Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Au Revoir, July

And so, Paris in July draws to a close. Karen and Tamara have hosted a month filled with French-themed books, movies, food, art, music, travel and more. My month has focused on French-themed reading - nonfiction, a novel, short stories and essays. There are still two books I won't finish before the end of the month, but would like to mention.

Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands
The book opens with Rowland's own reflection on the city, "I'm a Parisian of the recurrent, revolving-door kind." Her essay is followed by the thoughts and observations of thirty-two other writers who made Paris there own. They write about money, fashion, dating, parenting, food, and more. My initial plan was to read the book cover-to-cover, but I've decided instead to space the essays out over the rest of the summer. This is a book to be savored.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My current audiobook is proving to be the perfect follow-up to A Moveable Feast, adding further fuel to my Hemingway fixation. It's a fictionalized account of the Heminway's time in Paris, told from Hadley's perspective. I have to keep reminding myself this is fiction. Reading Hemingway's early stories concurrently is enriching the experience.

Preparations are also underway for next summer. Knowing I've been unable to find any of Colette's novels or short stories locally, my daughter brought this treasure home from New York. I wonder if I'll be able wait that long....

I'll close our trip with Ernest Hemingway's final paragraph of A Moveable Feast:
"There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always return to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy."
Thank you, again, Karen and Tamara. I've had a wonderful time in Paris this month.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue (audio)

by Emma Donoghue
Narrated by Michal Friedman , Ellen Archer , Robert Petkoff , Suzanne Toren
Hachette Audio, 2010
10 hours, 52 minutes

Publisher's Summary:
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Why I listened:
I should begin by saying I made a conscious decision NOT to read Room. So many things about it turned me off: a five-year-old narrator, forced imprisonment, abuse. No, thank you. Besides, it sounded a little gimmicky.

When reviews began to appear, several bloggers I trust seemed to genuinely like Room. I was surprised, but still resisted. Eventually, a review of the audio version appeared in my google reader...intriguing, but did I really want to listen to a 5-year-old narrator for nearly eleven hours? Finally, during Audiobook Week, I won a twitter giveaway and selected Room as my prize.

The experience:
I was immediately captivated by Jack and his 'voice'. By the end of the first CD, I knew this was something special. Strangely enough, I also felt this would never work for me in print. Reading an entire book in a 5-year-old's language, even one as precocious as Jack, would simply be too tiresome.

Room had me looking for excuses to spend time in the car. Even the prospect of a dental appointment (30 minutes each way) was eagerly anticipated. By the end of the fifth CD, and with no further  plans to be alone in the car that day, I had to finish the book. Luckily, a print copy was available at the library. I went home and read the rest of the book in a single sitting.

Let me stress that this was not a disturbing or depressing book. It does deal with a horrific situation, but everything is filtered through Jack's level of understanding. Room is the work of a wonderfully creative and talented author.

A couple of things about the audio production stood out:
This is the first time I've listened to a book narrated by a child (or adult with a pitch-perfect child's voice), and it was my first experience with an audio that was partially 'dramatized'. I didn't think either would work for me but, again, I was surprised.

If you're at all curious, even if you've already read this one, I urge you to go to and listen to a sample of this audiobook. Jack may just charm you, too.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Room may just be my favorite audio this year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Hemingway...

Today's post wasn't going to be about Ernest Hemingway, but The Writer's Almanac reminded me of his birthday. Hemingway has been on my mind this month (Midnight in Paris, A Moveable Feast, a few stories), so the planned review must wait another day.

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway (books by this author), born in 1899 in Cicero — now Oak Park — Illinois. He started his writing life as a journalist, but when he was in Paris after World War I, working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, he was encouraged to take a more literary turn by other American writers like Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. His first collection of short stories, Our Time, was published in 1925.

Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast (published posthumously in 1964) is about those years in Paris, and those writers. The title was chosen by his widow, Mary, from something Hemingway wrote to a friend: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." It is sentimental and cruel by turns, and not entirely honest, since he probably overstated the level of poverty he experienced there, but as he concludes the brief preface: "If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact."

The memoir begins in medias res: "Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside." And it ends, "There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. [...] But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy."

*photo by Yousuf Karsh

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Belly of Paris

In the silence of a deserted avenue, wagons stuffed with produce made their way toward Paris, their thudding wheels rhythmically echoing off the houses sleeping behind rows of elm trees meandering on either side of the road. At the pont de Neuilly, a cart full of cabbages and another full of peas met up with eight carts of turnips and carrots coming in from Nanterre. The horses, their heads bent low, led themselves with their lazy, steady pace, a bit slowed by the slight uphill climb. Up on the carts, lying in their stomachs in the vegetables, wrapped in their black-and-gray-striped wool coats, the drivers slept with the reigns in their fists. Occasionally the light from a gas lamp would grope its way through the shadows and brighten the hobnail of a boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse, or the tip of a hat poking from the bright bloom of vegetables--red bouquets of carrots, white bouquets of turnips, or the bursting greenery of peas and cabbages.

The Belly of Paris
by Emile Zola
translated by Mark Kurlansky

This first paragraph doesn't have me bursting with excitement, but Zola certainly paints a vivid picture! I've enjoyed a couple of his novels and many short stories, but am still trying to decide on my next read. I hate this in-between book stage...

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Story of a Madman" by Emile Zola

This week, I returned to Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Stories by Emile Zola.  "Story of a Madman" (1868) is reputed to have many plot similarities to his novel Therese Raquin, published just a year earlier. The first paragraph captured my attention, touted similarities appeared in the second, and by the third paragraph, I had no doubt where the story was headed.

Forty year old Isidore-Jean-Louis Maurin marries the 18-year-old blonde daughter of one of his tenants, but Henriette soon begins to cheat on him with a young doctor from the flat upstairs.
"Their close proximity, the fact that they were separated from each other by nothing more than the thickness of a ceiling, sharpened their desire still more. At night, the lover could hear the husband coughing in bed."
After a few weeks, Henriette ran out of excuses for visiting the second floor and a plan to get rid of Maurin was hatched.
"They were reluctant to resort to violence or crime. How could you possibly slit the throat of such a tame sheep? Besides, they were afraid of being found out and sent to the guillotine. In any case, the doctor, who was an ingenious young man, hit on a less risky by equally effective method, the bizarre nature of which fired the young woman's romantic imagination."
Henriette staged several incidents which suggested her husband's madness. Compounded by gossip of neighbors, all of Maurin's actions are eventually construed as those of a madman, and he is taken away.

Forcible confinement of the allegedly insane was a timely issue in the late 1800's, and still evokes strong feelings today. Zola utilized the themes of madness and guilt very successfully in Therese Raquin and would return to them again in parts of the later Rougon-Macquart novel La Conquete de Plassans of 1874.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find "Story of a Madman" online, but if the plot interests you, I would strongly recommend reading Therese Raquin. My thoughts on that novel can be found here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine SetKaren and Tamara are the hosts of Paris in July.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TSS: It's Summertime and the Livin' is Easy

...or at least in theory it should be, right? A picture-perfect weekend on the lakes in upstate New York had me snapping a few photos yesterday, which somehow lead to a major blog redesign.  I like the simpler look, but may still do a little fine tuning. What do you think?

I did manage to relax this week with Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands. This wonderful collection of essays has me dreaming of the trip we hope to take next year. An added bonus was connecting with the author on twitter, and discovering some surprising common ground.

I also finished The Gap Year by Sarah Bird and will post my thoughts on August 8 for a TLC Book Tour. At the halfway point, I'm marveling at the truly amazing experience the audio version of Room by Emma Donoghue is providing. Interestingly, I doubt I'd enjoy the book in print... more about this in my review.

Paris in July has put me in the mood to read Emile Zola. He'll be featured in a Short Story Monday post tomorrow and I plan to start The Belly of Paris this afternoon. It's hard to believe July is half over.

In other news, Twin A recently received her dorm assignment, so Friday we took a road trip to investigate. We seem to have our best conversations while traveling, and the day in the car was truly a pleasure. The green, tranquil campus seemed idyllic, as did the nearby towns.

We also purchased a new (used) minivan yesterday. While it's hard to get excited about such a vehicle, we still desperately need one. For moving kids in and out of college dorms and summer housing in Manhattan, and hauling around our beloved greyhound, you just can't beat a van. I joke that I'm too old and too sophisticated for such a vehicle ( I'll share my minivan fashion analogy another day), so Twin B, commuting to college, will be the primary driver. Parting with van #3 and its 120,000 miles of memories will be bittersweet, but tomorrow we welcome van #4 to the fleet.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer Sunday!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Author Birthday: Anita Brookner

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of the novelist who said, "I feel I could get into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's loneliest, most miserable woman." That's Anita Brookner (books by this author), born in London (1928). She writes novels about lonely characters, so everyone wrongly assumes that she is writing about herself. She said: "Well, I am a spinster. I make no apologies for that. But I'm neither unhappy nor lonely. I am interested in people who live on their own, people who get left behind, who drop through the net, but who survive. They seem to me quite heroic characters sometimes, but no one inquires about them because they're people who do without much conversation, whose loudest moments are internal."

She did have a lonely childhood; she had no brothers and sisters, and her parents were unhappy. Her father was an unsuccessful businessman. Her mother had given up a successful career as a singer to marry her father and was never sure that it was a good decision. Anita loved reading and art. Her father gave her two Dickens novels every year for her birthday and Christmas until she had read every single one. The Brookners lived near an art museum, and she spent every Sunday afternoon there looking at paintings.

She went to college and graduate school to study art history, which worried her parents; they were concerned that she would never find a husband if she became an academic. When she insisted anyway and got offered a scholarship to study in Paris, her parents disowned her. But she loved Paris. She said: "I lived in a hotel, which is an ideal existence. You have no responsibilities. You eat out; you don't make your bed. You go off to work every morning; and I was completely immersed in the work. I've never been so happy."

She moved back to Britain and became an art historian and professor. For many years, she was a popular and respected teacher, but when she was in her 50s, she started to worry about what she would do after she retired. She liked to read fiction, so she decided to try writing a novel. Her first novel, A Start in Life (1981), was published when she was 53. After that, for many years she published exactly one new novel every summer. She writes her novels out in longhand, then types them up, and writes only one draft. Overall, she has published 24 novels in the past 30 years. She said, "My real work was as a teacher and an academic, and I loved it. This is really just filling the time."

Her novels include Hotel du Lac (1984), which won the Booker Prize; Undue Influence (1999); The Rules of Engagement (2003); and most recently, Strangers (2009).

She said, "I suppose what one wants really is ideal company and books are ideal company."

*photo credit

Today is also International Anita Brookner Day, created by Thomas and Simon. They lead the book blogging community in celebrating "all things Anita".  Look for reviews and more on this blog.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

"If you are luck enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, the wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
-Ernest Hemingway to a friend in 1950

A trip to another place and time...
A Moveable Feast, published posthumously in 1964, is Ernest Hemingway's memoir of Paris.  It did, indeed, prove to be a feast for the senses as sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of  the city came alive. Through short chapters, which can almost be read as a series of individual essays, the reader truly experiences Hemingway's Paris of the 1920's.

The book started slowly for me. Must the reader already know Paris to appreciate this work? Perhaps a pre-existing love for Hemingway is necessary? These worries were soon put to rest and I fell under the spell of A Moveable Feast.

I loved Hemingway's description of the city, its cafes, and the seasons.
With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. (p. 45)
I sometimes laughed at his freely-shared opinions of other writers:
I had always avoided looking at Ford [Madox Ford] when I could and I always held my breath when I was near him in a close room... (p. 83)
...I had been told Katherine Mansfield was a good short-story writer, but trying to read her after Chekhov was like hearing the carefully artificial tales of a young old-maid compared to those of an articulate and knowing physician who was a good and simple writer. (p. 133)
Tolstoi made the writing of Stephen Crane on the Civil War seem like the brilliant imagining of a sick boy who had never seen war but had only read the battles and chronicles and seen the Brady photographs that I had read and seen at my grandparent's house. (p. 133)
"I've been wondering about Dostoyevsky," I said. "How can a man write so badly, so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply?" (p. 137)
My favorite sections involved his friendship with F. Scott  and Zelda Fitzgerald, and inspired plans for a reread of FSF's Tender is the Night.  The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a novel that focuses on Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, has also been added to my wish list. Perhaps that will be my first book for Paris in July 2012!

A Moveable Feast has earned a spot in my permanent library. Perhaps I will even trade in my old paperback for a hardcover restored edition. This is a book to be enjoyed over and over again.

Paris in July is hosted by Karen and Tamara.

My rating:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Gap Year

I once believed that I was psychologically incapable of being unhappy while submerged in water. Sunk in a bathtub up to my eyeballs, I was as free of earthly cares as a turtle sunning herself.

Yet here I am, wallowing through my tenth lap, feeling prickly and unsettled rather than weightless and dolphin-sleek. Instead of soaring into silent galaxies, I am snarled up in annoyance that my right eye is stinging because these crappy goggles are leaking. And that the ladies' aqua-cardio class in the shallow end is blaring "It's Raining Men". And that the flip-turning jerk I'm sharing a lane with drowns me every time he powers past. And that because I didn't expose my only child to enough dirt, Aubrey will hit the germ factory that is a college dorm with a weak immune system. And that she will die of spinal meningitis.*

The Gap Year
by Sarah Bird

I'm reading The Gap Year for a TLC Book Tour in August, as my twins prepare for their freshman years at college. They have both had a meningitis vaccine.

Does the opening grab you? Would you keep reading?

* This quote is from an uncorrected proof. The finished book may be slightly different.

Tuesday Intro is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Tuesday Intro is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Abandoned" by Guy de Maupassant

When plans for another Paris in July were announced, I knew Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) would be on my itinerary.  "Farewell" was a favorite last year. It left me marveling at the author's ability to write so simply and directly about basic human experience (aging, in this case), yet have it resonate so deeply.

