I visited an incredible independent bookshop in Hoxton this week, called Bookartbookshop. Like a magpie searching for shiny somethings, I’m on a constant hunt for inspiration these days, for gifts to find, transform and offer up on these pages. The shop was closed. I stood with my nose pressed up to the window for a while (I really think I might need glasses…) before the lovely owner let me in anyway. There was much in there to remind me of all the possibilities, all the different ways there are of telling our stories. The whole place is a celebration of the kind of ‘small stories’ I love.
Writing Train, too last week got me thinking about how little it takes, really, to make a story and to make it our own. However spare and simple it is, however much detail and description and drama you strip away, writing still bears the indelible imprint of its author and of its time. Someone travelling on the same plane or train would make different selections, put them in a different order and with different emphasis. Whatever we write will always be uniquely ours. Loudon’s plane, with its (original, first time around!) hipster and its sailor and its film, is very much a plane of the 70s. My train, with its mobile ringtones and KitKat Chunky and laptop sockets, is very much a train of today.
There was an entire shelf in Bookartbookshop devoted to the OuLiPo writers and it reacquainted me with the French writer Georges Perec, with whom I had an intense, passionate affair in my mid-twenties. His first novel, translated as Things: A Story of the Sixties (1965) tells the story of its characters primarily through lengthly, listy descriptions of the things they own, wear, eat. Their things, more even than their actions, tell us who they are and reveal a lot about the time and place in which they live. Perec went on to write – amongst many other things, including an entire novel written without once using the letter ‘e’ – Je me souviens (I Remember, 1978), where he lists, simply, all the things he can remember, each sentence beginning ‘I remember…’ His book was inspired by and is dedicated to Joe Brainard, whose unconventional memoir published in the 70s likewise lists random, seemingly unconnected memories of his Tulsa childhood in the 50s and his move to literary New York in the 60s. Brainard’s I Remember is more than the sum of its parts – an extraordinary memoir of a man and his time. When he was working on the collection, he wrote to a friend:
I feel I am not really writing it, but that it is because of me that it is being written. I also feel that it is about everybody else as well as me. And that pleases me.*
In thanks to Tanya from Bookartbookshop, in homage to both Perec and Brainard, and in celebration of the small story, for the next week I’m going to write a series of small memories in the same style. I don’t know yet what will surface, but I hope that whatever story I end up telling, it’s not just mine.