Monday, April 18, 2011

Reading in Paris

Even on holiday, I'm juggling books as so many readers do. In an effort to envigorate my French, I've been reading Gwenaëlle Aubry's moving Personne, a meditation, after her father's death, on his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder -- and its inevitable effects on herself and her sister.  One passage was so poignant I read it aloud to Pater, despite its winding, complicated syntax, Proustian length, and my halting accent -- in it, she describes the gap she always felt between her use of the word père and others', the way she felt that difference separated her from the world. She brings to bear her broad and deep knowledge of philosophy as well as entertaining and thought-provoking references to cinema and literature (Robert Musil, Dustin Hoffman, James Bond -- the range is wide). And as we'd just been there, I was inordinately pleased to have a chapter set at Arcachon!  Something else I recognized was her father's affinity with the clochards of Paris, although his condition pushed him to make this affinity complete, himself leaving behind his bourgeois comforts, walking pieds nus (the phrase that so haunts his daughter, then and to the day of writing long after his death), adopting the SDF (sans domicile fixe) label that renders him beyond the margins of the society to which he was born. Watching his daughter understanding and honouring the choices her father made is profoundly affecting, and my memories of our Paris apartment will forever be tinged with its wise sideness, but also with her father's efforts to leave behind the avoir and move toward être, towards, he hopes, la grande joie.

When I want something lighter and completely engaging in a different way, I've been turning to Reginald Hill's Midnight Fugue. I'm stretching it out, especially since I'm so enjoying the Aubry, but it's the kind of book many of you will want to devour in as few sittings as possible. Hill is such a masterful writer, and I've commented here before about his love of wordplay -- he's a writer's writer in that and in his play with structure.  He often uses narratives within the overall narrative, and regularly composes these in other voices -- so that they read as a book or diary or series of e-mails that help to advance the plot. Because of this, and because there are a number of recurring, interesting characters, I've never come close to being bored with the Dalziel and Pascoe series.  . . . Completing this post, over a week later, I'll add that Pater read the book after I did and enjoyed it also -- we both liked seeing how Pascoe and Dalziel's relationship is changing as they hid different parts of their respective careers. Some surprising twists in this one, but they make sense. Also always pleased to follow Wieldy's progress and I can't help chortle at Dalziel's politically incorrect (much as I deplore this term, it does articulate what I mean here quite clearly) pronouncements. The man would drive me nuts in real life, but he makes a brilliant fictional protagonist.

I've also been enjoyed a collection of essays, Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman, a new-to-me writer I'm happy to discover thanks to my Paris hotelier-friend, Jennifer -- this is a charming small book with meditations on the phenomenology of books and reading to delight any bibliophile. So far I've savoured Fadiman's narrative of reconciling herself to a library shared with her husband -- whose filing system to adopt, which doubles to keep, whose rules govern usage, etc., There's also a nice distinction made, in another essay, about those who want to maintain books in pristine condition, who do not countenance, for example, paper clips used as bookmarks, and are aghast at books left open, facedown, spines being stretched out of alignment . . . and those who like their books to display their reading history through turned-down page corners, penciled marginalia, even the odd catsup stain. Which camp do you fall into?


  1. Ahh, vacation reading. I still remember exactly what books I have read while on different vacations.

    A trip to San Francisco years ago prompted me to pick up on that city as a theme and I finally got around to reading Kerouac's On The Road. Also devoured all of Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City series both prior and during that trip. And The Devil Wears Prada was a great beach read on a trip to Mexico... Your post has brought back many memories of reading while travelling.

    As for our library, my husband and I merged our books when we got married though they seem to have stayed separate as most of his were business, history, music and city/map books and mine were mostly fiction with some cooks, lifestyle/fashion and culture in the mix.

    Thoroughly enjoying reading your posts and updates from your trip! -Hope

  2. I enjoyed Ex Libris too, and I'm of the "never dog ear a page and never write in a book in anything other than pencil" school of reading.

  3. Hope, I'm so pleased to have your response to this -- what a great conversation this could be between readers. Travelling and reading -- they go together in very interesting ways, don't they, especially since reading is its own kind of travelling.
    Can you believe I've never read the Kerouac nor Maupin's Tales -- even though both have obviously been on the horizon forever. One of these days . . .(next trip to SF?)
    Lesley: I can bring myself, with some difficulty, to turn down a page in my own books, if I have nothing handy to save a passage I really need to remember. But with a long and early training at the library, followed by years working there through high school, I'm generally pretty respectful -- and when I catch Pater turning down a page just so he can remember where he's left off . . . GRRRR!

  4. I just read 'The Cure for All Diseases' (Dalziel & Pascoe) on my new Kindle and enjoyed it hugely. Have you read it? A real joy for 'Janeites' ...