Thursday, July 23, 2015

Literary Snobbery, A Reading Manifesto and The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Cool Idea of the Day: 'League of Literary Snobbery'

Observing that "reading out loud is only fun when you have an audience,"
Third Place Books, Ravenna, Wash., hosts a monthly event called the
League of Literary Snobbery: Storytime for Grownups

"Yes, it's a regrettable name born of an astounding lack of imagination,
and that calling something 'Adult Storytime' would generate an entirely
different audience," the bookstore wrote. "Every third Monday of the
month... we gather in the Pub
get our drinks and adjourn to the Reading Room. And we read out loud.
Mostly it's me reading, but others join in from time to time (we gladly
welcome new readers). Sometimes there's a theme, and sometimes not. It
might be an article, a short story, an essay, or a piece from a novel.
Sometimes the occasional poem gets thrown around. We play it pretty fast
and loose."

Speaking of snobbery, I've noticed that this year my reading has taken a different direction than in previous years. Certain excellent books have spoiled me for books that are just good, or okay, or even mediocre but acceptable, let alone poorly written monstrosities that are unbearable and beg to be thrown across the room. 
These great works all feature juicy prose and swift, sure plots enacted by brilliant, believable characters so delightfully drawn that they nearly leap from the page with life.
The books that I'm developing an intolerance for have prose that is usually clean but dry as the desert combined with relentlessly turgid plots that inch along, or worse are predictable enough that the reader suffocates with boredom by the second chapter. The characters are often stiff as cardboard or cartoonish cliches.

A recent example is a book I'm 55 pages into titled Starhawk by Jack McDevitt. It's a science fiction novel with prose so arid that I was parched by the end of the second paragraph. The characters are logical and the plot is scientifically precise, but there's no joy in the book, no emotive juice to make the reader want to delve into each chapter with abandon.
In contrast is the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, a luxurious, delicious gem of a novel full of lush, ripe prose and gorgeously drawn characters that beckon the reader to join them on their journey through the powerful emotional landscape of France. Here's the blurb:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

 Poor M. Perdu! His heart is broken and sealed against further harm for 20 years, until he discovers that if he had but read a letter left to him by his lover (who was married), he would have found that she left him not because she didn't love him, but because she didn't want him to watch her die of cancer that she chose not to treat in favor of carrying out an unexpected pregnancy. Filled with shame and remorse, Perdu and literary wunderkind Max Jordan travel in his book barge through the waterways of France to find his love's final resting place and make peace with her and her memory. My only problem with this book is that I think the title should have been "The Literary Apothecary" because there was no bricks and mortar Paris bookshop anywhere in the novel. There was only Monsieur Perdu's book barge/ship that was tied up on the Seine, from whence he dispensed his book remedies to all and sundry. 

Still, paragraphs like these make anything forgivable. "Perdu had discovered another thing above the rivers--stars that breathed. One day they shone brightly, the next they were pale, then bright again. It looked as though they were breathing to some never-ending slow, deep rhythm. They breathed and watched as the world came and went.  Some stars had seen the Neanderthals; they had seen the pyramids rise and Columbus discover America. For them, the earth was one more island world in the immeasurable ocean of outer space, it's inhabitants microscopically small." I marked more than a few places in The Little Paris Bookshop that had beautifully-written moments like that, and I plan on adding them to my journal. But I was so overwhelmed with joy, sorrow, fascination, frustration, laughter and love during this impeccable novel that I flitted from book to book after reading it, unable to find anything as warm and delightful to read. The Little Paris Bookshop deserves highest marks, an A+, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys beautiful stories that are bound to become classic literature, read for generations to come. Well done, Ms George, well done.

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