I had been wanting to read The Folded Clock ever since I listened to this interview with Heidi Julavits on The Lit Up Show podcast. I was drawn in by Julavits’ openness, her kind and friendly manner in the interview. I listened to the interview in the midst of summer in Berlin. The light was glowing and would linger long into the night. We were new to this adventure, this time away, and everything felt new and light. I spent months trying to find The Folded Clock in bookstores here, and in those same months I spent a lot of time trying to find myself. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true. I guess it’s why anyone decides to live away rather than just travel — for the space to find the new and for the space to reconcile it against the old. As the clock ticked over to us having been here for six months, I treated myself to an online order of books unattainable in Berlin. Books that ignored the fact that I still had books sitting by my bed that I bought in Edinburgh that I’d yet to read, but these new books seemed important somehow. And so The Folded Clock came into my life, and now I don’t want to let it go.
The Folded Clock is based on entries in Julavits’ diary. After finding her childhood diaries — riddled with entries based entirely on facts without ever alluding to the person she would one day become — Julavits was inspired to try once again to capture the everyday moments of her life. The resulting collection becomes a reflection on what it is to be a forty-something woman, a wife, a mother, a writer. We are granted access to her dreams and faults and jealousies, to her ambitions and friendships and family. Julavits does not hide from the reader, yet does not overburden or ever feel like she is sharing more of her life — or those who make it what it is — than is comfortable. It is poised, meditative and familiar.
What made this book feel so familiar was that three of the themes of the book seemed so timely to my own: friendship (both romantic and platonic), health and home. Reading The Folded Clock as 2015 draws to a close was such a cathartic experience — it felt like having a friend by my side, one who is unafraid to be emotional; flawed yet unrelentingly loyal. While I’ve been in Berlin I’ve acutely felt the distance between myself and my close friends at home in Australia. Maybe it’s because I’ve found it so hard to meet new people here, to make new friends and find people I connect with. Or maybe it’s that when I left Melbourne I was in a really good place in my life, a place where I had good people around me, people who I know I can call when I need help, or when I want to celebrate, or when I just want or need to be myself. Those people are hard to find, people you feel so completely yourself with. I’m scared that if I stay away too long that I’ll lose that connection. But I also know that the thing that makes them different, the thing that makes them such good friends, is that they will never forget either. So as I read this quote below, I imagined sharing it with a friend, laughing over Julavits’ experience and sharing our own, because it is written in a way that makes me think I’m sitting alongside Julavits and drinking wine on her deck in Maine and just being ourselves:
I enjoy a misogynist so long as they have a wicked sense of humour and know, on some level, that they’re pigs. This is why I enjoy Philip Roth but not Saul Bellow or James Salter. I recall a time in my mid midtwenties dating career when a suitor, typically around the third date, would give me a James Salter book. … They could hand me a Salter book — supposedly a “gift” — and say without saying, This is me. I might someday say stuff like “Women fall in love when they get to know you. Men are just the opposite. When they finally know you they’re ready to leave.” I appreciated the overture; it prompted me to be expedient in breaking off with these men. Salter helped me see so clearly the unendurable life these men and I would have together, not ever laughing about totally unfunny things.
There’s also a knowingness, a trust that Julavits gives her readers. An understanding of your difficulties by sharing her own. Though in The Folded Clock she does not give much detail of her recent illness as she has in essays or interviews, she alludes to it by seeing a friend coming out the other side of her own ill-health. This phrase, so powerful in it’s knowing, is pitch perfect: ’She’d lost her innocence. Health, she now understood, is the pause between afflictions.’
But it’s in Julavits’ description of her duel-personalities based on her duel-city living arrangements that I most connected with. Julavits and her family spend the summer in Maine, where she grew up, and the rest of the year in New York where she teaches. Some of the most poignant diary entries come when summer is drawing to a close and the number of days left in Maine recede.
I simply wanted to take the slow way to shore under the half-moon, because summer is almost over, and these are the quiet, twilight moments that, if properly collected and preserved, help me survive the New York winter. I start amassing these moments during the final weeks of August. I must salt supplies for storage. They must last me until I can return to this place I angled for years to leave.
One of the unexpected outcomes of living here in Berlin is that I’ve missed Adelaide more than I have in a long time living in Melbourne. As we were preparing to leave Melbourne, I remember feeling discombobulated by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go to Adelaide for twelve months. I realised perhaps that one of the reasons that Melbourne feels so much like home to me is that it’s so close to my real home. That in an hour I can fly back to my family, my friends, those beaches, those familiar streets, that glorious heat. Because despite the fact that most of my close friends now live in Melbourne, and my career is based there, and so much of my life feels connected to that city, I will always be from Adelaide. I hold it close, no matter how flawed I know it can be, because it will always be special for me. So when I read this paragraph by Julavits I knew she understood:
I sometimes think my sense that I must pay [for the full bill when having lunch with friends] comes from growing up in Maine. The five purely beautiful summer days per year are mortgaged hard against months and months of mud and ice and damp. The Maine weather instills in one’s psyche a seasonal rhythm of payment. Of the cost of joy coming due.
It’s a feeling that no matter where you live that you will always be of your place. Home is ingrained in us, not just in our memories but in everyday acts. Being from Adelaide means that I speak a certain way, it means that I always feel guilty about using water, that I value open space, I value quiet, I value family and friends. And while there’s a lot about these thoughts that are universal, it feels so tied to my place, my home, despite this. Because by leaving Adelaide it becomes a special place, it becomes romanticised. Julavits says: ‘In two days we return to New York where, when the weather is beautiful, I become frustrated. What to do with this weather in the city? There is no good use for it.’ I understand this entirely. Melbourne is where I am an adult, Adelaide is where I can still be a child.
