When 2020 began, I’d been off most social media for about twenty-two days. My decision wasn’t deliberate. In fact, it was reactive. The night before I went offline, I read a short story: “Innards” by Magogodi oaMphela Makhene. I came to it randomly. I had finished most of my obligations for the year and caught a mercifully selfish gust, which led me to pick up a book at random – something “just for fun” – an impulse I think I might have forgotten entirely in 2019.
I picked up a copy of Granta curling in the rain by my window. I flipped through and stopped at a full-colour photograph of a beef heart, which I remember thinking was cool and gross and strangely moving. It opened to Makhene’s story, which pivots on the moment of an old man’s death and his daughter’s discovery of him. Told in omniscient third-person, we learn about how he sold innards, “beastly bits of waste food no one wanted,” to support his family. We witness the wars that separated his family into different parts of the world, the treachery of apartheid, and his daughter’s deep banal love for her father. I read the entire seven pages “for fun” and by the end of it, I was stunned by how I felt. I got choked up, of course, but what surprised me was another feeling. I felt as if I was no longer tired. The last time I’d felt this way was when I was genuinely happy. I had stayed up all night dancing with a couple of friends and after the party shut down in the early morning, we settled by the port to watch the sun come up. Even though I hadn’t slept and had danced all night, I felt rested and new.
Reading Makhene’s story made me realize how much I miss reading – for fun. It broke my heart to think of how I might never have come upon this story. What would it take for me to feel surprised, rested, and renewed in this same way again? To start reading for fun again? To allow myself to do what I love to do?
The moment before I made the decision to read something for fun, I remember tossing my phone on my bed, as I usually do when I’ve come home and am tired. After the story, I distinctly remember looking at my phone, as if by reflex. I remember turning away from it and looking at the photograph of the beef heart again. I didn’t want to let go of how rested and relieved and happy I felt. I picked up another book at random and read another story. That was the first day of my break.
On the second day, I decided I was going to recreate randomness, so that I could read for fun again. I cleaned the desk beside my window. I brought down a handful of short story collections, novels, and poetry books off my shelves and onto the desk without thinking too hard about which ones I was picking. I mixed them and stacked them on the desk and beside my bed. I was creating the possibility of a similar experience. My house feels different now. I could pick something up and it would surprise me. I could read something for fun.
What if we all read something for fun?
This is the beginning of a series called “Making Time” because that is what we have to do for ourselves as writers and as humans: we have to make our happiness possible.
So, this is my resolution: I will make time for myself by reading a short story every week for the rest of the year. A random one. Let’s call this business Short Story Club.
If you’d like to join, I’ll be tweeting about the stories I’m reading at #ssclub. Every Friday, I’ll tag a few people at random (whoever pops up in my mind, whoever pops up in the feed) to read a story with me – any story. There is no obligation to read or participate. There are no time limits and no rules. #ssclub is a place where you can make time for yourself and your stories with others who also want to read for fun.
Randomly read stories so far:
Innards by Magogodi oaMphela Makhene
Pig Head by Zalika Reid Benta
Translated from the Gibberish, Part One by Anosh Irani
My Sister Sang by Eliza Robertson
Longshore Drift by Julia Armfield
The Doctor’s Visit by Tea Mutonji
The Stone by Louise Erdrich
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji's writing has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2019, THIS magazine, and is forthcoming in EVENT, Gutter: the magazine of new Scottish and international writing, and Maisonneuve. Her poetry and prose have been nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prizes by Poetry Northwest and carte blanche, respectively. Shazia is the author of Port of Being, a finalist for the 2019 Vancouver Book Award, BC Book Prizes (Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and winner of the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She is at work on a novel.