There are few things as startling as encountering an unearthly glow in the wild.
Confession one: this book was a chore to read.
Confession two: for the past week I have been trying to read three books that were a chore to read. Why, I hear you ask?
Confession three: I made myself finish one, but I have decided to abandon the other two.
Sometimes a book does not work. It could be bad timing or mood or tiredness or other stuff going on in one’s life. Or sometimes a book is just not for you. No matter what other people say about it, or love about it or admire about it, it could be that, for you, none of those things matter.
Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark by Julia Baird was the other abandoned book.
It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to read just seven chapters plus a prelude.
Phosphorescence is almost beyond beautiful with it’s luminous, tactile hardcover design, but I found the insides a little too soft my liking. I wanted to like it. I thought it might be the kind of book that I would underline every second sentence and stop to savour wise words or sound advice. I was expecting wow and wonder but instead I kept feeling underwhelmed.
I would read one chapter and put it down for 2 months, then I’d try another one only to put it aside for another month. It was chapter six and nine months later, before I finally found an essay that resonated, The Activist’s Attic.
Recording, writing, collating, telling our life stories and archiving those stories is something dear to my heart. Anyone interested in the historical record knows that most of our history has been written, recorded and preserved by powerful white men. Minority voices and females stories have not been archived in anywhere near the numbers or with the same care. Baird doesn’t really have a solution for this, except to preserve her own documents of her activist past. The failures as well as the successes. And to encourage us to do the same.
Baird’s stated aim was to find ‘what makes people shine‘ and to explore the age-old concept we all grapple with at different times – ‘How do we make sense of this life we are living? Is there are purpose?’ Maybe I simply no longer need these kind of books like I once did. I’m in the happy place of having worked out a lot of that young adult angst (it took me long enough!) and the mid-life phases have left me fairly unscathed. When I get to a life and death moment, like Baird did, that may all change again. But for now, I do not need another book reminding me to live now, savour the moment, take notice of what’s around me, embrace doubt, be comfortable in my own skin and to cherish the ones I love, no matter how beautiful the cover.
Phosphorescence. Now that’s a word to lift your hat to … to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that’s the genius behind poetry …Emily Dickinson
- Winner, Non-Fiction Category, Indie Book Awards 2021
- Longlist, Stella Prize, 2021
Phosphorescence Poetry Reading:
- Researching the Dickinson quote led me to the Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst College, Massachusetts. They host a monthly Phosphorescence Poetry Reading event. I’ve signed up for the April one in the hope that the time difference works in my favour.
Book: Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark | Julia Baird ISBN: 9781460710890 Imprint: 4th Estate Publication Date: 23rd March 2020 Format: Hardback