Monday, September 13, 2010

Michelle Blake, On Reading

"I am a lover of books, books as objects, books as solace, books as a mean of escape and empathy and education. I need to have, on my bedside table, at least two books I have not yet started reading. Otherwise, I feel a little panicky, afraid that I will reach out one night into a bookless void.

At the moment, I am doing something I haven’t done in a long time--rereading, very slowly, a novel I already know well, Coetzee’s Disgrace. I am doing this so that I can begin to understand how he accomplished what he did in that book—how he moved his character from monster to saint without one moment of sentimentality, and all within the context of one of the greatest power shifts in the 20th century, the dismantling of apartheid. The author never flinches or backs away from brutality. This is one of my weaknesses as a writer, the desire to smooth things over, and I hope to gain from this book an iota of the courage Coetzee has always seemed to exercise so effortlessly, but never before with such astonishing scope and generosity.

One more thought about escape, empathy, and education: It occurs to me that we think of escape as a cheap and easy thing. But with a novel like Disgrace, while I do get to leave my own irritating life behind, I do not move into an easier world. I move into an infinitely more complex world, if only because the complexities (which I for one tend to minimize in my own life) are illuminated. And, so, I become more educated."

Michelle Blake has published three novels in the acclaimed Lily Connor mystery series, The Tentmaker, Earth Has No Sorrow, and The Book of Light, about which the NY Times Book Reviewer Marilyn Stasio wrote, "Michelle Blake’s series about an Episcopal priest…stands out for a couple of reasons—besides the essential one of being written with intelligence and grace.” Blake’s fourth novel, Hill Country With Angels, is not part of the mystery series, though it does include an art heist, a psychic, and the promise of redemption. She is now at work on a collection of essays, Grown Children.}

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