Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Michele Filgate

By posted at 11:00 am on December 16, 2014 4

It’s no surprise that I’m drawn to books about loneliness and solitude.  I did write an essay for The Rumpus, after all, about being a melancholic person. This year was no exception. There are certain novels, essays, or poems that have made me realize this utmost truth: I am not alone in my loneliness. So many people are just trying to be heard and seen, and so much of great literature is centered around this strange and vast world we live in where we often need help finding ourselves. I look for books in which I can relate to the longings of others; a fictional or nonfictional universe that the writer creates where the beauty of existence is in our ability to articulate it in all of its complexities.

coverCatherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing offered a particularly powerful reading experience. Lacey writes about a woman named Elyria who leaves her New York City life behind (including her husband) in order to go to New Zealand. She has no concrete plans, really, and the uncertainty that follows her from her home country to a foreign one becomes a way in which to explore the anxiety of the human condition. Who are we, really, if not foreigners in our own bodies — trying to become some version of our selves that we can understand?

We’re all twins and clones and remakes of each other; we’re all pairs unpaired; we’re all speaking the same repeated syllable at each other and why is it that I have to go running off into a twinless solitude? What is inside this solitude but me, saying the same syllable to myself over and over and over, trying to make sense of it, trying to rearrange it.

I read this book in July, right after moving in with my boyfriend. Something held me back from leaving my windowless bedroom I had lived in for 2.5 years (we called it “the book cave”) — and yes, it was mostly the vast quantity of books. For the longest time, literature has been my identity. Who am I without other peoples words? I was existing in my “twinless solitude,” telling myself again and again that I was nothing without my personal library. I was building a fortress of books; shielding myself from the outside world. It wasn’t until my boyfriend gently reminded me (for the seventh or eighth time) that I couldn’t fit all of my books into our shared apartment that I decided it was time to winnow down the collection from 3,000 to a more reasonable number: 1,000. It wasn’t easy, at first, to select which ones would go in the giveaway pile. How could I possibly part with books I hadn’t even read yet? Maybe those would hold the answer to questions I didn’t even know I had. But as I pulled a couple of books off of the overflowing shelves, it became easier. I was freeing myself up, “rearranging” myself, making room for the books I really wanted to read.

I thought, foolishly enough, that my stubbornness and my willingness to self-identify over and over again as the kind of person who would hoard as many books as possible meant that I was special and even charming in some semi-romantic way. I questioned who I was without 1,500 unread books in my home. Who would I be without being myself?

But I am still myself, uncertainties and all. I’ve accumulated more books, and given away others. I read and I write notes in the margins and I know I’ll always be the type of person to interact with text like I’m having a conversation with it. But I don’t know where those conversations will always lead me.

Elyria is a patron saint of uncertainty; a woman who rips herself out of the straight form of her life and analyzes the zigzag shapes of identity around her and inside her. Reading this book right after reassessing my life and the things I had accumulated reminded me of why I spend most of my waking life reading or thinking about words. I like sentences that attempt to “make sense of it;” prose that exposes our deceptively solitary hearts as something more universal.

coverAnother book worth checking out: Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey — a dark and atmospheric examination of female friendship, betrayal, and love. There are even Proustian moments in the book:

There is freedom there; there is always freedom in the past. The self you left behind lives in endless possibility. The older you get, the bigger and wilder the past becomes, a place that can never again be tended and which is therefore prone to that loveliness that happens on wastelands and wildernesses, where grass has grown over scrap metal and wheat has sprung up in cracks between concrete and there is no regular shape for the light to fall flat on, so it vaults and multiplies and you want to go there. You want to go there like you want to go to a lover.

More from A Year in Reading 2014

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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4 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Michele Filgate”

  1. Janelle
    at 1:37 pm on December 16, 2014

    This is a very honest piece that I appreciate. Imagine having 1,500 unread books! The idea both enthralls and overwhelms me all at the same time. You are so right that you are not alone in your quest of loneliness. I have cried out so many times this month, I just want someone to hear me! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Alison
    at 2:49 pm on December 16, 2014

    Thank you for this vulnerable and well-written essay. I really enjoyed it, and much of what you wrote resonates with me. I am very much drawn to books about loneliness as well, and so often find that I relate to characters in literature. I also have a large personal library and wonder who I would be without this library despite the fact that many of my books remain unread!

  3. Sharon Rose
    at 3:00 pm on December 16, 2014

    I gotta say it, but Nobody is Ever Missing was one of my least favorite books I read this year. Something for everyone I guess!

  4. C B
    at 12:40 am on November 20, 2015

    Late to the party (I’m always trying to catch up on the last ‘Year in Reading’ before the new year is posted), but all of this is so true! A fortress of books is to remain in solitude, but at the same time, a way to connect to other minds and relate to other writers and characters without actually connecting with them in person. Alone but not alone. And I might have more than 1,500 unread books around here, so I definitely am the same way. The 1,500 is sometimes overwhelming (and tough to make decide what to read)…. but so many words to look forward to!

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