If April showers bring May flowers, I wonder what April 'book' showers bring? I've already got a towering reading pile, but now I have two more must reads to add to the mix. Both just arrived in the mail this week (happy mailbox days).
My April NYRB subscription book just arrived. It came earlier than expected. It usually doesn't make an appearance until at least the second week in the month, but I won't complain. I am thrilled to have another book by Natalia Ginzburg to read. I find her fascinating. Several years ago I was introduced to her writing with The City and the House and I knew instantly that I wanted to read more of her work. She is interesting and a little challenging and really a perfect NYRB author. I am very intrigued by her 1963 novel Family Lexicon. It is a novel but all true, so fiction but not fiction both at the same time. This is what she writes in her preface:
"The places, events, and people in this book are real. I haven't invented a thing, and each time I found myself slipping into my long-held habits as a novelist and made something up, I was quickly compelled to destroy the invention."
"The names are also real. In the writing of this book I felt such a profound intolerance for any fiction, I couldn't bring myself to change the real names which seemed to me indissoluble from the real people. Perhaps someone will be unhappy to find themselves so, with his or her first and last name in a book. To this I have nothing to say."
She goes on to say that even if the story is real the reader should approach it as a novel and therefore "not demand of it any more or less than a novel can offer." Curiously I find this irreverence sort of fun and refreshing (or maybe after being introduced to Henry Green I am just in my stride this year with authors who like to turn a story on its head). This 'story' is that of her family and not of herself and pulled from memory. Knowing how the mind messes with memory and memories can be fleeting and ephemeral it seems like calling this a novel rather than a history or memoir a wise thing indeed. Anyway, I have started reading. She writes in first person and I am already caught up in her family's story, which begins with begins with her very taciturn and demanding father and their annual summer holiday in the mountains. Oh, and the period she writes about is Mussolini's Italy, to make it even more interesting. Several years ago I spent the summer "reading the Netherlands" and I am feeling the urge to perhaps this summer "read Italy" but am just toying with the idea right now.
My other April read is Marguerite Duras' The War: A Memoir, which is the next book up for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. It's a perfect fit for this month's reading since I am 'spending the month in Paris' anyway. This is a memoir of the author's life in Occupied Paris. The NYT called it "more than one woman's diary . . .[it is] a haunting portrait of a time and a place and also a state of mind."
Duras wrote it in 1944 but it was not published until 1985. In her brief preface the author writes "I have no recollection of having written it." This is perhaps not so surprising considering what life in Paris must have been like in those last months of the war/the first months of the Liberation. She had married a man who was part of the French Resistance and nursed him back to health when he returned from Bergan-Belsen. The things she must have seen and endured! In her preface she writes:
"The War is one of the most important things in my life. It can't be really be called 'writing'. I found myself looking at pages regularly filled with small, calm, extraordinarily even handwriting. I found myself confronted with a tremendous chaos of thought and feeling that I couldn't bring myself to tamper with, and beside which literature was something of which I felt ashamed."
I'm hoping that once I get into the memoir, which I am now just starting that those words will be illuminated more. So, another fascinating woman writing at a similar time. The two books might make for a good juxtaposition--I'll see.
April is going to be filled with lots of good reading showers, I see! (And no umbrella needed).