Warning: raving follows. This is the best book.
Amy Leach’s Things That Are is a collection of essays that address creatures and natural phenomena, philosophy and the stars; they are as fanciful and wondrous and wondering as anything I’ve ever read, delightfully imaginative and fun to read, and illuminating. I learned facts and was made to consider concepts, and the package was unbelievably beautiful.
Amy Leach introduces her reader to beavers that “affably yield not”; music that sweeps you “juggled into its furious torrents, jostled into into its foamy jokes, assuming its sparklyblue or greenweedy or brownmuddy tinges”; peas that grow too tall to support themselves and must “grow madly wending tendrils, to sweep the air for lattices – just as teetery marionettes will grown marionette cords to sweep the air for marionetteers.” I marked many such quotations to share with you for their whimsy, their unique perspective, or their lingual tricks. Sometimes I failed and just noted that the whole essay should be studied and loved, as with “Talent” and “Warbler Delight” and “The Safari” and oh, the essay called “Pea Madness”…
Leach describes peas, which are self-contained until they grow tall enough that they must reach for external support. At this point she describes their tendrils, their reaching: your yearning, she writes, “can horse or unhorse you.” If you yearn for lattice and find one, you have won; if you reach not at all, you will lose; if you reach and find nothing, “your looking apparatus topples you over.” And some of us may have a lattice standing nearby, “installed with you in mind,” that we never find, although we come within an inch. The pathos! She writes that the yearning of peas is extrasensory: they do not know for what they reach; and
lattices are not the only things that are extrasensory. When you cast your small, questioning arms into the opaque universe, you may find a trellis to tether yourself to; or you may find a tree sticky with birdlime; or a snuffling piglet; or a trapeze artist swinging by who takes you for an aerialist and collects you – then alas, unless you have excellent timing and a leotard, you will be a lost cause.
This writing is funny and approaches our known world from a wholly unique angle; and its message is so powerful that I am nearly immobilized.
In “Silly Lilies,” Leach teaches us about gravitropic mutants, who send their shoots into the ground and their roots into the air, “like a demented boat that insists on sailing upside down, draggling underwater its silky sail.” (Yes, she wrote ‘draggling.’ Also ‘circumgallop,’ and ‘vasty,’ which she defines in her Glossary: “Has approximately the same meaning as ‘biggy,’ ‘hugey,’ and ‘giganticky.’ Do not let anyone tell you these words are not words; all words are words.” I think this is part of why she is compared to Lewis Carroll.) To describe lotuses in a windstorm, she evokes an image of slam-dancing hula girls. This is outrageous stuff. “Bluebirds defect, like bubbles and luck.” “Stars, like thoughts, are not inevitable.” I could go on. In “Twinkle Twinkle,” an essay from the section on “Things of Heaven,” she writes: “The incandescent cauliflower-ballerina is made of dust plus deep light; take away either ingredient and you have no celestial vegetables tripping the light fantastic in a laser tutu.” And I promise, in the context of the whole essay, this sentence makes perfect sense. It would take such a long quotation to illuminate to you that I would fear copyright violations; you should just go get a copy of this book yourself, and learn.
With all these playful poetics, I hope I haven’t given you the impression that Leach is only a whacky fun manipulator of language – because she is that, but she is much more than that. These essays examine and interrogate concepts larger than the ones we meet in everyday life. She forces her reader to question, and I have marked several of her passages to come back and continue to reflect upon.
I am smitten, you see. I found both the writing and the content perfectly formed and singular. Oh, and there are illustrations. I enjoyed the illustrator’s story of The Evolution of the Cover, and then, of course, this interview with Leach herself. And as my final bid to make you buy this book, listen to this lovely piece of work, in which Leach reads her essay “God” to a bluegrass accompaniment.
Best book of 2015, obviously.
Rating: 10 fireflakes.
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