Lucy Caldwell: The story so far

Share

After years of anguish, I've decided on my Desert Island read - the one book you're allowed besides the Bible and Shakespeare. I used to wonder if I'd take a compendium of fairy tales, or an omnibus edition of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series - my most treasured childhood books. Or some poetry: Yeats, or W S Graham, who wrote my two best-loved poems; or one of my current favourites, Mimi Khalvati.

But my definitive choice is Lewis Hyde's The Gift. Published in the US in 1979, and only recently reprinted here, it's about how a work of art - and the ability to create and, indeed, the act of creation itself - is a gift rather than a commodity. Hyde touches on fairy stories, anthropology, Christianity, Buddhism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, literature: reading The Gift is a dizzying, breathlessly exhilarating experience. And it manages to articulate something I had apprehended in my soul, but had not yet comprehended with my intellect, or in my conscious mind.

Many writers shy away from talking about the act of creation - and understandably so: as Hyde says: "When we give speech, we become a part of what we speak with." Fear of losing or sullying or squandering the magic is immense. And so writers talk about the mechanics - the time they get up, whether they write longhand or type, if they drink coffee or tea or smoke or eat digestive biscuits - but these are external paraphernalia, and superficially interesting as they may be, mean nothing.

This is how I used to clumsily figure "writing": it begins with the sudden, soaring, total elation of flying on a magic carpet - then the carpet vanishes and you are dull and heavy and alone and earthbound - and you must begin the tedious work of weaving a carpet for yourself, with only flashes of remembering what flying was like to sustain you in a task that is desperate and futile because you know your carpet will not fly: but because you have known, however briefly, what it is to fly, yet you cannot give up.

The Gift says this far better, and it says and explores and explains far more: but the magic - mysterious and sacred - remains intact.

It comes with accolades from writers as distinguished as Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Lethem.

But I hadn't read it until, appropriately enough, it was given to me by my best friend. In the preface, Hyde says that when his editor asked who the intended audience was, he "settled for 'poets'" when what he really wanted to say was, "all thinking humans".

In the spirit of the book itself, I can only repeat and impart his words. Anyone - everyone - who thinks, cares, loves, should read this book. And pass it on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable