In January we admitted that our reading backlog had become absurd and declared a moratorium on book acquisitions until the number of unread books had been brought down to a manageable level. There’s nothing like being told that you can’t buy any more books till you’ve decreased your backlog to make you read faster. Book lust is a great motivator. One of our joys is complaining about how many books we still have to read, and how can we do that if the number isn’t growing?
Someday we might get through a Balzac novel without wanting to seek out the author and throttle him (It’s a good thing he’s dead). We had an easier time with The Human Comedy, a collection of his short stories—”short” is relative. These tales are voluptuously-written, fascinating and infuriating—often at the same time. Balzac will start a story with some juicy gossip about famous Parisian mistresses, and then veer off into a pompous disquisition on women that will have you nodding off half a page. When he isn’t being pompous, he’s riveting.
In The 400 Blows, Antoine Doinel adores Balzac and gets caught plagiarizing him so he runs away.
Weird to hear him in Spanish.
For a taste, read A Passion in the Desert, about a soldier who falls in love with a panther.
In Paris we wanted to read about Paris so we bought Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant. We couldn’t read it, we were not ready. There are books you have to read in childhood before your concentration is shot (Malory), and there are books that require a clearer perception of the varieties of human experience (Tolstoy). The news of Gallant’s death last month, at age 92, reminded us that we had this story collection. We started reading it and did not stop. This is in defiance of Gallant’s advice in the afterword to read one story, then shut the book and come back later. These stories are complex, graceful, and moving—they sneak up on you. You’re left feeling so much, and you wonder how she did it because she never calls attention to her technique. That would be tacky. Sometimes we don’t even know exactly how a story turns out, plot-wise, but we feel like we’ve been through something. Gallant is amazing.
The Goldfinch was our favorite book last year so we resolved to read Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History. Reading The Secret History reminded us of watching Dead Poets Society, and not just because both are set in schools in New England. In both cases we were charmed and transfixed, but we also found them a little cringe-making. They’re rather precious and affected (Ang o-OA nila), they over-romanticize the academe and the nerd experience. The Secret History is about a group of very bright college students who fall under the spell of their adviser and professor of Greek. They’re so drunk on their syllabus that they end up committing murder—that’s not a spoiler, it’s right on the first page. Everyone is working so hard to be eccentric, and if you have to work at it, what you are is a hipster. Compelling read, though, shocking that it hasn’t been filmed.
If it weren’t by Nancy Mitford, The Blessing would be high-end chick-lit about an uncomplicated girl who marries a French aristocrat and moves to Paris, where she is shocked by the decadent lifestyle. Gasp, affairs left and right. However, since this is by the author of Love In A Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, it is wickedly funny, sophisticated, and understanding of human frailty. You know how Tagalog movies and telenovelas are obsessed with adultery and mistresses? Their writers should read Nancy Mitford so they can get over their little bourgeois hang-ups and actually enjoy life.
The way cats do. We borrowed this from our sister. It is the War and Peace of cat-centric comics.
If you’re in the mood for a wonderful love story but can’t commit to anything that takes longer than a day, this is your perfect nosh. Turn to a random page and find something that will split your vestigial heart in half.