Why I Read

Last Sunday, I took to my bed like a Victorian spinster with the vapors. I felt off. Being a hypochondriac, I suspected cancer (of the ankles, which were achy), flu, bad General Tao’s chicken the night before, sewer gas (sometime, ask me about our creative toilet situation at the farm).

Of course it was none of that. It was Charlottesville.

Green Fence Farm is across the mountains from Charlottesville, a forty minute drive, which is stunning or harrowing depending on the weather and the amount of amphetamines the truck drivers on 64 have scarfed. We heard helicopters all Saturday afternoon. I refreshed Twitter every three seconds. I was so relieved not to have been there. I was in despair that I had not been there.

During my confinement on Sunday, I started and finished Ali Smith’s Booker longlisted novel Autumn. About a quarter way through, I read a passage that summed up why I was still in bed:

         Her mother sits down on the churned-up ground near the fence.

         I’m tired, she says.

         It’s only two miles, Elisabeth says.

         That’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.

         I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says.

         I’m tired of not knowing the right word, her mother says.


But even better, at the end of the book, there’s a section from the POV of Pauline Boty, one of the only female painters in the 1960s British pop art scene (really). She died too young and her entire body of work was lost for a long while, both plot points in Autumn, though not spoilers. There’s no sound bite from this chapter, but it’s so full of life and hope it practically shines off the page. It got me out of bed.

What I’m Reading Now: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy


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