Sunday, December 05, 2010

My Joy

My best friend was in town a few weeks back. What lingers from his whirlwind arrival was his reading choice. He carried a Penguin copy of Maugham's Mrs. Craddock and while I think he was mistaken about the novel's origins, I found it a remarkable read for a trip back to the heartland. I recall the presence of such while we discussed the failures of character within Freedom, it sat there on the bar mocking us. It recalled the decisions of others to only read the established. I can safely commend that temerity. Years before, Joel bought me Franco Moretti's Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900. I have consulted that tome rather often this year. Dr. Moretti asserts that, personally, he prefers Balzac to Dickens. My own opinion, which may be pegged specifically to the end of 2010, remains I have to agree.

I finished a pair of books this week, Michel Butor's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape and Sarah Bakewell's magnificent book on Montaigne. Butor's slim effort cradles the germ of something really remarkable, but as is, it is only a sketchbook of postmodern autobiography. How To Live, conversely, was a touch overwritten, at least initially. The first 80 pages are an exhausting overview of the French Renaissance and Greek philosophy. I recalled a review of the Rest Is Noise which asserted that the book contained an entire university education of music. My response was terse, really, where? Ms. Bakewell finds her stride by allowing Montaigne to dictate terms in all life's meanderings and contradictions. Weaving together Pascal, Hazlitt, Nietzsche and Zweig and the blogospehere, Bakewell provides an admirable spirit to Borges' creation of one's antecedents and influences.

It is rather Arctic here today. I have dove into Cousin Bette and feel incredibly enriched.


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