With the days growing shorter and the air more chill, we asked a few of our favourite creative people (and Black Eyewear wearers) to share the books they’re reading – as well as digging deeper to tell us about the books that have had a profound impact on their lives. Here’s the first in the series…
Jacqui Kenny, The Agoraphobic Traveller.
Jacqui Kenny’s compelling Instagram art project @streetviewportraits is inspired by her own mental health challenges that limit her ability to travel. Her moving Google Streetview photographs capture the strange poignancy of time, place and, even more movingly, the shared experiences that connect us.
Here are some of the books that have inspired and challenged her.
Key book that’s influenced how you see the world?
I have recently been working with the wonderful contemporary poet, Emily Berry. Thanks to her I have been introduced to the world of poetry, which has been such a revelation to me.
As well as been influenced by her own incredible volumes of poetry (Stranger Baby and Dear Boy) she introduced me to the amazing and distinctive poetry of Emily Dickinson. Like myself, Emily most likely lived with agoraphobia, with some of her poetry and letters making reference to her own experience with agoraphobia and panic attacks.
Seeing her feelings and thoughts articulated in such a visually unique and thoughtful way, has really helped me get a better understanding of own experience with it. As it’s such a complex disorder, turning to literature has been extremely helpful.
“A Prison Gets to be a Friend”
“I’m just from meeting, Susie, and as I sorely feared, my life was made a victim. I walked – I ran – I turned precarious corners – one moment I was not – then soared aloft like Phoenix, soon as the foe was by – and then anticipating an enemy again, my soiled and drooping plumage might have been seen emerging from just behind a fence, vainly endeavoring to fly once more from hence. I reached the steps, dear Susie – and smiled to think of me, and my geometry, during the journey there – It would have puzzled Euclid, and it’s doubtful result, have solemnized a Day. How big and broad the aisle seemed, full huge enough before, as I quaked slowly up – and reached my usual seat!”
— Emily Dickinson in a letter to Sue Gilbert, 1853
I absolutely loved this book! I didn’t realise until after I purchased it that it was the final book of a trilogy. It can be read stand-alone but after checking out the rave reviews for the whole series, I would recommend starting from the beginning.
To sum it up briefly – The protagonist, Faye, transcribes the encounters she has with the people she meets over a period of a few days. From encounters on the aeroplane, over dinner and drinks, to a book festival in Europe, each person she meets share their most personal and intimate stories with her. They tell their stories with such an eloquent ability for personal introspection, that it is suggested she is more likely to be inventing or daydreaming.
It’s beautiful, funny, sophisticated and I couldn’t put it down!
Book you shouldn’t miss in your lifetime?
I’m going to go back to poetry again for this question.
If you haven’t heard of the book Nox by Anne Carson, I recommend you check it out. Nox is an incredibly powerful poem that is also a beautiful art object. It is a facsimile of a handmade scrapbook that Anne created after the death of her brother Michael. Compiled of sketches, fragments of text, photography, old letters, the poem describes coming to terms with her grief through her translation of “Poem 101” by Catallus.
She collaborated with UK artist Robert Currie and together they created a book in a box. All of the pages are connected by one long folded concertina. As it folds out, it becomes more unstable, always trying to fall.
It’s the best £26 I’ve ever spent on a book.
What’s by your bed right now.
I’ve just started reading Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (1943), which seems very avant-garde and odd but also an incredibly funny modernist novel about two women who seem to both be on the verge of falling to pieces. I’ve only just started, so I haven’t got too much to say about it yet.
“..it is against my entire code, but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it.”
― Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies
I’m also reading ‘Selfie’ How the west became self-obsessed by Will Storr.
I was first given a copy in Siddhartha when I moved to Australia in my early 20’s. For whatever reason, I took great comfort in this book. It follows a young man named Siddhartha on a journey to find enlightenment and the true meaning of life and peace. But the book is so much more than that and you can apply his words and lessons to your own life and journey. It will mean different things to different people and it is as much a product of Western as well as Eastern intellectual traditions.
Every now and then I pick it up when I feel I need it, as it still feels relevant to me. It’s also beautifully written, which makes it a joy to re-read.