Thursday, May 26, 2011

Early Summer Morning Honey

Yesterday morning I found myself, quite by accident, downtown early in the morning. (It's a long story, involving a very early appointment far enough out in the western Barrhaven Wilderness that a missed bus meant not getting there at all, thank you to OCTranspo.) So, instead of going to my appointment, I decided to head for Elgin Street and Perfect Books, which I heard had been looking for a part-time bookseller. Figured I'd drop in and talk to them about that, as I'm still on the lookout for part time work.

I got downtown by about 8:30, so wound up sitting in the Bridgehead down the street reading (Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde, if you must know) while I waited for the shop to open at 10:00. In the cool morning sunshine, I walked over, chatted with the owner for a bit, and then made the rounds. Walked right back to the poetry section, since I've been looking for a copy of Michael Blouin's Wore Down Trust (don't ask me why I didn't buy one at the Writers Festival. Momentary brain slippage.) I didn't find Wore Down Trust - but I did find, with a note reading "Local Author!", a small stack of copies of Amal El-Mohtar's The Honey Month.

Now, I've been meaning to read The Honey Month for a long time. I follow Amal on Twitter, and while I've never met her in person, we have many friends in common, to the point where I'm not sure why and how we've never met. She recently reposted the Honey Month posts on her LiveJournal, with extra comments, but I can't read things on a computer screen. I just get vertigo when I try. Seriously.

Anyway, I picked the book up, said 'what the hell' quietly to myself - I might be looking for work but I refuse to deny myself books - and headed to the cash. It felt right. Turns out Amal used to work at Perfect Books, so I chatted to the owner some more about her, and why/how I haven't, somehow, managed to meet her yet. And then I headed out to catch a bus home.

It was a gorgeous day on Elgin. There was a light, cool breeze and a sort of clear, clean-feeling sunlight. The sky was blue, the streets felt clean, the trees had just gotten to full leaf, so they and the grass were a rich goldy-green: it was one of those early summer days. My bus even arrived just as I got to the stop. Everything seemed to be flowing along just about perfectly. And I settled in on the bus and opened the book.

Small presses make such pretty books, for one thing. But also, as the bus rumbled along and I started reading, I got sucked right in. The book opens a jar of a different kind of honey - peach creamed honey, black locust honey, fireweed honey - in each section. Amal describes the colour, scent, and taste of the honey, and then dives into a story or poem, as though the taste of the honey had triggered a synaesthetic fugue. In the stories, or poems, the colours and flavours and personality of the honey run subtly through a rich narrative. It's sensual and dreamlike. I kept emerging briefly to catch my breath and then diving back in with a smile on my face.

And I don't often write reviews per se - seems to me like everyone does and there are a zillion review blogs out there that probably do it better than me - but this is not so much a review as it is a reflection on how sometimes the book you're reading and the day you read it in can be just about perfect for each other. I haven't finished The Honey Month yet; I had to put it down and get back to work when I got back to my place. But as I stepped off the bus, it occurred to me how similar the day and the book were. Gentle, rich, clean, sensual, with a touch of magic hovering over the brickwork and a light, cool breeze. They fit perfectly with each other. It's very possible that any time I pick this book up, now, and my eyes fall on that old-looking serif font and its narrow margins, and the colour panel illustrations, I'll remember one particular day and the way it felt. I think I'll consider that a gift.

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