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Buchempfehlung der Woche

von Louise Nealon

Louise Nealon, geboren 1991, wuchs auf einer Farm in der Grafschaft Kildare in Irland auf. Sie studierte Englische Literatur am Trinity College in Dublin und Kreatives Schreiben an der Queen’s University Belfast. Ihr Debütroman Snowflake war ein internationaler Erfolg; die deutsche Übersetzung von Anna-Nina Kroll erschien 2022 im mare Verlag.

Joni Mitchell
Ich singe meine Sorgen und male mein Glück. Gespräche mit Malka Marom
Ins Deutsche übersetzt von Thomas Bodmer, Kampa Verlag, Zürich 2020

I will begin by saying that I don’t tend to listen to other people’s book recommendations, but I love giving them. I recommend books the way other people might tell a joke – I use it as both a form of deflection and an attempt at connection. If someone else gives me a book to read, I immediately feel like a child who refuses to eat their vegetables. I know that I should read it – if I read it, I might even like it, but I don’t want to. I prefer to stumble upon a book on my own terms. Whenever I’m recommending a book I love, I feel like a drug dealer pushing the magic elixir at anyone who will listen, astonished when people don’t seem bothered to give it a try.

Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words: Conversations with Malka Marom is one of those books that, when I speak about, I have to strangle my insides in order to maintain an air of calm. You’re a writer now, apparently, I tell myself. You’re supposed to be cool and measured and objective about things. Here, I will pretend to be none of those things: On a November night in 1966, Malka Marom stumbled upon a young woman who was performing in a coffeehouse in Toronto. “This girl, who looked no older than seventeen or eighteen – twenty at most – portrayed an existential reality with such power, it broke me down even as it lifted my spirits. She let her long blonde hair cover her face, almost like she wanted to disappear and just let the songs be who she was.”
When the woman came offstage that night, Malka told her that she was a poet, like Dylan or Cohen. The woman looked at her. She recognised Malka Marom as one half of the folk-singing duo, Malka & Joso, who enjoyed mainstream success for a brief period in the 1960s before Marom gave it up, no longer able to exist within the constraints of the music industry. Marom asked the woman if she could cover some of her songs. Every time she played the songs to an audience, she would tell them to remember the name Joni Mitchell.

Years later, when Malka had become a journalist and Joni fulfilled the prophecy that she had bestowed upon her, they sat down for their first of many interviews together. The result is this book – a series of long conversations about the creative process, cushioned in a back and forth tête-à-tête between friends. Aside from anything else, Malka and Joni are great company. It is worth a read for the gossip alone – like when Joni accuses Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan of lifting lines from literature for their music, and then mentions Cohen getting angry with her for using a line that he said in one of her songs: “Life is fair game but books are not. That’s my personal opinion. Don’t steal from someone else’s art, that’s cheating. Steal from life – that’s up for grabs, right?”
Joni wasn’t always as confident in her opinions. She wrote “Both Sides Now,” when she was twenty-one, but held back from sharing it with anyone. Her first husband had ridiculed it, teasing her, “What do you know about life?” The marriage didn’t last, but Joni kept the name of the man who undermined her, and it was the song he had mocked that eventually catapulted Mitchell into the stratosphere.

Every time I open this book to sit in on these conversations between Joni and Malka, I find myself becoming more and more aware of my own feet. “Always pay attention to your feet,” the Irish writer Claire Keegan once told a bemused set of faces in a writing workshop that I took part in. “Your feet don’t lie,” she said. She also told us never to trust anything above our shoulders. While I’m pretty certain Keegan was referring to our actual physical bodies, spending time with Joni and Malka gives me somewhere I can plant my proverbial feet.

Let me explain: I don’t think I am alone in being uncertain about my own creative ability. I hover around my head in a limbo of anxiety that prevents me from performing the simple actions of sitting down at my desk, opening a notebook or laptop and daring to write something – anything at all. I read in order to parachute my way into my own work. Sometimes, I stumble upon a book that grounds me. It orientates my focus and sets me off in the direction of what I’m trying to say – one word, one step at a time.
This impulse to get work done might have something to do with the fact that Joni Mitchell’s confidence is contagious. She doesn’t bother with the exhausting dance of self-deprecation that so many creatives are conditioned into performing. She sits comfortably in the knowledge that she’s better, more talented, just downright more than most give her credit for. It is no false confidence – the evidence is all there in her work if you chose to see it. Malka Marom saw this in Joni long before anyone else was able to catch a glimpse of it, and this is what makes this book so special.

Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words: Conversations with Malka Marom sits on my bookshelf alongside Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante, a collection of reflections, letters and interviews from the Italian author. The books lean on each other – two of the many supporting pillars of my writing practice. Whenever I am at risk of ignoring my own feet, I take them down from the shelf.

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