Books, Reading and Nostalgia


I have realised recently I am a pretty perversely-minded sort of person when it comes to books. By this I mean the more people tell me I should read this or that, the more I am reluctant to do so.

I don’t really know why this is: Maybe it’s because I’m pretty picky about good writing (yes, it’s okay to have one rule for stuff I read and another for stuff I write) and leaving aside the great classics and the rest which have stood the test of time, I’ve noticed that a lot of must-read contemporary stuff is often badly written. I won’t broadcast specific examples, because I think it’s a bit rude to be gratuitously insulting about books no one has asked me to read.

Still, I’m sure this means I’ve missed out on great reads, and I can find some evidence for thinking this just in the few pages I have read this evening of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes</em>. If I had a book token for every time someone in the last six months has said “Oh, you must read The Hare. …” I would be competing with the city library for space needs.

Needless to say, with this amount of popular pressure, the book would not have made it onto my reading list without special cause, viz., a book group meeting on Tuesday.

And so there I was this evening covered in bubbles having one of those risky bath time reads, and so far I am entranced. Not least because of the descriptions of the family’s house in the rue Monceau in Paris, and I could have kicked myself for not starting the book a week ago because then I could have gone and stared at it for real.

Just 5 days ago, I took refuge in a cafe on the rue Monceau during a rainstorm of tropical proportions, and spent thirty minutes gazing at traces of fine 19th century architecture through a haze of raindrops. From my street map of Paris, it’s even possible I had no. 81 in my sights during those thirty minutes. I’m sure I tweeted a photo of the rain, but can’t see it, so I’ve posted instead a photo of the nearby Parc Monceau with trees in full blossom. Taken the same day, for the avoidance of doubt.

The only thing which doesn’t ring quite true in this glorious read so far is the author’s account of his father helpfully delivering a whole load of (apparently hitherto unfamiliar) family memorabilia at the start of his journey. I was fascinated by this nugget of information. How was it possible that someone so culturally and historically aware could not have already intimately known every single family photo in his parents’ collection?

I am addicted to old family photos of any sort and this interest extends to other people’s family photos. I spent countless hours as a child poring through every box of treasured images in the house. I knew every expression, every face, every casual notation and inscription on the back. It is inconceivable that my mother could now suddenly surprise me with a useful hoard of additional photos. Mind you, I should be spectacularly happy if she did. You can’t have too much family history, in my view. I feel vaguely deprived on this front, and not a little envious of families with serious archives to delve into.

Maybe that’s why I derive such huge pleasure from vicariously nosing into other people’s family stories. I suspect I will not get much done until I have finished this latest read.


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