I will always be a person with multiple personalities — there will always be parts of me in Berlin, parts of me in Melbourne, and parts of me in Adelaide, as there are still parts of me in London and the North Island of New Zealand. 2015 has in many ways been a year for reflection on what home means to me. And as the year draws to a close I realise now that my relationships with family and friends, and my relationship to my own health, will always impact and inform this too. Rarely do we have the privilege to read a book that lets us affirm who we are to ourselves. By sharing herself, Julavits’ The Folded Clock let me do this. And so just as I will always have a part of me in each city I’ve lived in, there will always be a part of me in The Folded Clock.
As we slide into 2016, I’ve been looking back on what I’ve read this year. It’s been a privilege to have found so many gems this year. While there has been a bunch of books that didn’t grab me, the ones that did have felt particularly special. As I said last week when I shared my reading stats, being able to find my voice reflected back at me on the page has meant a lot to me this year, one that has at times felt distant and lonely. So it’s no surprise to see that the books I’ve chosen as my favourites of 2015 were all books that grabbed me personally, that were emotive, that made me question myself and the world around me. So here they are below. In keeping with my friend Michael’s rules of including books published in 2015 and 2014 (because who on earth can keep up), here are my five favourite fiction and non-fiction books I read this year.
- Anchor Point. This book should also win the most underrated book of the year award. Why aren’t more people talking about this book?! I want to stand on the top of the Nicholas Building and throw copies at commuters as they come out of Flinders St station. Please read this book. It is perfect and deserves to be loved.
- Dept. of Speculation. I want to hug this book and never let go.
- Girl At War. This is a harrowing read in many respects, but hauntingly beautiful.
- Everything I Never Told You. A late contender, but a beautifully crafted family thriller.
- The First Bad Man. I read this back in March and haven’t stopped thinking about it.
- The Empathy Exams. This book blew me away, and changed the way I thought about not only my writing, but myself.
- The Folded Clock. What a privilege it is to step inside Heidi Julavits’ world. Vulnerable yet funny takes on her everyday that feel universal.
- Small Acts of Disappearance. Vulnerability has never felt so powerful.
- Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. I didn’t review this book, only because I just wanted to keep the memories of it close and not let go. Albertine lays everything out on the table and gives others strength in her setbacks. Hear the Edinburgh Book Festival interview that made me laugh out loud then rush to buy this book.
- The Argonauts. I’ve just finished this yesterday and I don’t know that I will write about it, but I know I’ll be thinking about it for months to come. Ben Lerner says of the book, and I completely agree, having watched it reappear and reappear on my Twitter feed: ‘I keep seeing people reading [it] on the train, and it makes me feel a bit better about the world.’
One of the things I find most difficult about coming up with these lists is letting go of all the books I am yet to read this year. So to make myself feel better I’m listing here the books that I am dying to read from this year, which will hopefully make for a stellar start to the new reading year. In fiction: Purity — Jonathan Franzen, Fates and Furies — Lauren Groff, The Divers’ Clothes Lie Empty — Vendela Vida, Signs Proceeding The End of the World — Yuri Herrera, The Story of My Teeth — Valeria Luiselli, The Small Backs of Children — Lidia Yuknavitch, A Manual For Cleaning Women — Lucia Berlin, Gold Fame Citrus — Claire Vaye Watkins. And in non-fiction: Between The World And Me — Te-Nehisi Coates, M Train — Patti Smith, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl — Carrie Brownstein, The Unspeakable — Meghan Daum. What have I missed? What were your favourite books of 2015?
This time of year is all about feasting. For Christmas this year my partner and I indulged in a meal fitting of the northern European climate: roasted duck legs with potatoes (with some brussels sprouts thrown in too), served with traditional German Rotkohl - braised red cabbage with apples. But what to do then with the inevitable leftovers? While that wasn’t much of a problem in our house, these Cheesy Leftover Mashed Potato Waffles would be a great way to use up any leftover mashed potatoes (and here’s a great looking vegan alternative too). Although this recipe isn’t perfect and I needed to add extra flour to ensure the mixture was thick enough, the result was delicious. You could add any number of herbs or extra vegetables to make these more like bubble and squeak, and they lend themselves to any number of toppings. For dinner I topped them with a fried egg, some buttered brussels sprouts and some extra herbs. But warmed up for lunch the next day, I wanted a bit of extra moisture which I felt was lacking the night before, so I freshened up the waffle with a boiled egg, some avocado and cucumber. These would be the perfect smug weekend brunch with friends, but make sure to cook extra and store them in the freezer, because one of these warmed up with an egg on top would be the perfect hangover cure to have on stand by. Just in time for New Year’s Eve perhaps?
Thank you for reading book-plate in 2015. It means so much to me to share my thoughts here and to have met so many wonderful people because of it. Wishing you all a safe, happy and healthy 2016, and a new year full of reading and eating.
One of my favourite essays of 2015 was by the author Claire Vaye Watkins. ‘On Pandering’ examines how Watkins realised her writing was affected by the white male voice. In response to the article, Marlon James (author of this year’s Man Booker Prize winning A Brief History of Seven Killings) highlighted the fact that writers of colour often feel the same pressure to write towards a white female voice. NPR subsequently held a discussion between the two authors about the impact the commercial forces in publishing have on all writers. While it doesn’t offer up any answers about who has the right to write about particular topics, or who authors should be writing for, it’s an interesting spark for debate.