Friday, March 6, 2009

Daily Metro and Commuter Train Rides = Lots of Reading Time (and a marathon of a blog post... sorry)

I spend at least two hours every day in the Metro or on the commuter train (RER) going to and from school, Institute, church, museums... take your pick.

What this all adds up to is homework time and time to read. Sometimes I just read the free newspapers that are distributed at the Metro entrances, but I recently bought a few books at various libraries (bookstores) around the city.

They were all brand new and cost way too much. I won't be making that mistake again. There are SO many used books for sale in Paris, I think I could probably find any book my little heart desires. It just takes some patience to sort through the piles and piles (and piles) of books.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be hoarding as many classic French reads as I can get my hands on while I'm here. At less than 5 Euro a pop, and sometimes as cheap as 20 Euro cents, it's worth the cost of shipping them home to myself a few at a time. I don't think I could ever have too many things to read in French--especially if I decide to become a teacher in the next couple of years. As my current French teacher says, "La lecture (reading) teaches us spelling, vocabulary, grammar and style." So frankly, it would be silly not to take advantage of the thousands of used books at my fingertips.

But I digress...
Without further ado, here are the books I have recently read, accompanied by my reactions and impressions.

1. Parle-moi d'Amour. (Talk to Me About Love.) I blogged about this when I bought it, and I really enjoyed it. It's a play, which is actually one of my favorite forms of literature to read as it leaves so many of the details in the scene to my imagination. It's about a husband and wife who come home after a business dinner for the husband's job and get into a huge argument. They say terrible things to each other, talk in circles around each other, push each other's buttons, and are just flat-out awful to each other for the majority of the play (it's only one act). In the end they resolve their differences, and what emerges--at least what I got out of it-- is quite simply the fact that they both felt old, under-appreciated, and like they were being pushed aside as their spouse pursued more appealing circumstances. But once everything got laid out on the table, they both admitted how deeply they still loved each other.
I really liked this play because I think it conveys a lot of true aspects of human nature, especially when it comes to the subject of love and how we and others perceive our achievements or failures.
I think many people (not all, of course) are so intent on protecting themselves from being hurt or seen as silly or strange that they hamper their own ability to feel and express deep emotion. I know I can be this way. That doesn't mean I don't love people really deeply; actually it's quite the opposite. I feel like I love people almost too quickly (and I'm not even talking about romantic love). I think people are truly amazing. I try (though I don't always succeed) to see the good in people, and I have quite a high opinion of most people. But when it comes to telling them these things, I get overly-timid, because I don't know if they'll think it's weird that I think they're amazing after knowing them for just a short time. So, rather than going out on a limb and possibly looking stalker-ishly impressed by them, I just say nothing at all. And frankly, I think that's wrong.
So, there's self-awareness lesson #1 that has taken place in my life over the last few weeks.

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. What an amazing story. And a beautifully crafted book. Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was the editor of ELLE magazine, suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed except for the movement of a few facial muscles and the ability to blink one eye. He couldn't walk, talk, eat solid food, or do anything for himself. Yet he still managed to keep his mind extremely alert and his sense of humor intact.
Not only that, but he managed to communicate with those around him through a poster depicting the French alphabet in order of how frequently the letter is used. The interlocuter would begin reciting the letters in order, and he would blink when they got to the letter he wanted them to write.
I can hardly imagine writing a book while having all of my faculties and senses about me, let alone not having the ability to bounce ideas freely off those around me and relying on this painstakingly-long process of letter-by-letter dictation.
At the end of the book, I was just astounded by the things Bauby conveyed not only through his words, but through the work itself, in the simple fact that it existed at all. What a testament to his will.*
Coincidentally, I finished this only a day or two before getting hit by a bus and coming out of the whole situation with nary a broken bone to be found.
Put the two together, and the result is one girl who is extremely grateful for her physical independence and the incredible biology of the human body, as well as the resilience and determination of the human spirit. Reading this book reminded me that (self-awareness lesson #2) there really is no reason not to go for my dreams, and there's nothing you can't accomplish if you're willing to put in the very un-glamorous and often un-appealing elbow grease that will be required.

3. The Bookseller of Kabul. The basic premise: The author met a bookseller from Kabul and asked if she could live with his family for a year to see what day-to-day life was like in Afghanistan. He welcomed her into his home and the life of his family, and this is her portrayal of the different family member's roles as she observed them. I have mixed feelings about this book. The author admits that she "filled in the blanks" so to speak with the thoughts of the different people she writes about. She tried to portray all of the different things that were happening in the lives of the different members of the family, but without formally sitting down and getting each family member to dictate to her their own story in their own words (which, to be fair, would have largely undermined her purpose for being there). She says that she tried to convey their story as she thought they would have, given the chance, and based on her year of speaking and interacting with them. So that's something that impacted how I digested the book.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading it. It was eye-opening, heart-wrenching, maddening, funny, ironic, and wistful all at the same time. There are so many things going on in this book that I can't even really give you a plot overview. But when I finished, I was sincerely grateful for my life. My independence, my ability to express an opinion on anything and everything, the non-issue of going to school, having a job... so many things that I may not have been able to do if I had been born and raised somewhere else and that I take for granted ALL the time.

4. En Attendant Godot. Waiting for Godot, in its original French version. I'm not actually done with this one yet, but my impressions of it so far are: chaotic, aggravating, and really difficult to understand in French. I have a feeling I'm going to be terribly annoyed at the end of the play. During Lucky's "monologue," I felt like I was going to have a heart attack because he was stuttering and repeating himself so much. No life lessons here so far. :)

Whew. You made it through. I wish I had some kind of reward to offer you. But I don't. Instead I'll just wish you a wonderful weekend (and maybe a book or two to keep you on your toes).

*This is the kind of thing that makes me think everyone is just awesome, whether we know it immediately or not.


Trevor, Kika, Olivia said...

Okay, I'll be honest, i dídn't read the entire thing BUT I am glad I finally came to visit you adn your blog! are you still having a great time there? did you find the freakin boots? :)

hugs hugs

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

In the ancient world, there were several words for "love" -

philia - connoting the love of human beings for each other;

adore - worshipful love (usually directed towards God)

and eros - I think that one's obvious... :-)

Perhaps we would feel more comfortable saying I love you if the intent was immediately clear: I philia you means something different from I eros you... Unfortunately, all we get is I love you.

I am with you, though. My mission president told us to look at people dressed in white, like they were in the temple. And that's made all the difference in the world to me in how I view people...

Sometimes it's hard (not gonna lie) but it's always worth the effort.

You're great. I hope you don't mind me reading your thoughts and sharing my own. You see, I philia you! :-)

Jennifer said...

I read the Bookseller of Kabul and also watched the movie Diving Bell and Butterfly, which was depressing and fascinating at the same time. I'm impressed you're reading entire books in a completely different language.