"Abandoned" succeeds on the same level. What must it be like to give up a child at birth? The story opens:
"I really think you must be mad, my dear, to go for a country walk in such weather as this. You have had some very strange notions for the last two months. You drag me to the seaside in spite of myself, when you have never once had such a whim during all the forty-four years that we have been married. You chose Fecamp, which is a very dull town, without consulting me in the matter, and now you are seized with such a rage for walking, you who hardly ever stir out on foot, that you want to take a country walk on the hottest day of the year. Ask d'Apreval to go with you, as he is ready to gratify all your whims. As for me, I am going back to have a nap."
Madame de Cadour, an elderly woman, does convince her old companion to accompany her on a walk, while her husband returns to the hotel for a nap. We learn almost immediately that there is much more to both the purpose of the journey and the relationship when Monsieur d'Apreval says,
"if our son guesses anything, if he has any suspicions, he will have you, he will have us both in his power. You have got on without seeing him for the last forty years. What is the matter with you to-day?"
The puzzle is quickly pieced together as the reader learns Madame de Cadour was sent away years earlier to have a baby. She held her son for a single day before he was abruptly taken. What must forty years of daily longing be like? Surely expectations have been formed as a picture of the long-absent child (now man) was fashioned in her mind.

After so much time, can anything really turn out as one imagines? Read the eight-page story here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.
Paris in July is hosted by Karen and Tamara.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Salon: The Dog Days

And so we begin the Dog Days of Summer..
...forty days of especially hot and humid weather with little rainfall, according to the Farmers' Almanac. The name came from the ancient Greeks. They believed that Sirius, the "dog star," which rose with the sun at that time, was adding to the sun's heat. They also believed that the weather made dogs go mad. The Romans tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the dog days. For the Egyptians, the arrival of dog days marked the beginning of the Nile's flooding season, as well as their New Year celebrations. 
"Dog days" has been adopted by the stock market because the markets tend to be slow and sluggish; it's also come to mean any period of stagnation or inactivity. (from today's Writer's Almanac)
The dog days of blogging are apparently here, too. With two graduations, senior ball, Father's Day and a short trip, June passed in a blur of activity.  I read only two books and listened to one more, but haven't gotten around to reviewing any of them. Sunday Salon posts fell by the wayside, too.

So, what am I reading now? I've just started The Gap Year by Sarah Bird and finished few short stories by Guy de Maupassant.  Room by Emma Donoghue is my current 'car audiobook' and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is loaded on the ipod.

Paris in July is finally underway! To get things started, I'll post my thoughts on A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway this week. I also highly recommend the movie Midnight in Paris.

Blogging may continue to be sporadic throughout these dog days of summer. Hopefully, reading will continue as normal. We have a very low-key day planned today and I'm looking forward to a couple of uninterrupted hours with The Gap Year this afternoon. Tomorrow will be full of July 4th festivities - a road race in the morning (I'll be a spectator/cheerleader), followed by a parade, party, and fireworks. It's truly one of my favorite holidays!

By the way, that's not Zelda lounging on the float. She's a little nervous in the kiddie pool, but I came across a wonderful website featuring other greyhounds enjoying the water.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Literary Anniversary, of sorts...

Ernest Hemingway has been the topic of much blogger buzz lately. Several of us have recently read A Moveable Feast (I promise my thoughts will be posted soon) and quite a few more have talked about the movie Midnight in Paris.

According to The Writer's Almanac:

Ernest Hemingway committed suicide 50 years ago today. He had found writing increasingly difficult after World War II, and he was also in pain from injuries he'd suffered during a safari in Africa. He had left his home in Cuba in 1960, after Fidel Castro's regime forced him out, and had settled in Ketchum, Idaho. He was increasingly anxious and depressed. He entered the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, twice in the eight months before to undergo electro-convulsive therapy, but he hated it and found it ineffective. He shot himself in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun; his widow, Mary, insisted at first that his death was accidental, and that he'd just been cleaning the weapon, but later she admitted it had been a suicide.

His granddaughter Lorian wrote in her memoir, Walk on Water (1998):
"I had visited my grandfather's grave in Ketchum the summer I had caught the marlin, arriving at the small hillside cemetery on a scalding July day, a half-finished fifth of vodka in one hand, a filter-tip cigar in the other. I'd made my way to the simple marble slab marked by a white cross, and stood swaying over the marker for a long time, expecting epiphany, resolution, a crashing, blinding flash of insight. ... I wanted to say something of value to the old man, perhaps that I had met a dare he had set forth by example, but nothing came. The neck of the bottle grew hot in my hand. I tipped it to my mouth, taking a long swig, then poured the rest, a stream of booze, clear as Caribbean waters, at the head of the marker. 'Here,' I said, 'have this,' and walked away."


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