I wanted a longer book; I got a longer book, and then decided it was longer than the content needed it to be. I don’t want that to my takeaway memory.
So, now I need to remind myself that Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence was worth the effort and worth remembering.
Part way through chapter one, the author graphically brings up the topic of her horrendously painful ordeal with cancer. I’m not sure I want to continue, no matter how much high praise this book has received.
If that’s the topic, then the real disappointment will be abandoning a wonderfully comfortable book to read. It’s not too small. It’s not too big. It’s a Goldilocks book. Nearly a bit square in shape. I bought the hardcopy version because nothing else was available. A beautiful blue. This aura glows from the inside as well.
The book is about awe and wonder and ranges across topics – nature, storms, silence and space travel. It’s probably my age but there’s nothing particularly revelatory in these topics. Of course, there are quotes and vignettes that are new to me, but they are all of a familiar theme. Each night, I read 10 pages and stop. No bookmark required. Tonight, it’s page 100.
And then it finally dawns: the awe and wonder in this book take their intensity not from the range of familiar topics but from the counterpoint with the horrendously painful ordeal with cancer. Which, thankfully, seems to be only touched upon briefly in places.
There’s a contents list at the front and I look at it for the first time, 100 pages in. The book is divided into four parts, numbered authoritatively with roman numerals, and it starts to look interesting. Moving on from awe and wonder, we get wiggly as we are encouraged to tell our imperfect stories, we walk each other home in support, and we make summers invincible. I wonder if that last section was written before or after last summer.
And then to my delight I notice the book has a coda. I love a good coda. So much more than a conclusion, I think. I couldn’t bear to write a conclusion on my uni essays because it was so tedious repeating what I’d just written. Instead, I pretentiously added the heading ‘Coda’ and departed slightly from the formulaic response expected of those learning from the learned.
But now I have expectations. Will they be sustained?
And my expectations were sustained, up to a point. There were some delightful chapters that deserve a blog post all their own. I’m definitely going to make a meal of the chapter on transience. It’s so on-theme with my desire to document a bit of family history so I can clear out some of the stuff I’ve accumulated.
However, by the time I reached the invincible summer I was looking for something different.
Although, I’m glad I stuck around for the coda, with it’s beautiful description of swimming before sunrise through drifts of bio-luminescence. A book of 281 pages culminating in 5 crystal paragraphs (though I could have done without the reference to the opening scenes of Star Wars as an attempt to make the visuals relatable to those of us who don’t swim in the ocean).
Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence has a long title. ‘On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark’. I’m recommending the book, particularly if you need a reminder … or an introduction … to awe, wonder and what it feels like to be sustained. Check out this Guardian-published extract from the book.
This one goes on the re-read pile. I’ve started a re-read pile, with the caveat that they are there for the casual dip rather than full-on immersion.