I am packing up the house where I have lived for the past twelve years—where I wrote my dissertation, had my son, published my first short story, spent the last days of my cat’s life—and
all around me are half-filled boxes of what my now six-year-old son calls “all our precious things.” We do not know where we will be next year, so we have decided to make things simpler for ourselves by unpacking only a fraction of these boxes when we wake up in our new but temporary home in two weeks. I have promised my family that only two or three boxes of my books will be among those we unpack. This promise was possibly a mistake. This promise is definitely the reason I sit here writing this blog post instead of filling, sealing, and labelling the boxes surrounding me. I have decided to use this post to contrive a plan for packing my books.
For a long time, I listened to music while I read, thought, and wrote—sometimes classical music, yes, but generally any music that stirred up some kind of weather in me. Then, all of a sudden, I wanted only silence. There are probably a few explanations for this shift, but I like to think that one of these is that silence better allows me to hear the books around me talking. If I have had some wine and allowed myself to become extravagant, I imagine I am hosting a salon of my favourite writers—or at least some mad, messy, Sandhyaesque rendering of such a thing.
So, my plan is this: I will make a guest list for a year-long mental salon; it is those voices that I want to hear in 2023 that I will unpack next month.
First, there are the voices I always want to hear—Jean Rhys, Carson McCullers, Clarice Lispector, Muriel Spark, Barbara Comyns, Tove Ditlevsen—even if they’re grumbling loudly from another room in the back of the house while I welcome my other, rather more alive, guests.
Also in that room, if they don’t mind the ghosts, are Lydia Davis, Deborah Eisenberg, and Diane Williams, as well as Ottessa Moshfegh and Kate Zambreno, and all the other writers whose oeuvres I began to work my way through while living in this house, including Sigrid Nunez and Joanna Walsh.
The novelists, short story writers, essayists, philosophers, poets, and memoirists mingle in my mind: laughing, listening, objecting, occasionally throwing a drink. Samanta Schweblin stands coolly by the window with Chloe Aridjis, as well as Grace Paley and Jenny Diski, who have floated out from the back room for some fresh air and fresh gossip. Lauren Elkin, Heidi Julavits,
Deborah Levy, Sarah Manguso, and Lisa Robertson arrive at the same time, allow me to take their impossibly stylish coats, and strike up several long and dynamic conversations, snippets of
which I try to overhear, with Natasha Brown, Alexander Chee, Danielle Evans, Cathy Park Hong, Mira Jacob, ZZ Packer, and Claudia Rankine. A thoughtful Claire-Louise Bennett stands on her own by the table in the corner, and I suddenly worry that I have not paid close enough attention to the pattern on my wallpaper or the olives I have put out.
Stephen Darwall, my dissertation advisor, chats amiably about conflict and relationships with Sarah Schulman, while Kathryn Davis and Talia Lakshmi Kolluri talk about what it is like to be
The air is by now heady with ideas and imagination, and nearly spilling the wine in my glass, I rush to open the door for Chelene Knight and Shezan Muhammedi, both of whose family history, like mine, includes refugees from Idi Amin’s violent 1970’s expulsion of South Asians from Uganda. I have only just begun to let this conversation take place in my mind again, and these writers are among the first to invite me to join after the death of my dear dad.
I will not be able to fit all these voices—all the moods, all the registers, all the volumes—inside two boxes. My family might roll their eyes, but I know they will not begrudge me my party.
Sandhya Thakrar won the 2022 Peter Hinchcliffe Short Fiction Award for her story “Cavity Nests.” Her writing has recently appeared in The New Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, and Brick. She holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale University, where she wrote her doctoral dissertation on romantic love. Born and raised in the Prairies, she now lives in Toronto with her husband and their son.