Another Post Where I Go On About Tom Drury

After deciding to spend the Christmas period reading The End of Vandalism again I think I can safely say that it is one of my favourite books. It’s hard to tell when you first read something if it’s a favourite or just fresh in your mind, but Tom Drury’s first novel was not only as good as I remember, it was improved by a revisit. The crafted layers of repeated motifs are invisible the first time around, but reveal themselves in unexpected ways when you come back again.

It is amazing to me how little of a novel actually sticks in your mind. I guess it shouldn’t be. 350 pages of prose can cover a lot of ground, and Tom Drury covers more than most with his rotating ensemble cast and countless walk-on bit parts. I thought I remembered it pretty well, but there was plenty that had drifted out of my mind. But the stuff that I did remember, and remember as being some of the most emotionally wrenching stuff I had ever read, was just as powerful the second time around.

Do you have to say spoiler alert for a book that is 22 years old? I’ll say it in case these first two paragraphs have inspired you to go read it. Spoiler alert, guys. Spoilers.

The section of the novel where Louise discovers that her unborn baby has died but has to go through with the birth regardless is written in the most unflinching way. I cried the first time I read it, and a little more the second. Drury’s writing style is so spare and minimal, picking out the details that really speak. The tiny nuances of the way people talk, the power of a handful of words. I mean, look at this bit.

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Or this bit,

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The book is littered with these careful little moments that reveal so much depth. The book feels airy as you are reading, but the weight it carries is astonishing. It feels like what Drury has done is curate a series of moments out of the lives of his characters, finding the poetry that rises up like an emergent property, greater than the sum of its parts, like you would expect a good novel to be. It is so hard to explain why this book is so good, there’s not a great deal of plot to hook a person with, but it’s loaded with character.

Like I said in my last post, re-reading is something I want to do more of. Recently I have been reading tons of short stories in the literary journals I am exploring and for years I tried to read as much and as broadly as possible, but going back to something that resonated so much and spending more time with it has been well worth the time, if not just for the pure love of it, but for what it gave me. I can see why some people dedicate their lives to studying a single book or a single writer. When you find something that resonates the depths that it has can seem endless, and the way it seems to change with you can feel pretty surprising. I’m not going to dedicate my life to only reading the works of Tom Drury, there’s too much else out there for me to do that, but I have no doubt I’ll be reading the other two books in the series again soon, and all of them again after that.

Mr B’s Reading Year

If you love books (and I know that you do) then probably the best birthday present you could receive would be some sort of monthly book subscription where a bookseller takes note of all the things you like the best, and all the things you would like to try, and all the things you aren’t interested in, and then sends you a hand-selected book in the post every month. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

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These are the first six books that I got from my Mr B’s Reading Year. Every month they turn up wrapped in brown paper with the Mr B’s wax seal and it has become a highlight of the month. My personal bibliotherapist selects books that he thinks I will like from the answers I gave in my introductory questionnaire and so far they have been fantastic. The best thing about the books he has selected for me is that I had never heard of any of them before they turned up. I wonder if I even would have picked them up from a shelf in a bookshop or if my hand would have just drifted over the top of them. How many times has¬†my hand drifted over them? This is a great way to find some excellent new books, and gives you something completely different from browsing bookshops, or even recommendations from friends. I know book recommendations can be clumsily given, because of the number of clumsy recommendations I have given. I usually just recommend whichever book I happen to be most excited about when asked, which is why I would make a terrible bookseller.

All six have been great, but The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury really stood out for me. Some of the driest, most subtle humour I have ever read, compounded by some truly heartbreaking stuff toward the end. I won’t spoil it, just check it out. I’d recommend it to anyone (even people who probably won’t enjoy it.) I read most of it one day over the Christmas break when I couldn’t sleep and got up at five am. I sat there reading it all through the morning and well into the afternoon.

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I made a new shelf on my Goodreads to keep the books together, and they all sit side by side on my actual bookshelf too. I like this disparate collection of books that have only come together because someone thinks I would like them. Naturally, you can see the thread that runs through them. The literary/realistic/experimental quality that obviously came through in the things I wrote in the questionnaire. And you know what, the questionnaire was one of the most fun parts. You can gush about books you love as much as you want, and no one is going to ask you to shut up and leave them alone.

If you like the sound of it, check out the shop, Mr Bs Emporium of Reading Delights.