Friday, April 22, 2016

Two Books, Worlds Apart

In the more than two weeks since I last posted, I've read a couple of books: first, the (very) light A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. It's well-written, and the frame story is interesting enough -- the female protagonist is an MFA-trained, antique furniture appraiser who goes to Paris to catalogue for auction the contents of an apartment that has been locked since the beginning of World War II. There's a potentially clever device which has the protagonist reading through the diaries of a late-19th-century demimondaine who supported herself through her "charms" and name-drops all the Who'sWho of that period. But the plot itself is one very familiar to anyone who has ever read a Harlequin Romance, albeit with a contemporary, independent female role. I can imagine someone anticipating a first or second trip to Paris loving the vicarious travel through its streets during two parallel centuries, and it's pleasantly diverting, but I have to admit that I became a bit restless before I was done.

I'm not sure why I bought a paperback copy of A Paris Apartment, although I know it was on sale, quite inexpensive. I'll have no regrets passing it along though, no desire ever to read it again, no need to keep it on a shelf. By contrast, another book I read in the last two weeks, Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air, was a library copy on a Seven Days Only loan (on threat of heavy fines for each day of late return). I'd stopped into our local library when we were ousted from our home a few weeks ago so that prospective buyers could poke around freely. When I spotted Kalanithi's book, having read so much about it in the Books section of both the newspapers I read and all over the webs, I snatched it up quickly. My only reservation was that I suspected this book would be one I'd one to turn back to, and, indeed, I'm already wishing I had my own copy so that I could quote significant bits to you.

In case you haven't read reviews of this book yet, I will tell you that Kalanithi was just coming to the end of his neuro-surgical residency when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Despite the inevitably terminal nature of the cancer, already well advanced when it was identified, Kalanithi and his wife, Lucy (who wrote a most beautiful epilogue to the book) lived rich lives full of satisfying work (he takes on some brutal therapy with inspiring fortitude and returns to surgery with a brilliant mix of confidence and humility and determination).  Besides writing the book itself, after surgery is no longer within his reach,  Dr. Kalanithi and his wife (also a medical specialist, an internist, if I'm remembering correctly) have a child together, a daughter with whom he is able to spend precious months, and for whom the book, one hopes, will offer some sense of the good and wise and brilliant man her father was. There is one paragraph I'd particularly love to quote, in which the dying Dr. Kalanithi speaks directly to his daughter, hoping that she will one day understand that no matter what else she does with her life, she once gave intense joy to someone whose life was fading away. My paraphrase is sloppy, and I apologise. But after all, I would love you to read this book for yourselves.

If you'd like to read a more comprehensive review before finding a copy of the book, here's what Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times. I'm sorry I'm doing the memoir such little justice here, but I've been so busy with selling the house, and now that we've begun packing, I see scant opportunity to write much here in the next while, although I'm still very aware that I must try to say something cohesive about Ferrante's Neapolitan series before too much longer -- Dottoressa sent me her thoughts about these books, and I need to step up and do my part in putting a post together. Just know that I haven't forgotten the promise, and I thank you for your patience.

Meanwhile, I continue to move back and forth between escape reading (most recently, Patricia Cornwell's most recent Kay Scarpetta mystery, Flesh and Blood -- this series has been erratic lately, but this volume is more tightly edited and there's some interesting introspection and remembering by Scarpetta. The ending, though. Hmmmm!).

That mystery was a library copy as well -- Too bad that just as I begin to get into a habit of using our local library (after years of using the university library for professional reading and buying the books I read for personal interest/pleasure), we'll be moving away from it. But there will be another (bigger) library. . .

Packing up for a weekend in the city, I've tucked a library copy of Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir in my bag. Have any of you read it? Or any of the other books I've mentioned here?


  1. I haven't read either of those books but see The Little Paris Bookshop is at the top of our local bestseller list. Aren't there so, so many stories about Paris? And so many are romances...which interests me because my primary impression of Paris was of...solemnity? I kept thinking 'the burden of history'. Maybe it was the time of year. I intend to investigate that theory.

    I am looking forward to your thoughts and Dottoressa's on Ferrante. I have the last two books (I was 'saving' them) but might start #3 this weekend.

    I was quite sure I had read Mary Karr, but no, I was confusing her with another memoirist who published in the mid- late 90s, Kathryn Harrison. And Mary Cantwell, who wrote for Mademoiselle magazine in the 1970s...she had a column called Eat (I think)...I was a teenager and her writing was so lovely...she associated everyday food with occasion and emotion...and her descriptions of New York! Little shops, walkups... Cantwell was of the Sylvia Plath magazine-intern era, so a 'grown-up' when I was reading her...I retained the idea that romantic notions like 'a meal for a summer evening' could be held onto into adulthood. And I got my first signature recipe, spaghetti with clam sauce, from her. I digress! But she wrote several memoirs. :)

  2. I haven't read any of those books,too. Dr Kalanithi seems very interesting and it goes to my liat (after recuperating from reading A Little Life- I am slowly reading the first half,it is brilliant-thank you for the recommendation-,but very painful)
    What have I been reading before?
    New Dona Leon's The Fountain of Eternal Youth- I love her books because of sentiments for Venice- if you want a break from Paris books Georgia :-)!-,characters I love,and even after 20 books there are some new or unexpected things about them,the athmosphere....It is predictable (maybe more than before),but I enjoyed it
    Go,Set a Watchman-I felt that there were two authors (one of them with bad memory,too). While The Mockingbird was breathtaking and universal,the sequel is a book that I,as an outsider,couldn't dare to comment
    Flying back from Heathrow,i have found Philipa Gregory's The Taming of the Queen,it was at half price,about Kateryn Parr and old,sick and brutal Henry viii,longing for his lost beauty and his youth,molesting everyone for the lack of it. Imo,Gregory getts better and better.
    I have also finished Three Fridays in April,a mistery from our writer Pavao Pavlicic
    There are a lot of Mary Karr,did you know?
    And,Georgia,Cantwell's Manhattan When I Was Young,did you read it?

  3. Dottoressa, I did read 'Manhattan' when it first came out...and, a confession!...after I wrote my comment yesterday I went to Amazon and ordered a compilation of Cantwell's three memoirs.

    I don't read those Paris books usually but I was gobbling up Donna Leon last year based on Mater's recommendation (thank you Mater for many happy hours!). I am very fond of Venice too and I like to walk around town with the Commissario.

  4. Well,well,well! Not a bad idea!!!
    There are films about Commisario,shoot in Venice in german language.
    I always wondered who could play Commissario. What do you think?
    There is French series Les Hommes de l'ombre- Bruno Wolkowitch might be close but not quite