When I haven’t the energy to read Proust, I read something else. In that respect, I’m no different from anyone else. But the other day my daughter commented on how strange it was that I was sitting on the couch reading one book while another lay at my side — after reading one for a few minutes, I would switch to the other, and after a while back again to the first. This went on for some time. I suspect this reading habit isn’t unusual either.
I can’t explain the thinking that forces the switch, nor even my choice of which books to read simultaneously. When my daughter made her comment, I was tag-reading Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. Perhaps it was the yellow covers (but only Sloan’s book glows in the dark). Perhaps it was because I’d just picked up both at one of my local Little Free Libraries (there are 4 within a 5-minute walk of my apartment). Each book is an easy and enjoyable read, but I found Brosh’s work much more profound, despite her purposefully childish drawings. Brosh’s memoir began as a blog (still available here); for the book she created some new episodes but also included her immensely famous stories about her 18-month bout with depression. Rightfully hailed as one of the best depictions of this terrible ailment, Brosh’s book ought to be required reading for everyone.
Mr. Penumbra‘s appearance was fortuitous, for I had just added it to my list of books to find and read. I was disappointed by the ending, but not the way that Kat, the Googler, is. (I’m trying not to include any spoilers here). It just seemed like a shaggy dog tale — a lot of build-up to a nearly anticlimactic ending. But I’m still keeping the book (the cover glows in the dark!). And I wouldn’t mind finding a bookstore like Mr. Penumbra’s, and if a group like the Unbroken Spine offered me membership, I’d grab it. A love of books and reading and puzzles is clear throughout this weird little mystery.
Another pairing: a compendium of P. G. Wodehouse golf tales with an obscure history of a village in Provence, again both picked up at my Little Free Library. Peattie’s Immortal Village tells of the city of Vence, from pre-historic times to the late-1920s. Botanist and author of a range of books, Peattie fell in love with Vence when he lived there for a few years. Before leaving the little city, he was inspired to write this book, which was then privately printed in France. In 1945, in response to the ravages of WWII, he brought out this American edition, with Paul Landacre’s gorgeous woodblock illustrations. He hoped it would teach readers, as they considered the aftermath of war, that
it is not insignificant to learn that this little Provençal town, once situated on a dangerous frontier, was destroyed again and again by barbarians and torn by internecine quarrel, and yet it was rebuilt. It is worth while to remember that nothing material is indestructible, but the spirit in man is.
Peattie’s writing reveals a 1920s racial sensibility, and the mishmash of kings, queens, nobility, invaders and townspeople in the Middle Ages is a challenge to keep track of. Yet there can be no confusion about Peattie’s appreciation for the people and environment in this “forgotten corner of Provence”.
About Wodehouse, I will say only that I never expected to laugh so often while reading a book of stories whose connecting thread was a love for the game of golf, about which I agree with whoever quipped “a good walk spoiled”.