Passages of writing: Reading by Moonlight, Brenda Walker.



Book: Reading by Moonlight, Brenda Walker. This edition: Penguin 2010.

Why: This book is a celebration of reading, books and life. Moments in the book had me crying but it’s full of still moments that make you stop think, remember and celebrate life. It’s the details that count.

The part I had jotted down (when reading) was this:

Michael’s cats made themselves comfortable on the windowsills, and in the later afternoon the setting sun shone through the bright red veins in their ears.

But when I went back to read it just now I got a bit lost in it and decided to include more. It’s got all that you see in beautiful writing, scenery, lists of  objects and mouth-watering food, sadness ( the author is ill and states it from the get-go) philosophising on beauty and books, still moments of detail – cats ears and ocean views. It’s all there.

It was Michael, the philosopher at the end of my university corridor, who told me about Schopenhauer and the porcupines. When I was sick he often invited me to his apartment in the afternoon. It’s a wonderful place high above a beach, and, just like his office, is full of surprising objects. If you ever want a pigeon whistle, or the skin of a Russian wolf, or a bronze sea creature made in old Kyoto, or even the nest of a bird that has travelled through a sky you will never see, this is the place to go. Michael has plenty of American poetry and Freud; he offered good coffee or a martini.

I would sit and watch the sea. An armchair was pulled up close to the glass, from where I could look down into coral trees in which parrots squabbled and finally settled at twilight. Freighters anchored on the horizon. Or they moved too slowly to notice, until you glanced up from the coral trees and found they were in another place. Michael’s cats made themselves comfortable on the windowsills, and in the later afternoon the setting sun shone through the bright red veins in their ears. I would leave my shoes at the door and settle in the chair with my feet tucked up under my skirt like a child. Michael always seemed to have the makings of a delicious meal. Crumbed Fremantle sardines. Clams and pasta. Just a small bowl, the smallest possible glass bowl, of plain ice cream.

Once I bought him a bottle of champagne with a decorative twist of wire around its neck. This wasn’t the wire that secured the cork, it was positioned further down, like a necklace. ‘It has no function,’ I said. ‘It’s just beautiful.’

‘Beauty is function, ‘he said, and I thought about Anna Karenina in her ballgown. He was right.

As if to prove the point, he showed me a beautiful thing, a tiny red orchid. When I said it was the colour of the old cloth bindings on my collected works of Dickens, he asked, ‘does everything have to be about books?’

P166, Brenda Walker, Reading my Moonlight.

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