Rome: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
For those who've wondered, these are the books I've read this trip, and no - James G - I still don't have a Kindle. :)
1. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. A first novel about an International Herald Tribune-type paper, set in Rome. The story is told via chapters about writer, editor, publisher, etc. I found the characters very unsympathetic - a very unhappy, unfulfilled lot. I wanted to like this book more than I did.
2. Cellophane by Marie Arana. A luscious novel about a fantastic family in the jungles of Peru. The patriarch, Don Victor, is a paper maker and then moves to cellophane which seemingly triggers a truth telling epidemic and revolution. I loved it!
3. La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales. The author loves Italy, Italian culture and the language, which is her entry to it all. Full of interesting history about the language, authors, poets, slang, etc. However even for me, she's a bit over the top - is there really no other language in the whole world with the nuance, beauty, etc. of Italian? Forse
4. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. The amazing true story of Deo from Burundi and his nightmare flight from the massacres there (why does one know about Rawanda and not Burundi?), his quite terrible life in NYC, the benefactors who took him in, and how he ultimately graduates from Columbia, begins medical school and goes back to Burundi to build the clinic he'd wanted to years before when he'd been a medical student there. He finds a "home" with Partners in Health – people who see the effects of poverty the way he does and believe they can make a difference. Inspiring.
5. Foreign Tongues by Vanina Marsot. The first of my "France" books, to get me in the mood. A sexy Paris novel about a bilingual LA woman, dumped by her boyfriend, who comes to Paris to recover, make a new life and find love. Great descriptions of Paris, neighborhoods, cafes, food, the French language, etc. but pretty lightweight
6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. A big best seller, translated from the French, set in Paris, featuring a concierge, a young girl and a Japanese man. Pretty compelling characters but it got tedious with a bit too much reflecting on how superior they all were and also too much philosophizing.
7. French Lessons by Alice Kaplan. Great! A personal and professional memoir about learning French, the death of her father, using immersion into another culture as a way both of hiding from her own and dealing with her past. Fascinating about her study of Celine and French intellectual fascists, and her teaching experiences. Beautifully written and great to read in Paris.
8. Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco. A memoir by a Canadian who was in Paris in 1927-29. A perfect compliment to the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris
9. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. A great novel. Winner of this year's Mann Booker Prize. About being Jewish (including anti-Semitism and being critical of Israel), friendship and death. I laughed out loud every other page (though it probably should be noted that Jim never found what I found clever, witty or downright hysterical to be so.) But really – witty, moving, provocative. And maybe you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it.