhaps the most tumultuous period of my life. Not only have I just lost the friends I had only seemingly just begun to make, but I now face the daunting task of choosing the next read. The possibilities are endless, but what do I feel like reading? I have plenty of books on my shelves at home that I have yet to read, and still I invariably end up at the bookstore, peeking into other covers to see what possibilities those little tomes might hold for me.
Today I went shopping at the farmer's market (honeycrisps! bartlett pears! concord grape juice! zucchini nut bread!), and couldn't resist a quick detour to the bookstore nearby. I had another 1940s London book in my bag, Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day, which I'd found lingering on the free shelf at work, but I couldn't stop myself from browsing the new releases. I'm glad I did, as I found two books I've been wanting to read: Mary Roach's Spook, a scientific look at what happens after we die and the possibility of the afterlife, and Susanna Clarke's new collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a sort of continuation of the world she introduced us to in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I also picked up a Cees Nooteboom remainder (Rituals) for $4, and giddily left the store.
So, which one will it be then? I'm still gazing wide-eyed at all of them. Even Ms. Bowen won't back down, Shirley Jackson always sticks her nose in with those delicious old paperbacks with pulp fiction covers, and I'm ashamed to say that The Devil Wears Prada has joined in the competition as the Fluff Wild Card. I picture these ladies duking it out (and here I must interject that this year has been a particularly great year for my reading female authors; normally I'm an Ernest/F. Scott/Victor/David/Leo/Rupert kind of gal), pages flapping wildly in the wind, hair mussed, pearls askew, and lipstick (red) smeared. It's a fantastic battle, but a hard one for me to watch. I pick them up and put them back down each dozens of times. It's literary schizophrenia.
Bowen will probably win out, with a bit of Roach on the side. My reasons for wanting to read Bowen are a bit shallow: she's one of the many authors I have yet to read on this list, and I'm afraid I'm a such a sucker for lists that involve counting*. I'm often in competition with myself when it comes to books - I must read 50 books this year! I must collect the entire works of Joan Didion! I must say something more embarrassing to David Mitchell each time he comes to New York! - what the prize is, I have yet to find out. Let's hope it's something fantastically un-bookish; the cats have started to follow me a little bit too closely, and I can hear the beck and call of the horn-rimmed glasses...
*My tally from the infamous 1001 list? A not-so-shabby 130.