Thursday, January 02, 2003

Christmas Reading

Whilst Christmas shopping with Amanda we happened upon a bookshop in the city that I hadn't been to before. I can assure you I'll be going there again. Almost immediately I came across two books that called out for purchase. Happily Amanda had not yet found me a gift, so a little arm-twisting secured these two. They journeyed home with us to be duly wrapped and take their lonely place amongst the veritable multitude of presents for the kids.

Let me just say that I have not yet got to the second book yet. Its day will come soon enough.

The book that first caught my eye in the bookshop was The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I picked it up ( a nice little hardback) and read the first two lines, smiled, and knew that I would enjoy the rest. Sometimes you just know. This modest volume is brilliant - full of dazzling lines and perceptive observations.

Each chapter discusses an aspect of travel (Anticipation, the Exotic) by comparing the Author's experiences with the thoughts and ideas of a philosopher, author or poet. The chapter "On the Exotic" tells of Gustave Flaubert and his yearning for the exotic world of the "Orient" and Egypt - far from that of his upbringing in early 19th century France. His contempt for the contemporary petit bourgeois was the primary theme for his most well-regarded novel Madame Bovary. I had heard of, but not read, the book so, while the kids were spending some of the money that they got for Christmas, Mme Bovary was discovered and purchased. What fabulous characters! They are all either stupid, vain, arrogant or ignorant and it is difficult to have sympathy for any of the main protagonists. Flaubert's contempt for these people (and French society) leaps off the page through the jibes and barbs aimed at these deserving targets. Th e joy of thi
s fiction is that Emma and Charles Bovary, and the dreadful apothecary Homais are all people you may meet today. If you have not yet had the pleasure, go and read Madame Bovary and see how little society has changed since 1840.

Other chapters wander through the Lakes District with Wordsworth or Provence with Van Gogh, uncovering observations that ring with immediate truth.

Along with Madame Bovary, I also bought another of Alain de Botton's works The Consolations of Philosophy. A quick glance tells me that there is more perceptive observation in store. I love it when you come across a new author that opens up a rich new seam of work to explore. I'm not quite through this strata yet as Alain has written a couple of other books. Next tangent is Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes - which will bring me back to History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters which is already in the library at home.

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