It’s spring in Paris, meaning that life calls for choices to be made. Writing at home v.s. reading in the park. Italian maceration wine or a white from Bourgogne. Reading the 20th-century masters or making headway on the pile of recently published books that keeps augmenting. Exploring the parks of Belleville or making a pilgrimage to the Guimard buildings in the 16th arrondissement. Writing reviews or working on short stories. Meeting up with A, B, or C. All of them? A recap of recent readings reveals that there’s been time for all of the above.
Best of short stories read in April:
- What Kind of Day Did You Have? by Saul Bellow – link
- Mosby’s Memoirs by Saul Bellow – link
- August by Mavis Gallant – link
- Speck’s Idea by Mavis Gallant – link
- Found Wanting by Douglas Stewart – link
- Päev, mil Cathy Suri by Paula Nerve – Vikerkaar 7-8 2020
- 48 tundi by Maarja Kangro – link
Recommendations of articles, essays, reviews:
The Act of Persuasion – Merve Emre on Elizabeth Hardwick, via The New York Review of Books – link
M. Emre reviews the recently-published biography A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick by Cathy Curtis and contemplates how the “drama of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life emanated from an elemental restlessness and a desire for sovereignty over her intellect and emotion.”
+ Interview with Elizabeth Hardwick in The Paris Review – link
Returning to Florence With ‘the World’s Most Opinionated Guide’ by Perri Klass, M.D. via the New York Times – link
On the Italian travel memoir The Stones of Florence (1959) by the writer and critic Mary McCarthy. Made me want to get a hold of the book and flight tickets to Florence.
Lost in the Concrete Jungle by Jeremy Noel-Tod via the TLS – link
On the avant-garde poetic movement of concrete poetry.
Not Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Rohan Maitzen via the TLS – link
On Virginia Woolf’s first biographer and the intricacies of their relationship.
There’s Something About Mary by Miri Rubin via the TLS – link
Rubin reviews the latest books published on Virgin Mary and reports how her cult has evolved through history.
He Envisioned a Nightmarish, Dystopian Russia. Now He Fears Living in One by Alexandra Alter via The New York Times Book Review – link
A profile on the Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin and the eight (!) forthcoming translations of his books in English.
Two new translations of the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s works are now available
(And waiting on my bookshelf): The Trouble With Happiness and Other Stories + The Faces
There’s also a plethora of reviews to help one understand whether the books soaked in Nordic placidity and coldness are their cup of (ice) tea.
- Fernanda Eberstadt reviewing both books for The New York Times Book Review – link
- Tabish Khair on The Trouble With Happiness and Other Stories via the TLS – link
Other books of interest:
- The Candy House by Jennifer Egan reviewed by James Poniewozik for The New York Times Book Review – link
- Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart reviewed by Yen Pham for The New York Times Book Review – link
- Companion Piece by Ali Smith reviewed by Lucy Hughes-Hallett for The Guardian – link
The Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant
When in her twenties, in a single week Mavis Gallant left her job, moved to Paris, and sent three of her short stories to The New Yorker which began to publish her.
The stories in The Paris Stories, many of which were published by the magazine, feature women and men, rich and poor, intelligent and hopeless as they go along their days and occasionally slip into bizarre events and run into eccentric people. Entertaining, witty, and complex, Gallant’s stories make for a good companion to any reader yearning to be carried into other countries and into the lives of quirky people. The author’s penmanship and language are a joy to read, to say the least.
Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
While my bookish friends’ sympathies are set on Thomas Bernhard, they’ve seldom read anything by Saul Bellow. This always comes as opportune news to me as I’m ever willing to recommend that they also read Saul Bellow. Especially Herzog and More Die of Heartbreak. Now, there’s the third book in the band. Bellow used to call his novels and stories “letters-on-general of an occult personality” and this does, if somewhat obscurely, sum them up.
Ravelstein, written when Bellow was 85y old, brims with intelligent contemplations and witty remarks – and name-droppings – on world politics, historical events, Western philosophy, and death. The book is narrated by Chick, a close friend to Abe Ravelstein – a brilliant professor who’s dividing his time between giving lectures and gossiping with his former students and friends; between Paris and New York; between the most expensive hotels and hospital wards. The reader’s served a glimpse into the sensuous, luxurious, and intellectual lives of Ravelstein and his much younger companion Nikki. As is the matter with opulent caviar dishes, once you finish it, you’re left craving for more.
“He didn’t ask “Where will you spend eternity?” as religious the-end-is-near picketers did but rather, “With what, in this modern democracy, will you meet the demands of your soul?”
“You don’t lie to yourself, Chick. You may put off acknowledgment for a very long time but in the end, you own up. It’s not a common virtue.”
The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen
The Faces is a perfect book to read in one day. Its twisting plot is so immersive that were the book longer than 130 pages, you’d end up reading it through 5 am in the morning, incapable of putting it down.
Like Ditlevsen’s three-part memoir that was published in English in 2021, The Faces is a semi-autobiographical account of a celebrated female writer struggling with a mental breakdown. Unlike Ditlevsen who was addicted to drugs, this novel’s protagonist battles an adversary resembling a case of schizophrenia. We meet Lise Mundus, a famous author in her early 40s, in the safe milieu of her home. Surrounded by her cheating husband, their maid, and the three children from her previous marriage. Lise, increasingly suspicious of her husband Gert and their bonne à tout faire, comes to believe that she’s turning mad again and finds out the two are conspiring to kill her.
In a desperate attempt to save herself, Lise swallows a jar of sleeping pills and calls her psychiatrist before losing consciousness. She wakes up in a hospital bed, her head filled with voices. As Lise grows ever more maniacally paranoid, the reader begins to see through her lunacy. It’s impossible not to feel for her. Will the voices stop? Will she come out of this sane or be sent to an asylum forever?
Ditlevsen writes with a clear, haunting voice. Ironically, the hospital staff is warm-hearted and the ending (almost to the point of disappointment) is upbeat.