Small sad centre

It may seem as if my New Year’s resolution was to run away from this blog and let tumbleweed accumulate over the pages, but it wasn’t (is this a good thing? I’m not sure). Instead, as with every year, the same kinds of resolutions are vaguely floating around in my head. Each year I seem gradually less bothered to actually try working on them.

I do have a reading-related one that I’m going to try my hardest to stick to, though. It is the start of a new decade, after all, so perhaps I should make a special effort. The other day, I counted my unread books. There are 91. I put them in this list. 91 is a far higher number of books than I read in a year, or, if the last two years are anything to go by, in two years. I’ve decided that this means I don’t need to buy any new books this year. I will instead knuckle down and read the ones I already have, even though I’m a bit scared of some of them. This also makes sense as there is simply no more space for books in our little flat.

I have broken this resolution already, though, by buying three new books yesterday (The Little Stranger, Life Class and The Dream Life of Sukhanov). They don’t really count, though, because a gift card (mostly) paid for them, and two of them were on sale. They also don’t count because I am convinced that it is still December. I’ll only realise that it is actually the dark and ominous month of January when I go back to work tomorrow (and start my new second job on Wednesday, but I’m trying not to think about that).

The first book I’ve (almost) finished this year is something slightly different to my usual reading fodder: For Richer for Poorer: A Love Affair with Poker by Victoria Coren. I don’t play poker. I have been taught it a few times, but was drunk both of those times, and so remember nothing about it. I wanted to read the book because of Coren. I loved Balderdash and Piffle, not least because she was presenting it.

I like the book, despite the occasional detailed descriptions of poker games which go right over my head. I like the fact that Coren is mostly drawn to the game because it represents (or represented) an underworld full of strange, damaged, fragile people. Although Coren is down to earth and funny, and passionate about and excited by poker, the book also explores the sadness and nostalgia that it triggers. These have probably been my favourite bits. She describes a glorious fortnight in Vegas as feeling like “we’re six years old and playing hopscotch in the summer”, but then acknowledges that “pure pleasure, pure contentment, always curls around a small sad centre, because you know there is nothing permanent.”

All parts of the book, even those about her childhood and adolescence, are written in the present tense. This choice was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking Glass, in which, Coren says, Carroll is “either looking back into the past, feeling the sunshine and drifting boat as if he were still there … or looking forward from the present, imagining a time when the sky and the boat and the summer will have vanished.” She decides that he actually “feels both at once. The current, the retrospective, the projected, all are written in the present tense because they are all, always, mixed up together. Because, even as something is happening, it is gone.”

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