Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An extraordinary little conversation

I went for a walk at lunch today to the loveliest tucked-away bookshop near my work. It's called Books Actually (along Telok Ayer St, on the second floor of a shophouse) and is a literary haven - just two walls lined with books, but each title chosen carefully.

I emerged $17.50 poorer, but armed with Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. Have never read a novel by her before but as I sat down to my regular sandwich at my favourite quiet, breezy cafe right round the corner from work, I felt like I was miles away and never happier.

Had a most unexpected and fabulous conversation with E, the owner of the cafe.

E: "Ooh, what are you reading? You into classics too?"
Me: "Reading a Carol Shields novel. Never read her before."
E: "Oh I'm not familiar either. I like Somerset Maugham myself."
Me: "Oooh! I watched The Painted Veil - super fantastic!"
E: "Have you read it? I was in love with the bacteriologist."
Me (slightly ashamed): "I've never read any Maugham. But I did watch the movie, heh."
E: "I usually borrow my books from the library, but the special ones, I buy. Like I have a first edition of Totto-Chan"
Me (squealing by this time): "Omigod! I just read Totto-Chan a couple of months ago for the first time. I loved it! I loved it!"
E (sagely): "I also have a 1934 edition of the Karma Sutra"
Me: "errrr. cool?"
E (serving customer a hot dog while talking to me): "Yes, very."
Me (looking at watch): "Darn gotta go back to work. Great talking to you E."
E: "Yeah, go well. Tell me how the book goes."

Yay! My favourite little cafe, and the owner reads! I'm so going to be a regular.

So maybe it's where I am right now in my life, but The Stone Diaries starts out with a poem that just rings true to me. It's from "The Grandmother Cycle" by Judith Downing. The words were ringing in my head as I walked back to work. And it made me think that even the most ordinary life has elements of the extraordinary in it.

nothing she did
or said

was quite
what she meant

but still her life
could be called a monument

shaped in a slant
of available light

and set to the movement
of possible music

1 comment: said...

Dora, Yehhhhh.
I discovered Carol Shields when I was a young housewife, reading while I stirred the soup for D & N's tea.
I have read all her books and have begun reading them again three decades later. Just last week I found 2 novellas published again into one book!
Also found her biography on Jane Austin when I was in Bath!!!
Sadly Carol died of breast cancer about 3 years ago but her beautiful words remain.