I suspect there’s a difference between books that you enjoy and books that inspire you. To be honest the ones I adore usually intimidate me! But others make me feel: I could try that. Or, I could be more like that.
These days my preoccupations are so diverse and my concentration so poor that I am drawn to fragmentary, impressionistic, instinctive, mostly non-fiction works, like Sarah Sentilles’s remarkable book on art and violence, Draw Your Weapons; Lawrence Durrell’s 1945 memoir of Greece, Prospero’s Cell; Derek Jarman’s 1980s diaries, vaguely focused on gardening, Modern Nature, and the same kind of thing from our own Kate Llewellyn; Jessa Crispin’s Dead Ladies Project about her travels in search of literary heroes and antiheroes; Robert Dessaix’s old essays and Mirka Mora’s Love and Clutter, her gorgeous musings on the clutter and treasures of her home. I read these books and feel that I see myself in these pages, and that I could make something similar: these writers lead me by the wrist, ever so gently, beyond the offering of their pages and into my own creative reverie.
At the same time I’m currently reading a lot of history, perhaps with an instinct that the lessons of the past are needed more than ever as we plunge into uncertain and tumultuous futures. Medieval history especially compels me with its litany of ghastly moments that people have (mostly) survived; it is both an escape from reality and a comfort that even the most awful tragedies can at least produce memory and poetry. I can’t write those works but I can learn from them.
Kate Holden is the author of In My Skin: A memoir and The Romantic: Italian nights and days, both best-selling non-fiction memoirs published by Text, and writes a longstanding column for the Age. She has thought a great deal about memoir and some of her essays and interviews on the subject are at kate-holden.com.
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