Between two frames

The speed of a cinema film is 24 frames per second. God knows how many frames per second flicker past our daily perception. But it is as if at the brief moments I’m talking about, suddenly and disconcertingly we see between two frames. We come upon a part of the visible which wasn’t destined for us. Perhaps it was destined for — night-birds, reindeer, ferrets, eels, whales… Perhaps it was destined not only for animals but for lakes, slow-growing trees, ores, carbon…

Our customary visible order is not the only one: it co-exists with other orders. Stories of fairies, sprites, ogres were a human attempt to come to terms with this co-existence. Hunters are continually aware of it and so can read signs we do not see. Children feel it intuitively, because they have the habit of hiding behind things. There they discover the interstices between different sets of the visible.

Last night before bed, I read John Berger’s essay “Opening a Gate” in Why Look at Animals? This section struck me, perhaps because it was so similar to what I was trying to get at when wrote about the idea of the beyond-world. I like the idea of multiple beyond-worlds, not destined for us that we occasionally catch glimpses of, perhaps out of the corner of our eye, perhaps head on.

When I wrote about the beyond-world, I mentioned Shoal Creek in Austin. It’s right in the middle of the city. There is a sidewalk that runs along it. Once evening, I was walking on that sidewalk and came upon an owl sitting on a branch. It was directly in front of me and staring right at me. I stopped in my tracks and stared at it for a moment. Perhaps longer than a mere moment, it’s hard to say. The world around me and the bird seemed to shift: colors changed and there was an electricity in the air. It may simply have been that the sun was going down. In fact, whenever I see the word “gloaming” that moment comes back to me. It alone captures the sudden shift of colors and texture that came so suddenly and just as suddenly disappeared.

The other thing that Berger’s description of a different perception found between two frames reminded me of was a lot of the writing of Haruki Murakami. He describes this as combining objective language and personal language. Murakami’s personal language feels like a beyond-world, something seen by—perhaps destined for—one person only. It’s the interplay between the world everyone agrees on and one individual’s beyond-world that I enjoy so much about Murakami’s writing.

In some some sense, this feels like what much fiction writing and some non-fiction writing, like the writing of Rebecca Solnit and Robert Macfarlane. Perhaps this is only true of the authors I love—such as Calvino, Borges, Carter and García Márquez—who take their queue as much from folktale and mythology as they do from science and reason. I return again and again to the writers who are able to communicate the internal life of a character or themselves.

Top 5 books for 2007

I’m a little late with my “best of” 2007 lists. It think technically you’re supposed to write these before the end of the year. Oh well, I’ve never really been one for following convention anyway. This is a list of the books that I read during 2007 that I enjoyed most. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the books came out in 2007. All five books are fiction. I suppose I should compile a non-fiction list as well, but most of the non-fiction I’ve been reading has been tech books. And I wouldn’t want to bore you to tears.

Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
Probably best described as satirical magical realism, but don’t let that put you off. This is hands down my favourite book of the year. I think I’ve given this as a present to pretty much everyone I know.
Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky
I haven’t read any of her other books, but Némirovsky was a writer of extraordinary talent. Her characters, her attention to detail and her ability to inhabit a future that she would never know are the reasons that this book is a great work of literature, despite the fact that she was never able to complete the book.
Margherita Dolce Vita, by Stefano Benni
Another one of those books that I keep giving as a present. This is a fantastic tale of what happens when innocence, family and politics collide.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ve written briefly about Never Let Me Go before. What is extraordinary about the book is not so much what is said, but what goes unsaid.
My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad
An Iranian classic, currently banned in Iran. The characters are so well drawn that you are rarely told who is speaking, you simply know by what is said.

So there it is in all its glory. What do you think? What were your favourite books last year?