Friday, July 30, 2021

 THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, Muriel Barbery (from the archives)

This novel, a selection of my reading group, at first put me off. Who wants to read, or in my case listen, to the philosophical ramblings of a 54 year old French concierge and a rich 12 year old suicidal child in a Paris apartment building. But perhaps because I listened to rather than read this book, I soon became engaged with it. On vacation in Paris several years ago, I was also seduced by the setting.

Renee Michel, a fifty-four-year-old woman of humble origins, is concierge in a Parisian apartment building. Renee quit school at age twelve, but throughout her life she has studied philosophy, literature, film and art. She hides her intelligence from the residents of her building. She puts on the mantle of the grumpy, unintelligent concierge for reasons that become clear over time.

Also we hear the diary of Paloma Josse, a twelve-year-old who also lives in the apartment building. Like Renee, Paloma pretends to be average so as to be ignored--to be left alone. Paloma plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She sees no reason to continue life with her rich, uninterested family. If her fate is to become like them, she'd sooner die.

Thus the lives of Renee and Paloma are similar and we wait for them to discover this. We wait for them to find and save each other.

One day, Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese businessman, moves in. Both women find their salvation in his interest in them and eventually each other. They create their own salon.

This book won me over due to the acerbic, uncompromising nature of both women. And yet, beneath their cynicism lie hearts eager to be won. Madame Michel asks herself, "What is the purpose of intelligence if it is not to serve others?" If only we all could embrace this sentiment.

Again, this is not an easy book to sink into. But don't be put off by her philosophizing. She's worth your perseverance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: " The Pilgrimage" William Maxwell.


William Keepers Maxwell Jr. (August 16, 1908 – July 31, 2000) was an American editor, novelist, short story writer, essayist, children's author, and memoirist. He served as a fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975. An editor devoted to his writers, Maxwell became a legendary mentor and confidant to many of the most prominent authors of his day. Although best known as an editor, Maxwell was a highly respected and award-winning novelist and short story writer. His stature as a celebrated author has grown in the years following his death. 

"The Pilgrimage" almost certainly is a story based on something experienced or something heard by Maxwell. It gets so much right about tired tourists on the road. The Ormsby's are an American couple touring France. On the way to Paris, they make a detour to find a restaurant that friends have told them about, saying "it was the best dinner they had in their life" How can the couple not have dinner at a place that specialized in truffles and also " deserts made from little balls of various ice cream in a beautiful basket of spun sugar with a spun-sugar bow." 

They drive through village after village and finally come on a place that seems right except the menu has neither of the dishes they are seeking. And neither does another place on the town square. They are completely obsessed with having the things they were told about and act in the way Americans are always accused of acting. 

This is a satirical story, of course, meant to point out the problems with tourists in foreign settings. Maxwell is a master of this sort of story. And I can't say enough about the quality of his novels. especially TIME WILL DARKEN IT, THE FOLDED LEAF and SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW. 


George Kelley 

Richard Robinson 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, July 26, 2021

Monday, Monday

I am working with a new computer here and I have not figured everything out yet. So much faster though. 

So happy to see TED LASSO again. And the first episode was just as good as last year's series. It doesn't always work out that way. I am watching the original Belgian version of PROFESSOR T, which is a bit too much MONK for me. I liked MONK, but I don't need another version. The UK one looked worse. 

In the middle of THE BEAST MUST DIE on AMC and too soon to tell but I loved Nicholas Blake books when I read them 50 years ago. Also not sure about WHITE LOTUS yet although the second episode seemed better than the first. 

The movie mentioned above is Hungarian and was so interesting. It is available on several platforms and worth your time if you like a puzzle. 

Lots of horrible rain, really driving downpours and one of them knocked out my cable box. Will Comcast try to charge me to fix/replace it. If they do, goodbye I think. Maybe I can get along with just my Roku and WIFI. 

We people who got our vaccines six months ago now have to be careful. It seems to wane about now and several people I know have had breakthrough cases, and not so asymptomatic. B.V. Lawson has had it twice not. Once before and once after the vaccines, despite wearing masks. All of this could have been avoided it everyone had vaxed up. 

No books to report. I pick them  up, read 50 pages and put them down. It is probably just me. 

So what's new with you?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday's Forgotten Books: Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, A. Scott Berg

Richard S. Wheeler was the author of sixty-nine contracted or published novels that largely dealt with the American West. This include historical novels, biographical novels, and traditional western fiction. In recent years he wrote mysteries, including some set in the upper Midwest, under the pseudonym Axel Brand. 
This review is from 2009. Richard Wheeler died a few years back. A lovely man.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

I've finished rereading Scott Berg's great biography of Maxwell Perkins, which won the National Book Award in 1978. It is a massive book and took a week to get through. I've often wondered why it is my favorite book, and why I return to it with renewed thirst and joy, every little while.

For a long time, I thought it was because I had been a book editor and found common ground with Perkins. Or perhaps it was because my family is rooted in New England, though I grew up in the Midwest. There was something in Max Perkins' shy, awkward, introspective nature that rang bells in me.

The truth of it is that I have no idea why that book stands above all others in that place of the heart where I build altars. It is largely a description of the way Perkins, a Scribners editor, nurtured several wayward authors and the result was the most sublime period in American literary history. The list of those he encouraged and published is too long for this posting, but they include Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and James Jones. No other editor has even come close to discovering and publishing a list like that.

Scott Berg writes tenderly. He had his hands full, because of the acrimony, the disappointments, the bitterness, the craziness, the hurt, that he was chronicling. Somehow Perkins managed to nurture each of his authors, supplied the specific criticisms that lifted their books to new heights, all the while trying to remain anonymous because he felt that editors should not take credit or be known to the public. He often said that a book belongs to the author, and it is the editor's task simply to bring out the best in the author and the book.

This great work by Berg shaped me. It deeply affected how I think about literature. It changed what I aspire to in my writing. I am not the same person I was before this book entered the place of honor on my shelf. I lost my father, whom I loved and admired, when I was young. All those authors he nurtured lost a father when Max Perkins died.