Sunday, January 20, 2008


The first of the year gave me plenty to do and little to read. After New Year's in Paris, my traveling band went to Grenoble, Geneva and Barcelona before I found myself back at Sarah's apartment half-dead with the flu. Recovering, I unpacked some of the must-reads with which I had weighted down my suitcase and opened an older book by an author I had only recently discovered.

Open Secrets by Alice Munro
I love Alice Munro. I love her Canadians and her sparse prose. My favorite remains Runaway, but in truth I haven't disliked anything I've read by her. She feels like family, telling the stories my mother's mother never passed on about Dakota schoolteachers and Montana isolation. Open Secrets got me through a quiet convalescence and then converted Sarah into a Munro devotee as well.

L'immoraliste by André Gide
I read Symphonie pastorale for the French senior seminar and found myself wanting to turn his commentary on religion and morality into a dialogue. L'immoraliste was interesting, but didn't catch me in the same way. Les faux-monnayeurs is still on my to-read list, but Gide is not yet among my all-time favorite authors. Nonetheless, it made calm train reading that didn't scream "American tourist!" on my visit to Aix.

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl
I felt homesick for Aix from the moment I left. Once back in France, I had to return to Provence, but Sarah's work schedule meant I had to travel solo. I visited old teachers and old haunts, but only Dahl kept me company at quiet dinners in my favorite quiet restaurants. If you've only read his children's stories, prepare to be surprised by his fiction for grown-ups - it's wonderful and dark and very much adult. The "My Uncle Oswald" stories are vulgar and horrifically funny, and it was the perfect antidote to the Nobel literature I'd just finished.

Carry Me Down by MJ Hyland
One of my favorite bookstores anywhere in the world is Book in Bar just off the Cours Mirabeau in Aix. I went there one evening to buy a tea and browse the inventory. As it happened, the shop was holding a reading by an author I'd never heard of but who had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I picked up an Ian McEwan novel off the used-books shelf and settled in to wait. The reading was tiny - a group of about six older Brits and then me in the corner - and Ms. Hyland seemed a bit eager to name-drop on Salman Rushdie and J.M. Coetzee - but it was a fun quiet evening and I bought a book if only because it seemed cool to have a signed copy. Reading it on the trip back to Grenoble, I did get sucked into the story of a boy who realizes that he knows when people are lying and the slow disintegration of his family life as it unfolds around this realization. Nonetheless, I'm with the Booker committee, who gave the 2006 prize to Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss.

El amor en los tiempos del cólera by Gabriel García Márquez
Departing for Morocco, I decided that I might as well embrace my upcoming linguistic confusion and throw everything imaginable into the mix. Settling in with my host family, Sidi Mohammed smiled and showed off his Spanish, while dear Gabriel spun his magic once again. He joins Munro on my always-favorites list.

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