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from France In Photos
I have an almost-reverance for the idea of the right book for the right reader at the right time.
A few years ago, when I was doing a lot of reading research, most of boiled down to this idea: Anyone can become an enthusiastic reader if they are introduced to the right book. Enthusiastic reading = frequent reading = better reading . . . and on and on in a circular equation.
Of course, all books aren't created equal -- nor will they be loved equally by those who read them. At any given time, I will have a number of books on the go -- and some will be read avidly, some fitfully, and some will (truthfully) eventually be abandoned. But no problem . . . because I am always surrounded by books and my book-reading will probably never catch up to my book-hoarding.
If I am away on holiday, though, my book choice is far more crucial. I just cannot stand to be without a book -- even if it is only ten minutes of solitary waiting time in a restaurant. (That happened to me yesterday, but it was fine because I had Clotilde Dusoulier's excellent Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook with me.) When an avid reader is isolated from bookstores, libraries and their own personal stash, it is extremely important to get the book right. It is a delicate, complex, nay even mysterious, process.
A few notes about holiday reading: I don't like trash, but the reading level shouldn't be too challenging, either. (Being away from home/routine has many inherent stressors anyway, and you don't want to be tussling with inpenetrable reading material.) The right holiday book is thoughtful, but not inponderable, convoluted or nonsensical. Some people like escapism, but I like a book which will bring me back to myself. I think that travel has a tendency to open up cracks in a person . . . and so I want a book which might shed some light on whatever issues I am grappling with at the moment.
All of this is lengthy, but necessary -- to my mind, at least --preamble for introducing Capturing Paris, by Katharine Davis. For me, it was the perfect February Half-Term (visit friends in New York and go skiing) novel. It was easy to become absorbed in, and to pick up and put down again, and it contained lots of food for thought -- but only the easily digested kind. I finished it in the late afternoon, lying under a quilt, bathed in the soft blue light of lamplit falling snow. My setting had a quiet beauty, and so did the setting of the book.
The protagonist of the novel, Annie Reed, is a middle-aged wife, mother and poet -- and I'm going to suggest that this novel will probably mostly appeal to middle-aged women. Its subject is mid-life crisis: not the sort of crisis where you want to go out and buy a Porsche, but the kind of crisis which is brought on by mostly unavoidable life shifts. A husband loses a job, a child moves away, emotional certainties are threatened. Of course, anytime there are cracks there will be opportunities . . . as I mentioned before. This is a novel about having the opportunity to redefine yourself. Even as Annie loses pieces of her old life and sense of self, she is gaining interesting new ones. Another theme is the process of discovering, or rediscovering, one's creative self. Annie is emotionally attached to the idea of Paris as the source of her creativity, and part of her journey is figuring out to what extent that is true.
One of the chief pleasures of the novel is the Parisian setting -- and it is obvious that Davis can describe Paris from an insider's point-of-view. There are many delicious descriptions of Parisian life -- particularly of food, and its place of importance in this culture. Perhaps I will enlarge the book's intended audience a bit: middle-aged women will like it, and so will Francophiles, and so will foodies.
I cannot separate this book from another kind of provenance: it was given to me by my dearest friend in Houston. I had a hunch that dear friend had found this charming book at her favorite book-buying place, and it turned out that I was correct. River Oaks Bookstore: It is the kind of independent bookstore which earns the loyalty of its readers, partly because of its carefully edited selection and partly because of its personal service. You can describe the reader to Jean, and she will make thoughtful recommendations.