The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - KATH­LEEN NOO­NAN noo­nanslast­word@gmail.com

What’s whis­per­ing fiercely in your ear? Af­ter a dry old time, a read­ing famine of sorts, I’ve been lux­u­ri­at­ing in lit­er­a­ture, rolling in good words like a farm dog in cow shit. (A sen­tence that, ad­mit­tedly, started well but went de­cid­edly ru­ral in tone.)

And yet, have you ever seen a farm dog roll in warm ma­nure or, for that mat­ter, an ur­ban dog roll in long-dead pos­sum? They are ec­static, pleased with them­selves in every way imag­in­able. This scent rolling, sci­en­tists say, is learnt from an­cient wolves bringing new in­for­ma­tion back to the pack to in­ves­ti­gate. It’s a civic duty. Af­ter sev­eral weeks of un­sat­is­fac­tory read­ing, of aban­don­ing books through bore­dom, I hit a princely pur­ple patch to roll in.

In March, Dan, a ge­ol­o­gist who loves The Cure, sends a fat par­cel, A Lit­tle Life (Pan Macmil­lan Aus­tralia), an 800-page thing, Hanya Yanag­i­hara’s quite ex­traor­di­nary novel.

Ev­ery­one has an opin­ion – too sad, too bleak, too much, a book with­out chil­dren and too few women. Don’t lis­ten. It is heart­break­ing in parts, yes. Dark and chal­leng­ing at times. But there are il­lu­mi­nat­ing truths about am­bi­tion, love, fame and be­long­ing. Some ad­vice on friend­ship that’s worth bot­tling: “The only trick of friend­ship, I think, is to find peo­ple who are bet­ter than you are – not smarter, not cooler, but kin­der, and more gen­er­ous and more for­giv­ing – and then to ap­pre­ci­ate them for what they can teach you, and to try to lis­ten to them when they tell you some­thing about your­self, no mat­ter how bad – or good – it might be, and to trust them, which is the hard­est thing of all. But the best, as well.”

See how this fierce whis­per­ing works? Good read­ing can en­rich an in­ner di­a­logue for us, pro­vides nuggets for later, strange de­tails lodge in the brain like shrap­nel to pro­vide gritty in­sights for an­other day. Weeks, months later, they ex­plode with sud­den mean­ing – Ah!

Re­cent re­leases have no mo­nop­oly on wis­dom. Af­ter Yanag­i­hara’s fizzing mod­ern-day New York, the pur­ple patch con­tin­ues with Of Hu­man Bondage, W. Som­er­set Maugham’s 100-year-old clas­sic, with young Phillip Carey, doomed with poverty, club foot, no par­ents, and his long­ing for con­nec­tion and free­dom. The wolf is never far from the flimsy door.

“You will hear peo­ple say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It ex­poses you to end­less hu­mil­i­a­tion, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a can­cer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to pre­serve one’s dig­nity, to work un­ham­pered, to be gen­er­ous, frank, and in­de­pen­dent.’’

Maugham is of­ten bang on the money. When I catch my­self be­ing ridicu­lously pig-headed, a warn­ing tolls: “Like all weak men, he laid an ex­ag­ger­ated stress on not chang­ing one’s mind.’’ For a strange slug of yin and yang, I al­ter­nate the taut-as-wire The Whites crime thriller from Richard Price (writ­ing as Harry Brandt) – full of haunted cops, lips­mack­ing di­a­logue and good­ish peo­ple racing rot­ten pasts – with a po­etry col­lec­tion, Po­ems That Make Grown Women Cry (Simon and Schus­ter), edited by An­thony and Ben Holden.

I’ll ad­mit to much scep­ti­cism. Who the hell are two men to tell us what makes us cry? But it is the “fe­male’’ se­quel to Po­ems That Make Grown Men Cry, a sur­prise best­selling an­thol­ogy Holden put to­gether with his son. Hmm. Then, sit­ting in the car, it opens at a ran­dom page and there’s He­lena Kennedy, au­thor, broad­caster, who has cho­sen Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes:

“When’s it’s over, I don’t want to won­der/ If I have made of my life some­thing par­tic­u­lar, and real./ I don’t want to find my­self sigh­ing and fright­ened,/ Or full of ar­gu­ment./ I don’t want to end up sim­ply hav­ing vis­ited this world.’’

Good read­ing can en­rich an in­ner di­a­logue for us, pro­vides nuggets for later, strange de­tails lodge in the brain like shrap­nel to pro­vide gritty in­sights for an­other day

Hu­man rights cam­paigner Sunny Ja­cobs se­lects the stun­ning Home by Warsan Shire – “No one leaves home un­less/home is the mouth of a shark’’.

And later … “You have to un­der­stand,/ that no one puts their chil­dren in a boat/ un­less the wa­ter is safer than the land.’’

These di­rect tap­roots into the arte­sian hearts of the women in­clude Joan Baez, Erica Jong, Yoko Ono, Vanessa Red­grave, Sarah Wa­ters and An­nie Len­nox. It now sits by the bed be­cause some days be­fore sleep, a few lines of the bare-bones in­ten­sity of po­etry give the thought-foxes in the head some­thing juicy to slow them down. Chuck ’em a bone.

Tonight, a nib­bled moon stalks me on the walk to the car af­ter a lit­er­ary event,

with a bag­ful of new books, in­clud­ing The High Places by Fiona McFar­lane (Hamish/ Hamil­ton) and Bar­bar­ian Days: A Surf­ing Life ( Cor­sair) by Wil­liam Fin­negan. Luke, a man of 30 with the tooth­brush hair of a boy of seven, rec­om­mended the later with a taut email: “You. Must. Read.’’

OK, OK. I stop at the car, breathe deep, happy with an­tic­i­pa­tion of what’s in the brown pa­per bag. Is this how an ad­dict feels hav­ing scored, itch­ing to pause real life, to climb onto the magic car­pet? We all have our crutches.

A Lit­tle Life again: “They all – Mal­colm with his houses, Willem with his girl­friends, JB with his paints, he with his ra­zors – sought com­fort, some­thing that was theirs alone, some­thing to hold off the ter­ri­fy­ing large­ness, the im­pos­si­bil­ity, of the world, of the re­lent­less­ness of its min­utes, its hours, its days.”

Read­ing is no dif­fer­ent for many of us – “some­thing that was theirs alone, some­thing to hold off … the im­pos­si­bil­ity of the world’’.

Right now, late at night, as Vul­ture St qui­etens and even the curlews are hushed, I read on and on. It feels like no one in the world is awake, yet this read­ing time feels never lonely, but de­li­ciously alone, with fierce whis­pers for com­pany.

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